This article was originally published by UN Environmentand is republished with permission.
Wang Junkai isn’t your average 19-year-old. The thick-fringed teen who rose to prominence through the boyband the TFBoys, is one of China’s most idolised pop stars, with a following of more than 70 million on Weibo—China’s answer to Twitter— and a number of entertainment awards under his belt.
But Junkai—known as Karry Wang in the west—is also a passionate environmentalist and one of UN Environment’s youngest goodwill ambassadors. Since being given the title in 2018, Wang has strived to connect China’s youth on some of the most urgent environmental issues of their generation, including pollution, air quality, wildlife protection, ecosystems, and more.
“I think the two most challenging environmental problems we face today are biodiversity loss and pollution,” said Junkai at the closure of the Fourth UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi. “The loss of biodiversity has destroyed the food chain while pollution has negatively impacted human health. We need to pay more attention to see how we can work together to solve these problems.”
Growing up in Chongqing in south west China—a megacity of 29 million inhabitants—Junkai says that as a young boy he would go to the nearby mountains to escape from the commotion. It was the forest-covered highlands that restored him. To this day he feels that way.
“I have a special emotional connection to them,” he said.
The actions we take today will arguably decide whether today’s young people inherit a healthy planet, rich with wild species, or not. This is why Junkai—who could see the disappearance of coral reefs in his lifetime—says that it is about the small, everyday actions we take that can change the planet’s course.
Photo by UN Environmment
For instance, the superstar says he always brings a reusable bottle or mug when on shoot, so as to avoid single-use plastics. He also chooses public transportation when he can, particularly in cities outside of China where he’s not so easily recognized, to avoid contributing to global warming. Finally, he uses his social media accounts as a platform to engage his millions of fans on more than just his music.
“If everyone can change themselves in a very small way we can make a big difference together,” he said. “We, as young people, should be realizing the problems and changing ourselves so that we can then move to save the planet and our future.”
In 2017, Junkai, Matt Culture and the New Sunshine Foundation jointly set up the Kindle Blue Fund, a charity aimed at improving education in poverty-stricken areas in China.
Junkai said the mission was particularly dear to him as, growing up, his primary school didn’t offer a great selection of books, so he wanted to make sure other children didn’t have the same fate.
“I want to let the students in the rural areas know much more about the world, to be curious about it, and then inspire them to seek a better future for themselves,” he said.
Wildlife is another area that Junkai is passionate about. In 2016, he widely shared the UN #WildforLife campaign, which aims to mobilize millions to find their kindred species and raise awareness on the illegal trade in wild animals and plants. His participation on social media reached 400 million viewers and inspired 3 million pledges of action. A year later, he publicly spoke out on the urgent need to protect endangered species, particularly those threatened by the illegal trade in wildlife, naming them the “superstars of the planet”.
“The success of the Wild for Life campaign depends on our ability to break through the clutter and reach and inspire the unconverted to pay attention and start caring about the impacts of their purchases,” said Lisa Rolls, Head of Wildlife Communication and Ambassador Relations. “Influencers like Wang Junkai play a pivotal role in this journey.”
For Junkai, the tiger, which he calls the king of the forest, is the absolute best, and he has considerably supported its protection. There are currently more tigers in zoos in China and the US than in the wild; only a staggering 3,900 live in the wild opposed to 100,000 a century ago.
Aside from his advocacy for wildlife protection and his work with rural schools in China, Junkai also has a desire to help protect the oceans.
After visiting Ocean Sole in Nairobi, a company that makes colourful statues out of discarded flip-flops found on Kenya’s beaches, Junkai was inspired to get involved in ocean protection.
“For now, I want to focus on these two areas [wildlife protection and providing books for schools] and make sure they are running very well,” said Junkai. “But after I would also like to get more involved in tackling marine litter.