DigitalArt4Climate: A new, UN-backed initiative that uses NFT to fight climate change

On November 13, 2021, thousands of delegates from over 200 countries and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) convened in Glasgow, Scotland for the biggest climate conference in history, COP26. For a month, these delegates negotiated and agreed to combat climate change in what they call the Glasgow Climate Pact. This pact will become the blueprint that will hopefully lead nations worldwide to prevent further climate change.

While much of the focus on this conference has been on the negotiations between these states, there are other events that revolve around COP26 and, in general, the climate itself. Of course, when such an event happens, art is not too far away. Many countries brought art to stage exhibitions in Glasgow. International airports in the United Kingdom are filled with ads and art to promote the conference.

But while those examples are fairly common, one new addition that could have only happened at this conference and not previous ones is the addition of an NFT exhibition. As most of us are probably aware, early 2021 was filled with conversations about non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and cryptocurrency. While many doubted its lifespan, NFT has proven to be a logical and possibly crucial next step in art.

As part of the United Nations’ Year of  Creative Economy for Sustainable Development, the UN-Habitat and several other stakeholders created the DigitalArt4Climate initiative. According to their website, the initiative “uses blockchain technology to turn art into digital assets or NFTs, which can be collected and traded, thus opening up a socio-technological innovation space which helps to unlock extraordinary potential for resource mobilization and climate empowerment.”

Image courtesy of DigitalArt4Climate.

With the number of crypto assets being traded, it seems logical to divert some of those funds to help fight climate change. One way they plan to do this is by opening a digital marketplace in 2022. On their FAQs page, at least 60% of the revenue from selling NFTs will go towards climate action projects like building infrastructures and youth programs. You can read more about the initiative on their website.

To help promote this initiative, DigitalArt4Climate announced a digital art competition for artists worldwide. Apropos to its mission, the competition's theme is "humanity challenged by climate change." On November 11, two days before COP26 ended, the initiative announced the winners of its first art competition. True to its nature, the competition drew participants from 58 countries who submitted 208 artworks. Of these, the committee selected 30 artworks as finalists, with one overall winner and several sub-theme winners receiving a total prize of 3000 €. The overall winner is Filipino artist Bricx Martillo Dumas with his art titiled Nexus. A physical exhibition of the 30 finalsits was held in Glasgow, where these works are displayed on large screens.

Bricx Martillo Dumas, Nexus, 2021. Digital art. Virtual exhibition view.

But confining them to a physical exhibition defies one of the core values of NFT: digital freedom and creativity. Working together with Artgence, DigitalArt4Climate has made these works available in the metaverse through a virtual exhibition that can be visited by anyone anywhere. By showing these digital works in this virtual environment, the NFTs are allowed to be what they are (a digital artwork) but still elevates them to a level previously only achieved by art hanging on a gallery wall. With this virtual exhibition, NFTs can be more than just a picture or video on your screen.

Exhibition view of the COP26 virtual gallery.

Some critics of NFTs might detect a bit of irony in using NFTs to try to save the world. The technology behind NFTs, the blockchain, has been criticized for using too much electricity to process the information. News pieces all over the world have reported on cryptocurrency mining farms (which also use blockchain technology) that use as much electricity as a small town. But while current operations might use an exorbitant amount of electricity, it is not impossible to use the blockchain with as small a footprint as possible. For DigitalArt4Climate, they are committed to reducing energy footprint by using proof-of-stake (PoS) blockchain ecosystems, which use less energy than other traditional blockchain technology.

Combating climate change is not the sole responsibility of one individual or group tackling one problem. Instead, it is many people and many groups fighting a multitude of problems together. For artists looking for a way to help the environment, this might be one way to do it.

Read more about DigitalArt4Climate on their website. View the 30 finalists’ works in the virtual exhibition here. For more information on Artgence3D, visit the website here.

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