River of Hope


Creative approaches essential to drive youth-led climate action in countries most-impacted by climate change

The importance of using creative story-telling and mixed media to initiate youth-led climate discussion and action in countries most impacted by climate change has been highlighted by an international research collaboration led by the University of Hull.

An animation that was co-created by youth and researchers at the universities of Hull, Loughborough, Newcastle and Vietnam National University along with Beverley-based film production company and arts organisation My Pockets is currently being shared at COP28 and was recently shared at COY 18, the UN’s 18th climate Change Conference of Youth. It is just one of the creative approaches that resonates beyond simply sharing climate change facts.

River of Hope

Dr Lisa Jones, a Reader in Education at the University of Hull and the lead for the project, said: “Using creativity and storytelling is an important approach to engaging diverse communities and directly supporting climate action. Our research recognises the inadequacy of assuming that merely providing information and facts is sufficient to mobilise individuals and communities.

“Instead, embracing creativity to evoke emotional responses that go beyond negative emotions such as fear and anger, provides an important way of sharing the important message that there is hope in collective action. The River of Hope animated film, which focuses on the Red River in Vietnam, through its content, style and choice of medium showcases this perfectly.

“Working in collaborative ways that span the social and environmental sciences as well as the arts and humanities, is essential for addressing the complexity of the climate crisis and its many injustices.”

The film showcases the journey taken by the youth participating in the project in an innovative animation that follows ‘Sa’, the storytelling Kingfisher who takes viewers along the Red River to observe the youth in action.

The film highlights the work of the British Academy’s Youth Futures project ‘Youth-led Adaption to Climate Change Challenges’ (YACC) which worked with youth from the national Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union organisation in three provinces of the Red River Catchment in Northern Vietnam looking at hydrological extremes linked to climate change.

From April 2022, the young people worked closely with researchers where they were supported to develop research skills, enhance their knowledge and understanding on climate change as well as develop creative storytelling techniques.

Dr Jones said: “This process of learning underpinned and equipped them to go into their communities as researchers – engaging in intergenerational and diverse intercultural conversations – seeking out not only evidence of the challenges being faced by communities, but also ‘stories’ of how people were learning to live with climate change.

“The young people then turned some of these stories into a range of creative, accessible formats to highlight how communities live with climate change in order to educate others on how there is space for hope in adapting for a changing future.” 

Other examples of creative story-telling about climate change include a water puppetry performance that uses traditional, Vietnamese story-telling techniques to engage audiences.  

Maximising impact with the British Academy

The River of Hope film has already been shown in a number of workshops in Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia to a range of key youth and policy stakeholders in each context to investigate how adopting similar approaches undertaken in the project can further support climate action-orientated policy and practice in Southeast Asia.

This further work is undertaken by the ‘Advancing Policy and Practice on Climate Action in SouthEast Asia (APPOCA) project and is supported under the British Academy’s Maximising Impact scheme, that targets funding on supporting ‘…ongoing research projects to maximise the impact of cutting-edge work in developing countries’.

The workshops have further supported and help fund youth-led elements by linking up with the first-ever Local Conferences of Youth (LCOYS) in Cambodia and Thailand which come under the umbrella of YOUNGO, the official youth constituency of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The film is just one of the highlights of this ongoing research that has also enabled funding for a youth from Cambodia to attend both COY 18 and COP 28 to promote the film and the project, and to advocate for the importance of story-telling and engaging different generations to share solutions and stories of hope in relation to climate change. Chantarapeach (Peach) Ut, a youth climate champion directly involved with the first LCOY in Cambodia and the Space and Sustainable Operations Officer at Impact Hub Phnom Penh, a youth-led organisation who have partnered with the APPOCA project is currently out in Dubai, UAE. Here Peach is not only presenting and advocating for this research but is also presenting the important outcomes from the LCOY in Cambodia on behalf of all youth in Cambodia.

River of Hope
Youth members putting their research skills into action by collecting community members’ stories of living with and adapting to a changing climate.

Katie Parsons, Co-Researcher from Loughborough University, said: "Children, young people and youth must be at the forefront in policy making for climate adaptation. Not only will they inherit the consequences of our actions, but they also embody the transformative energy and creativity needed to navigate the challenges that lay ahead. Their perspectives, innovations and skills are essential ingredients for crafting sustainable solutions.

“By facilitating the empowerment of children, young people and youth as policy leaders, we not only secure a more resilient future but also ensure that decisions made today are informed by the voices and aspirations of those that will inherit the planet tomorrow."

Researchers from the University of Hull along with all the partner institutions have also collaborated on an innovative paper co-authored with youth that has been included in a new special issue of the Journal of the British Academy, which details the experiences of and responses to unprecedented global challenges around the world for youth engaged in climate action.

Being and becoming – uncertain youth futures explores the many challenges – from climate change and infectious diseases to gender-based discrimination and widespread lack of good jobs – facing a ‘short changed’ generation globally.

Most of the research presented in this special issue stems from the British Academy’s Youth Futures research funding scheme. The Youth Futures research funding scheme was designed to support research which brought a youth-led perspective on the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

To find out more about the research, please refer to the following papers:

You can also find out more about both projects, what guiding research principles underpin them and the future direction of the research by going to the Younity4action website where this work is being brought together under the umbrella of Younity4action, an evolving international collaborative space focusing on advancing transdisciplinary research committed to co-created and youth-led climate action.

River of Hope
Sorting clams collected from the Red River in Xuân Thủy National Park, Vietnam.

Funding partners

The youth-led adaption to climate change challenges in Vietnam (YACC) is funded by the British Academy’s Youth Futures Programme and supported under the UK Government's Global Challenges Research Fund.

The ‘Advancing Policy and Practice on Climate Action in SouthEast Asia (APPOCA)’ is supported by the British Academy’s Maxmising Impact Programme, funded by the UK’s Department for Science, Innovation and Technology.

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