Climate change is here and it is happening now. In October last year, NASA and several other global organisations have predicted that 2020 is set to be the warmest year on observable record, with the first nine months of the year seeing unprecedented concentrations of major greenhouse gases — such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide — despite a global pandemic that halted much of the planet’s activities.

Although we are aware that climate change is already severely impacting our daily lives, we are only scratching the surface as we begin to understand how this phenomenon is going to change humanity and our civilization in the future. What is in store for our future generations and the preservation of our culture in a warming planet? 

The degradation of cultural rights and the displacement of indigenous communities are just some of the many issues that are not actively discussed when talking about climate change. In addition, many young people are left out of the conversation when they, as the leaders of tomorrow, will eventually inherit a hostile planet to fend for themselves.

On 4 February 2021, the British Council Malaysia organised a forum on Youth, Climate Change and Cultural Rights, held as part of the ‘Awareness, Resilience and Collaboration’ (A.R.C.) Challenge Malaysia series. The forum brought together young people as well as climate and culture experts to share their ideas on building a world that they would like to live in, and to discuss the impacts of climate change with a focus on cultural rights.

In the current climate change discourse, the human rights crisis is well-acknowledged, but cultural rights and the preservation of various cultures in different communities are often overlooked.  A changing planet would affect ways of living, thereby threatening cultural diversity, including the loss of traditional jobs, knowledge and ways of life, as well as the skills needed to respond to such a change.

The British Council, as the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities, realises how important it is to provide a platform for the youth to raise their concerns and present some of their innovative ideas to leaders, policymakers, academics and the general public.


Conversations on climate, youth and culture

The forum consisted of two segments, with the first half featuring Dr. Joy Jacqueline Pereira from the National University of Malaysia (UKM) and Alison Tickell, Director of London-based charity Julie’s Bicycle. Both delivered individual presentations on Malaysia’s and the UK’s responses to climate change.

As a professional geologist and the Vice-Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group 2 on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, Dr. Joy said that apathy towards the climate crisis will contribute to rising global temperature and erratic weather. This will accelerate rising sea levels, reduce crop yields, cause water shortage and higher risks to fisheries — all of which would immensely impact rural and indigenous communities that have preserved age-old cultural practices in their ways of living. 

Alison added that there needs to be a change in cultural thinking and policies towards a mobilising and unifying international approach that brings sustainability and justice into the fabric of the arts. Culture and cultural rights are casualties in the climate emergency, but they are also useful tools to shape a holistic response as well.

The second segment was dedicated to youth voices on a preferable future, and featured five charismatic speakers, namely Toh Zhee Qi from the Malaysian Youth Delegation; Atteleth Don Peris from Reef Check Malaysia; Eliza Collin, a sustainable fashion and material designer; Wendy Teo from Borneo Laboratory; and Shaq Koyok, an artist and advocate for indigenous rights.

During their segment, the speakers collectively agreed on the need to increase awareness on climate issues. Each of them highlighted relevant points in the fight against climate change. 

These include:

  • The need for better legislation and enforcement of environmental accountability
  • Empowering marginalised communities, such as indigenous people, with knowledge and skills to defend their homes, their way of living and themselves
  • Raising awareness on innovative solutions that leaves a smaller carbon footprint, such as sustainable fashion practices
  • Reframing our moral compass when talking about the environment by acknowledging that we are part of the living world too
  • The need to understand how the environment also affects the economy; i.e how increased reef conservation efforts would work towards sustainable tourism

They concluded by emphasising that the preservation of the environment and cultural identity are intertwined and that the climate action must include efforts to protect cultural rights.


Sowing seeds of change

The British Council supports the efforts of young people to become changemakers in tackling climate change and preserving cultural rights. The A.R.C. Challenge Malaysia offered three seed funding grants of up to £10,000 each to stakeholders to kick-start innovative, joint UK-Malaysia responses to a shared climate change challenge involving young people aged 18–35. 

Applicants from the arts and creative industries, education, science and civil society sectors were encouraged to collaborate on a common challenge in response to climate change and offer innovative and interdisciplinary solutions that create awareness and enhance resilience among youth. 

The three successful applicants are: 

  • Biji-Biji Initiative and Falmouth University’s “Ripple — Responsible Innovation Plastics Project for Life and Environment”
  • Klima Action Malaysia (KAMY), Gerimis Art Project and Students for Global Health’s “Weaving Hopes for the Future”
  • neOOne Associates and Social Enterprise Academy International CIC’s “VISION – Virtual Impact Storytelling in Our Network”

More information about the winners and the projects can be accessed here.

In the A.R.C. Challenge Malaysia Pitching Session on 25 March 2021, the winners pitched their projects to a panel and audience of experts and funders in an effort to bring added support in delivery, scalability and potentially, further funding and collaboration.  

Learn more about A.R.C. Challenge Malaysia.


About Cultural Engagement, British Council in Malaysia

The British Council builds connections, understanding and trust between people in the UK and other countries through arts and culture, education and the English language.

We help young people to gain the skills, confidence and connections they are looking for to realise their potential and to participate in strong and inclusive communities. We support them to learn English, to get a high-quality education and to gain internationally recognised qualifications. Our work in arts and culture stimulates creative expression and exchange and nurtures creative enterprise.