September 20, 2023 - The Northeast Asia region, comprising China, Japan, Mongolia, and South Korea, faces similar climate vulnerabilities and impacts. Recognizing the shared challenges, The Asia Foundation launched the Northeast Asia Youth Exchange Program in August 2023. This initiative aimed to tackle climate change through Nature-Based Solutions (NbS). The fundamental idea was to foster cooperation and facilitate people-to-people dialogue and relationship building, especially among the region's youth.
The program brought together 13 dedicated young individuals from China, Japan, Mongolia, and South Korea aged 18-30, and known for their innovative efforts in addressing climate change challenges. Through a series of activities and initiatives, these participants aimed to enhance their understanding of climate change, brainstorm innovative solutions, and build connections for future collaborations.
The program commenced with a series of webinars, each hosted by participating countries. These webinars served as knowledge-sharing platforms, providing insightful overviews of critical climate issues specific to each nation, highlighting their ongoing efforts in applying Nature-Based Solutions, and presenting specific case studies. This foundational knowledge paved the way for meaningful discussions and collaborative endeavors in the subsequent phases of the program.
The highlight of the program was a week-long study visit to Mongolia. During this study visit, participants engaged in activities to enhance their understanding of climate change issues and potential solutions. They participated in the Climate and Youth International Forum hosted by the Ministry of Environment and the UN in Mongolia and delved into Mongolian climate change issues and potential solutions.
Site visits were an essential part of the learning process. Participants visited the Green Belt Tree Nursery to understand partnership-based solutions for mitigating desertification, combatting climate change, and addressing yellow dust and sandstorm issues in Mongolia and the broader Asian context. The visit to Khustai National Park provided insights into the value of biodiversity in Mongolia’s economy and culture and the potential threats climate change poses to the country’s biodiversity.
Everyday Farm, an integrated 10MW solar power plant and horticultural facility showcased sustainable farming practices and innovative use of solar energy for agricultural purposes. The visit to the MMS Green Building introduced participants to the latest innovations in sustainable construction in Mongolia, along with advancements in eco-friendly building materials and energy-efficient design strategies.
Additionally, participants met with the Environment and Climate team at The Asia Foundation Mongolia Office, gaining further insights into the Foundation’s climate-related programs. A series of meetings with organizations from various sectors working to address climate change issues in Mongolia, including Mongol Ecology Center, URECA, People in Need, Rio Tinto Mongolia, and the Mongolian Sustainable Finance Association (MSFA), provided a comprehensive understanding of the collaborative efforts in the region.
During the study visit in Mongolia, participants were grouped into teams, each tasked with brainstorming and designing an initiative that leverages regional cooperation to address one or more climate change challenges facing the Northeast Asia region. Each group analyzed climate change issues and crafted potential solutions based on the knowledge gained from the webinars, information sessions, stakeholder meetings, and site visits. The potential project ideas that emerged were diverse and promising. The Ideas included the promotion of organic fertilizers in Northeast Asia, an implementation framework for organizing vegan and climate-friendly events, and a pilot initiative to promote green tourism in Mongolia. These project ideas were presented to The Asia Foundation Country office in China, Japan, Mongolia, and South Korea for their comments.
Feedback on the exchange program from all participants was overwhelmingly positive, highlighting the transformative impact of the Youth Exchange experience. One participant noted, “The most valuable activity was exchanging ideas and discussion with participants and lectures by experts. I enjoyed sharing my ideas while receiving feedback and opinions from fellow participants. It was an eye-opener for me.” Another participant emphasized the program’s practical experiences: “I believe our trip to Hustai National Park and the Green Belt Project was truly fantastic. Additionally, the seminars from each country were excellent. These two activities provided us with valuable perspectives on nature-based solutions projects. The first introduced us to the concept, while the latter offered real-world experiences.”
The 2023 Northeast Asia Youth Exchange Program is a testament to the power of international cooperation and youth-driven innovation. Through a blend of informative webinars, immersive site visits, and collaborative project development, participants emerged not only with an enriched understanding of climate change but also with concrete plans to make a difference in their home countries and the wider region. Returning to their respective nations, they carry the tools, knowledge, and network required to advance Nature-Based Solutions and tackle the shared challenge of climate change in Northeast Asia. This program is a good example of the impact of global cooperation, where youth are empowered to be the change-makers and leaders of a more sustainable future.