With 2021 as “International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development,” a United Nations-associated non-profit organization is launching a new initiative that would support young artists in creating blockchain-powered digital artwork that would inspire the world to take action on climate change. 

The DigitalArt4Climate initiative — led by International Association for the Advancement of Innovative Approaches to Global Challenges (IAAI GLOCHA), an Austria-based organization accredited by the United Nations — aims to empower young artists and designers around the world by offering them a special non-fungible tokens (NFTs) platform where they could showcase and sell their creations to inspire greater environmental awareness.

NFTs enable artists to monetize their work and continue to receive payments for their work even after it is sold. In some developing countries, NFTs or crypto art has been a game-changer for digital artists by providing them with new income opportunities that sustained them through the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns. 

See related article: How NFTs are redrawing Asia’s art scene from artists to galleries

“The U.N. wants to bring this innovative art form to the next generation of creators who stand to benefit from a technology that can help them amplify and monetize their work,” said Unique Network,  a proof-of-stake Polkadot and Kusama NFT chain, in a statement. Unique Network announced today that it has been selected by the United Nations’ accredited Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) and IAAI GLOCHA as the lead technology partner for a DigitalArt4Climate initiative. As the technology partner, Unique Network will create and host DigitalArt4Climate’s NFT marketplace for artists and designers to showcase their work using its white label suite of NFT solutions. 

“To address the climate crisis, the United Nations understands the need to use any tool available to inspire people to commit to serious action on climate change. We believe that uniting digital innovations (IoT, data marketplaces, NFTs) with social innovations (new forms of multi-stakeholder cooperation) will lead to scalable and high participatory systems,” said Miroslav Polzer, founder and CEO of IAAI GLOCHA, in a statement. “With this initiative, we will drive the benefits of a society-wide mobilization of resources and people’s energies to make a sustainable world happen.”

“We have decided to develop NFTs-based solutions for climate action empowerment because it is the vision and mission of my organization IAAI to build a big global societal mobilization and a socio-economic-technical ecosystem in which everyone is taking action for sustainable development goals (SDGs) implementation — and especially SDG 13 — climate action in a meaningful and rewarding manner. For such a “sustainable global society” to function, there is the systemic need to uniquely identify and incentivize actors, actions, resources and outcomes,” Polzer told Forkast.News in an email. “Blockchain technology-based NFTs enable us to implement this vision and to build information technology platforms and tools/apps which frame individual and collective efforts towards the local and global common good as a digital collectibles (NFT) game.”

NFTs, in particular those on proof-of-work blockchains such as Ethereum, have been criticized by some for being environmentally unfriendly. Polzer told Forkast.News that “the criticism towards proof-of-work blockchains-based NFTs is fully justified.” 

“Aa founding member of the Climate Chain Coalition, the leading global network of blockchain experts, who aim to harness the potentials of blockchain technology for climate action, we regard it as a big tragedy of human family that proof of work blockchain-based ecosystems are causing such a big damage to the global climate, consuming up the very limited global carbon budget that we have, while there are 3rd generation proof-of-stake blockchains available like the Polkadot and Kusama proof-of-stake ecosystem-based Unique Network NFT platform,” Polzer said. He estimated that the carbon footprint for the DigitalArt4Climate initiative is “a million time lower than comparable proof-of-work based blockchain solutions.” 

Alexander Mitrovich, CEO of Unique Network, said in a statement: “We are excited to demonstrate that the ethos of distributed ledger technologies and open data can be used to support change agents in identifying climate actions they can make… We believe that the future of human expression will be through sustainable NFTs, and we are dedicated to showing the whole world how it can unite our disparate communities in the fight to save our planet.”

Charu Sethi, chief marketing officer at Unique Network, told Forkast.News in an interview that sustainability has been top of mind for Unique Network and the reason they built on Polkadot and Kusama is because the technology allowed for proof-of-stake validation, which leads to less energy consumption.

The initiative was also about empowering young artists and helping them participate in NFTs. “They don’t need to know blockchain,” Sethi said. “They just need to know design and they’ll end up experiencing the making of an NFT marketplace.”

Other stakeholders in the DigitalArt4Climate initiative include Social Alpha Foundation, Exquisite Workers and Palette69. Social Alpha Foundation will provide mentorship to artists and sponsor the awards. Exquisite Workers is the lead creative and content partner for the initiative, and Palette69 is leading UX/UI mentorship.

A series of activities and events, such as design competitions and meet-up events will be held to engage the creative community to participate in the initiative on a local and global level.

The DigitalArt4Climate initiative also involved a Designathon, or design competition, for UX/UI designers to create the digital art gallery and marketplace that will be the front-end of the NFT marketplace. A DigitalArt4Climate art competition will be launched on August 12 — International Youth Day — for artists to submit their climate-related art via the initiative’s website. Their art will be made available as NFTs on the DigitalArt4Climate marketplace and put up for auction, with revenues from the sales to be shared between artists and United Nations-related action for climate empowerment initiatives. 

The winner of the art competition will be announced on Sept. 30, and an exhibition of select entries be held in conjunction with the United Nations Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP26) taking place from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12 in Glasgow.