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UAE youth urge green recovery action to drive policy

What’s happening? State decision-making in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) should prioritise the environment, according to 90% of young people surveyed by the International Fund for Houbara Conservation, Emirates Nature-WWF, the Dubai Environment Agency and the Federal Youth Authority. Of the 1,600 people surveyed, 99% want the UAE to prioritise sustainable food and diet, while 75% cited reductions in single use plastic as a key issue that should be tackled.

Why does this matter? The development of ESG metrics for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is an area that perhaps doesn’t receive enough coverage, particularly at a grassroots level where younger people in the region have increasingly looked to get involved in initiatives.

Coverage of youth activism in the region has often centred on politics in the wake of the Arab Spring, rather than the environment. Youth environmental consciousness in the region, however, is likely to become an evolving opportunity to drive change. Young people constitute over 32% of the region’s demographic, as well as being the fastest growing segment of its population.

A recent Strategy& report found that MENA youth were already more inclined than previous generations to embrace environmentally consciousbehaviour, leading to participation in a variety of climate-focused programmes.

In Sudan, for example, young activists in the nation’s Youth Organisation on Climate Change have participated both at a local level, and in global “climathons”. Using the traditional Sudanese notion of “nafeer” – collective voluntary action – young people have responded to the climate change’s impact on villages affected by floods and desertification.

Elsewhere, Iran has a growing presence of NGOs and civil society pushing for youth environmental awareness. Its environmental movement and conservation efforts, however, may face several geopolitical challenges.

At a cross-regional level, the Arab Youth Climate Movement synthesises efforts across over 15 MENA countries. There is also a growing recognition that many of the region’s humanitarian issues, such as refugee crises and displacement from flooding or drought, are directly linked to the environment.

It should be noted, however, that this “bottom-up” growth in regional environmental consciousness is not always reflected in the Middle East’s corporate world. Research conducted by the Sustainability Advisory Group in the MENA area revealed a relatively high number of business leaderscontinue to deem climate change, water conservation and waste management as unimportant.

This perhaps further emphasises the pivotal role that young people can play in shaping the region’s environmental policies.

Lateral thought from Curation – With regional unemployment being another pressing issue, given younger people constitute around 51%of MENA countries’ total unemployed population, green jobs could be a prime opportunity to merge rising environmental consciousness with economic growth. This may also result in a stronger alignment between young people’s personal and professional values.

Abir Qazilbash

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