Art for Climate Change

It was in 2009 at the COP15 (Conference of the Parties) of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) in Copenhagen that climate change stepped out of the domain of science and addressed a more diverse audience. This was clearly stated in the Copenhagen Accord which in the opening paragraph stated:


“We underline that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time. We emphasize our strong political will to urgently combat climate change in accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.”


Thus, the warnings coming from the climate scientists about potent threats to the future of our world came to the attention of all and sundry.

In the 10 years since the Copenhagen COP, while there continues to be plethora of doubters (including, not the least of all, the American President), a whole new breed has taken the communication of climate change from the field of science, to the arts! The hitherto niche activists found many allies among the artists, singers, and others pursuing the creative arts as their medium of expression.

Their sensitization, understanding and expression created a yet another connecting point with the society. They had their own circle of influence and they cut through the scientific clutter and connected with nature on an emotive level.


There now is an impressive body of work that has accumulated through the efforts of individuals and organizations across the world at local and internationally collaborative level.


Pakistan too is home to some excellent artists who have drawn inspiration from nature, and whose concern extends beyond expression in isolation. The creative and emotive connect they are able to bring forth through their work has opened the eyes of their audience to why climate change needs attention.


The past decade has seen several such initiatives, spurred on by concerted campaigns that have found institutional support. In 2016, the Ministry of Climate Change, then under its Secretary, Syed Akif, supported an artists’ retreat in picturesque Swat. Encouraged by the results, a leading art group in Islamabad This time around, Syed Akif was the Chairman of the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation, whose facility in Naran served as the base camp for the group of artists. He took the lead and found support in Civil Society Coalition for Climate Change and the Snow Leopard Foundation. This led to the second such retreat in Naran.  Gallery 6 lead, Dr. Arjumand Faisel was also the common thread running through the idea of the retreat. Buoyed by the success of the first Retreat, Dr. Faisel brought together a group of very talented landscape artists, art teachers, water colorists, creative photographers, an award winning documentary maker to capture the phases of the journey and showcase them at appropriate forums to take the message across further.


As for me, I can never be grateful enough for the opportunity through this retreat, to have seen for myself the impact of climate change on our beautiful land, but also spread the message through the communications platform available to me, including social media where the retreat was able to gain a lot of traction.     


The real time pictures posted on various environmental and tourism groups brought immediate feedback from those who had seen these areas earlier, and they all clearly pointed out the degradation and resource depletion of the habitat. The disappearing glaciers and receding tree line, and snowline, the disappearance of some species of birds, butterflies and bees that were so commonly seen were especially pointed out.


The incidence of hydro disasters like the raging torrents can be seen in the devastation the previous floods wrought, exacerbated by the unbridled ‘development’ that put obstructions in the path of nature, which it removed with its full force, leaving a trail of destruction.


The downside of the human-nature interaction was nowhere more apparent than at the picturesque, almost fabled spots like the Lulusar and Saif ul Malook lakes, , and the Babusar top which offer a panorama like no other. All these are bearing the brunt of the absence of any ecotourism protocols. The commercial enterprises that have not just sprung up but have almost taken over and bespoilt the scenic spots compelled the group that was on the retreat to play their part as sensitive, sensible and responsible citizens but undertaking a public garbage cleaning activity.


Not only did the entire group collect as much garbage as was possible in Oxo biodegradable bags, it turned the exercise into a perfect advocacy opportunity by engaging with the youngsters and families there to join in. The engagement with other citizens resulted in heightened awareness about responsible waste disposal, and in promises of future continuous show of this sense of responsibility at a personal and community level.


It is hoped that once the final stage of the retreat, which is to culminate in an exhibition to be held at the Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA), sees the light of day, this awareness with reach a wider audience, which hopefully will include those at the Ministry of Climate Change, who can set in motion a plan to protect this beautiful natural heritage by introducing the concept of ecotourism at all such spots.


As for the artists, I feel truly privileged and honored to have met this wonderful group whose individual life journeys are unique and inspiring, as is their talent. Under Dr. Arjumand’s mentorship, and the support of Dr. Asaad who wore a completely different logistical hat, this turned out to a memorable trip.


After having sneak peeks into the work of some of these artists, I can feel it in my bones that the exhibition will prove to be just as powerful and unique, and the issue of climate change will have opened up yet another powerful constituency as its ally. Waiting eagerly for the unveiling.

“Afia Salam is an environmental journalist and visiting faculty at a university where she teaches Environmental Journalism. She is also a member of CSCCC”.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *