What Cop28 means to young people in the UAE and how schools effect awareness and change

Pupils share their thoughts on the environmental event and educators reveal how the curriculum creates conversations and sparks ideas

UAE children and educators say Cop28 can amplify the voices of younger generations. Unsplash / Alan Rodriguez
Powered by automated translation

“Cop stands for Conference of Parties. It’s important to have to help save the world.” This is how Seth Hogg, 9, describes Cop28, “the big meeting where leaders from countries come together to discuss matters of climate change”.

International delegates and forward-thinking corporations aside, the continuing Cop28 has brought schools and pupils together to share ideas and put younger generations front and centre to show how committed the UAE's young people are to sharing their ideas on tackling climate change.

“I am excited for Cop28 because so many people are coming from around the world, and the UAE can share their ideas and the things we do here,” says Hamid Gedi, 13. “We have been doing activities in class about the environment and might get a chance to visit some of the events.”

Guided by the Ministry of Education and working with schools across the Emirates, UAE students of all ages, from nursery to university have been carrying out a variety of challenges and projects, from taking part in debates and running recycling programmes to focusing on sustainability in and around the school communities.

“Today, we equip our children and young people with the foundations of environmental education for them to build a safer future and make our world a better place,” says Shamma Al Mazrui, Minister of Community Development, Vice Chairwoman of the Arab Youth Centre and Cop28 Youth Climate Champion.

“As such, our wise leadership pays great attention to educating young people and establishing a love of the land in their hearts so they can be tomorrow’s forerunners of environmental action.”

What does Cop28 mean to UAE children?

With an initiative as important and global as tackling climate change, it’s important children learn about the convention and what it does in an age-appropriate way.

Yosef Fouad, 8, says: “It is when all the world comes together to talk about the environment and climate change and comes up with ways to help solve it. We have been coming up with our own ideas in class.”

UAE schools have become the ideal place to introduce pupils to Cop28 and this year’s agenda.

“Cop28 provides a unique opportunity for schools to equip students with the knowledge and connections to make a meaningful impact in the fight against climate change by exposing students to global climate discussions, environmental initiatives and networking opportunities with experts and delegates worldwide,” says Christopher Seeley, principal of Dove Green Private School, Dubai.

“Lots of important people have come to the UAE, including the King of England,” says Leila Shehadeddin, 14. “Here in the UAE we have our own climate issues because it is a hot country, so things like there being enough water are important. Having Cop28 in the UAE means we have the chance to talk about our experience of climate change here and share our innovations and ideas.”

How to engage children of all ages

“Engaging younger primary children and older secondary children differs in terms of cognitive development, attention span, language, emotional sensitivity, learning styles, motivation, depth of understanding and autonomy,” says Asha Alexander, principal of Gems Legacy School, Dubai, and executive leader – climate change for Gems Education.

“Younger children require simpler, interactive activities and nurturing discussions, while older children can engage in more complex, in-depth conversations and take proactive roles in planning and participating in Cop28 events.”

Learning through play and peer and teacher-led activities empowers children to come up with their own ideas and solutions.

“At school we made a video about sustainability for Cop28,” says Harriet Satterly, 12. “We looked at what happens if you throw plastic into the ocean and learnt it can contaminate the water and kill fish. We also have a list of books to read to help us understand what we can do to help the world.”

At Gems FirstPoint school in Dubai, special events and activities include flower planting, endangered species day and a display wall on which pupils write their personal pledge towards sustainability. The school also runs a sustainability ambassador programme in which elected pupils work with their peers, teachers and parents to share ideas and initiatives.

“Our secondary student ambassadors for sustainability believe it is imperative that Cop28 and the events leading up to it strongly inform and teach others about the importance of sustainability,” says principal David Wade. “They believe it is important that our younger generation learn about sustainability, so that they can take their skills and knowledge abroad in the future, to an audience beyond what they may experience now.”

The benefits of children contributing

“We’ve been having debates at school about the best ways to help the environment,” says Noah Parsons, 11. “We really want to attend Cop28 because we have lots of good ideas we want to tell people about.”

Wade says: “Involvement in global conversations enhances a student's sense of agency, encouraging active civic engagement and a belief in the significance of their contributions. Exposure to diverse perspectives at such events nurtures cultural sensitivity and an appreciation for diversity, contributing to the development of well-rounded individuals capable of navigating an increasingly interconnected world.”

Seeley adds: “Schools must provide opportunities for all students to express their thoughts, opinions and concerns, and ensure their experience is impactful, significant and self-reflective, allowing them to consider their role in contributing to positive climate change.”

Giving young people the tools and space to create and set their own agendas when it comes to global issues that will affect their future is a vital component of creating agency.

“Young people have so many ideas and so many ways in which we communicate and engage with the rest of the world that is different to older generations, like on social media for example,” says Clelia Pirard, 16. “Something like Cop28 gives us the chance to show that we too have ideas to share and voices to be heard.”

An environmental message in all aspects of learning

“Cop28 is when important people from different countries come to the UAE to share ideas about the environment,” says Yassine Abou, 12. “I like learning about it at school because then I go home and teach my parents about what I’ve learnt. I tell them we have to do more things in the house like recycling and being careful of how much water and electricity we use.”

Making environmental issues a part of the curriculum in schools and conversations at home helps put tackling climate change at the heart of everyday life.

“We integrate climate change discussions and projects across various subjects, such as science, geography, social studies and more, to highlight the multidisciplinary nature of climate action,” says Alexander.

“By fostering open dialogue and creating a safe classroom environment, students are empowered to ask questions, express concerns and engage in respectful debates about climate issues, ultimately inspiring them to become informed, engaged and proactive in addressing the global challenge.”

Updated: December 06, 2023, 4:55 AM