Youth Climate Report, documentary film project led by York faculty member Mark Terry, recognized with UN SDG Action Award

Mark Terry presenting the Youth Climate Report

The Youth Climate Report, a documentary film project led by Mark Terry – explorer, award-winning filmmaker and contract faculty member and course director at York University’s Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change – has earned an Honourable Mention from the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 2020 Action Awards. The project is the only Canadian program to be recognized this year out of a field of more than 1,000 nominated projects.

Mark Terry presenting the Youth Climate Report
Mark Terry presenting the Youth Climate Report at COP 23, held in Bonn, Germany in November 2017

The SDG Action Awards are presented each year by the UN to acknowledge sustainability initiatives demonstrating significant impact, creativity, innovation and replicability. The UN announced the 13 winners and honourable mentions on Jan. 22, and will hold an awards ceremony at the annual SDG Global Festival of Action on March 25 and 26, taking place virtually this year.

The Youth Climate Report showcases more than 525 videos from youth filmmakers geo-located on an interactive map, providing policymakers with a wealth of visible evidence of climate research, impacts and solutions from around the world in one easily accessible digital space.

The groundbreaking film project not only gives young people a voice at UN climate summits, but offers the rare opportunity for them to directly contribute to policy creation on the global stage. Through their short documentaries, or “Mini-Docs,” youth bring attention to urgent environmental issues facing their respective communities and ecosystems, share climate research and solutions, and highlight youth-led climate action initiatives. For policymakers, the database provides important visual context that helps them gain a fuller understanding of climate issues during the two-week UN climate summits each year.

“Since the youth of the world are going to be the next generation to deal with the global issue of climate change and planetary health, it is crucial they get involved now so they will be better prepared to understand and deal with the problem going forward,” says Terry, chief engineer of the Youth Climate Report. “The youth of today are the policymakers of tomorrow and by uniting them now with the global community of science and the United Nations, we all stand a better chance of solving the climate crisis in the years to come.”

Screenshot of the Youth Climate Report
The Youth Climate Report showcases more than 525 videos from youth filmmakers on all seven continents

The Youth Climate Report represents a new form of documentary pioneered by Terry called a “Geo-Doc,” – a multilinear, interactive, database documentary film project presented on a platform of a Geographic Information System (GIS) map of the world.

The project was born after the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) requested that Terry develop a film program for the global community of youth to have their voices heard at the annual climate change conferences (COP conferences).

His PhD research at York focused on developing the Geo-Doc technology, building on his master’s studies that explored the evolution of the documentary film as an instrument of social change. The current iteration of his Youth Climate Report project was presented at the Paris climate summit in 2015 and adopted the following year by the UN as a data delivery system for the COP conferences under its Article 6 mandate for education and outreach.

The “Mini-Docs” that populate the Youth Climate Report are crowdsourced through initiatives spearheaded by the UN and York University.

Each year, the UNFCCC holds the Global Youth Video Competition, where participants between 18 and 30 years old from around the world submit a maximum three-minute video corresponding to the year’s three selected themes. The top 20 films in each of the themes are added to the Youth Climate Report map, and the winners are invited to the UN’s annual climate summit where their films are presented to a global audience including delegates and world leaders.

Mark Terry sitting with Inuit filmmakers at climate conference
Mark Terry (far right) leads a press conference with young Inuit filmmakers from Tuktoyuktuk, NWT at the COP 25 climate conference in Madrid, Spain in December 2019. The young Indigenous filmmakers presented their film Happening to Us to conference delegates

York University contributes to the Youth Climate Report through an intensive filmmaking workshop called the Planetary Health Film Lab, offered by the Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research (DIGHR). Led by Terry, who is also a Research Fellow at DIGHR, the week-long workshop trains young people from Canada and around the world to make Youth Climate Report videos exploring the impacts of climate change on human health and well-being in their communities. Introduced in winter 2020, the program’s first cohort included environmental activists and emerging filmmakers from Canada, Australia, Ecuador, Colombia, India and Italy.

“The Planetary Health Film Lab is the only workshop of its kind in the world where students learn not only how to make a film for the UN, but to do so in a manner that contributes directly to policy creation as a resource in the Youth Climate Report,” says Terry.

Mark Terry with York students
Mark Terry leading York University students during a weekly Fridays for Freedom March through downtown Toronto in April 2019

The next Planetary Health Film Lab will take place remotely in June 2021. This year, the team plans to train Indigenous youth throughout the Circumpolar Arctic as part of its endeavour to provide training and resources to under-represented communities.

Along with running the Planetary Health Film Lab, Terry also teaches the Geo-Doc technology to York undergraduate students in the course “EU/ENVS 1010: Introduction to Environmental Documentaries,” which uses his book, The Geo-Doc: Geomedia, Documentary Film, and Social Change (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020), as the principal text. The course teaches students how to create their own Geo-Doc projects based on the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and some students also learn how to make the “Mini-Docs” that populate the Youth Climate Report project.

In addition to the SDG Action Award, Terry’s pioneering work on the Youth Climate Report has also been recognized with a President’s Sustainability Leadership Award from York University in 2016, as well as the York University Award for Outstanding Global Engagement and the York University Mobility Award, both in 2017. Last year, he was elected to the Royal Society of Canada for this innovative work in activist documentary filmmaking.

By Ariel Visconti, YFile communications officer