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I’m no tree-hugger but I do care about the world

The UN’s new Green Guru is Andrew, 18

Andrew Bartolo, 18, never imagined he would be elected the UN Environmental Programme’s youth adviser for Europe when he took part in a painting competition on climate change at 13.

I do not spend my days crying because trees are being chopped down. I am still a teen at the end of the day, but I do know there’s a future that needs to be protected

The student has always had green ambitions but it was that contest which got the ball rolling and he has never looked back since.

Back in 2007, Andrew’s drawing for the Unep Children’s Painting Competition placed third worldwide among 14,000 entries. Two years later, it was among a mere 27 works, chosen from 200,000 entries over almost two decades, to be exhibited and auctioned at the UN’s Paint for the Planet event at its New York headquarters.

This summer, Andrew was invited to Indonesia to attend Unep’s Tunza conference, held every two years, themed Reshaping Our Future Through a Green Economy and Sustainable Lifestyle.

Attended by children and youths from 180 countries, it was a forum for the discussion of pressing environmental issues and the sharing of ideas, while a declaration was made to strive to have more youths represented in policy making. During their two-year term, Tunza Youth Advisory Council members aim to work with Unep to actively encourage more youth participation in environmental issues.

As the only youth adviser for Europe, Andrew plans to encourage the youth sections of NGOs to take on an active role and be represented at related events.

The involvement of youth in the environment is vital, he maintains, urging them to join NGOs, or get their issues heard – “do something about it!”

Being an environmental activist at 18 does “not mean giving up life to go around planting trees”, according to Andrew, who gave examples of people who have started green businesses that have benefitted both them and the environment.

“It is all about sustainable development and you do not have to be a tree-hugging hippie, running around in forests,” he insists.

Nevertheless, in his age group, there is a clear divide between those who make an effort towards the environment and those who “laugh at me when I put up something related to the subject on Facebook”.

There are no in-betweens: “Either those who get into it, or those who laugh it off,” he says undeterred. Andrew’s reaction is to try to convince them that the issue he is highlighting is real and not to be ridiculed.

“I do not spend my days crying because trees are being chopped down. I am still a teen at the end of the day, but I know there’s a future that needs to be protected,” he points out.

Even at the Tunza conference, dominated by youths, the message was to ignore those who did not believe in the effects of climate change because “it is a waste of time and resources when you can invest in someone who can make a difference instead”.

According to Andrew, the Maltese are starting to try and make a difference in terms of the environment. “Yes, they are turning off the lights, but it is not enough. We need more active involvement,” he insists.

Maltese have a “consumerist” attitude when it comes to the environment and do not really think about future consequences.

The first-year university student is, nonetheless, optimistic – “maybe because I am young and have not yet reached the point of giving up”.

He does not think he will find closed doors, being only 18. “People do respect youth because of their drive, energy and passion.”

Andrew hopes to remain an activist in the environment, beyond building green homes as an architect, but eco-architecture could always be his fallback, he maintains, always armed and ready for the future.

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