Opinion piece by Laila Mostafa Abdullatif, Director General, Emirates Wildlife Society-WWF
Last week I was honoured to be invited by the World Green Economy Organization and DEWA to participate in a youth dialogue centred around the topic of whether going green is practical or unrealistic for today’s youth. It was an absolute honour to lend my voice to a topic that is of paramount importance to the rapidly evolving world we live in, and to have such an engaged young audience.
The environment is incredibly near and dear to my heart and I have faith that the current surge in the global youth population could radically change economies, unlocking the potential of the next generation of innovators, entrepreneurs, environmental ambassadors and change agents. After all, young people hold the majority stake in world demographics, with nearly 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 and 24 worldwide, according to UN statistics.
The economy, society and environment can thrive in unison by working together ensuring a prosperous future in harmony with nature. Everyone has a role to play in order to make this vision a reality and I encourage youth to inspire inspirational changes across the community and be our glimmer of hope!
For those who were not able to attend the World Green Economy Summit youth dialogue, below are some key insights from my side.
There is no planet B and no Plan B.
Our world is changing rapidly. Our planet and humanity are at a critical crossroads. Sadly, we face an issue when it comes to resource consumption. Our demand has increased so greatly that we would need 1.5 Earths to sustain it, and if no action is taken, we will soon require two Earths well before 2050. From our high water and energy consumption, to food wastage and overreliance on plastics, these actions are pushing our natural resources beyond their limits and placing a huge pressure on our environment.
Contrary to public perception however, being environmentally responsible is not difficult to achieve; all one needs is a positive, ‘can-do’ attitude and a determined spirit. There are so many ways to take responsibility for our everyday habits by making small, practical changes that will truly make a meaningful difference to our environment and economy in the long-run.
Youth represents more than half of our Arab societies
It is obvious that the wellness of the environment directly relates to our wellness and health, as well as every other species on the planet. Our local heritage is also deeply rooted in the physical environment, which provides us with remarkable beauty that we can all appreciate, and which we need to preserve.
It is critical for youth to play a role in shaping our society and ensuring a sustainable way of life, making this vision a reality. Youth are a major part of the population and have a lot of energy and passion to shape our future and act as ambassadors on sustainability.
Leading the nation towards a sustainable future
The UAE’s leadership realizes the importance of giving youth a voice and a role in governing the nation– we are the only nation in the world that has a 22 year old Minister of Youth – H.E. Shamma Al Mazrui – who presides over the Youth National Council, focusing on the future, youth, happiness, developing education, and combating climate change. I encourage the younger generation to take advantage of the governmental youth platforms available. Initiatives such as youth circles give a chance to exhibit a high degree of awareness to participate in efforts shaping the country’s future by highlighting the issues that are most important to you.
The power of education
At Emirates Wildlife Society we provide opportunities to connect youth with nature in order to support youth as sustainability ambassadors. As an organization, we provide university students the opportunity to be directly involved in our marine research and climate change initiatives, through various citizen science research and learning programmes in the field.
The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow. It’s important for youth to connect more with nature, truly understand it’s value and the fact that the wellbeing of humanity is intrinsically linked with nature – we need to sustain each other. By learning this important fact of life now, and by making it a part of their character and DNA, they will ensure that sustainability remains at the heart of all the industries they join or influence in the future.
Role of the private sector
The private sector plays a big part in helping us all move towards a sustainable economy. At this moment in time, businesses have a golden opportunity to take an increasingly active part in environmental stewardship— by embracing and adopting the wider energy efficiency agenda. What is important to highlight here is that creating innovative, smarter, more cost-effective and sustainable ways to succeed in increasingly competitive markets, is both financially beneficial to a company’s own bottom line, as well as tremendously helpful in making green products and services more accessible to everyone.
The merits of this approach are being demonstrated by many brands such as global leaders Unilever, Ikea, Coca-Cola, IBM, Panasonic Microsoft and, HSBC; but also by many of our own UAE brands, including Majid Al Futtaim, working hard to reduce their footprint while supporting civil society.
I urge youth to seek out green products and services, even when there may be a lack of variety or availability. After all, these preferences and purchasing habits are what drive the market supply. We must demand better from our favourite brands. Be more vocal about these matters and support one another with helpful tips and tricks. Most importantly, don’t give up! Stay vigilant, hold on to that youthful optimism, and don’t lose confidence! Every drop makes the ocean, every person’s effort counts.
Knowledge is power
Social media has united the youth to combat a myriad of issues through education— and by building a sense of community and fostering a kinship of sorts. Marketing companies are already aware of the power of this medium, and we should recognize it too. By using social media platforms to promote model environmental behaviour through influencers and peers, the domino effect is inevitable.
The availability of boundless information and social media’s ability to grant instant validation to its users makes it an optimum platform to create and nurture a community that is conscious of its lifestyle’s impact on the environment.