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The UAE is to give young people a platform at the Cop28 summit to help tackle the global climate crisis.
Dr Amna Al Shamsi, assistant undersecretary of the care and capacity building sector at the Ministry of Education, said the next generation should be at the heart of the debate – because they would face the consequences if the world failed to find solutions to climate change.
Cop28 is holding a series of events on Friday to mark Youth Day, which focuses on the role of young people in championing sustainability.
“Youth are the ones who are going to inherit this planet and they are going to either suffer from the consequences of what we do or they will be enjoying the fruits of the actions and the solutions that we push forward towards,” Dr Al Shamsi said.
“They are the ones who are going to be driving that change and they are the ones who are going to be providing those solutions.
"In this, unlike any other Cop, the participation of youth has been very significant. The participation of youth started in previous Cops, but there is a lot of focus on it [at this Cop].”
Green vision for the future
The Ministry of Education's Greening Education Hub at Cop28 aims to highlight how education can mitigate climate change.
The hub, which will host more than 250 sessions and workshops during the summit, attracted more than 18,000 visitors in its first week.
The UAE this year launched the Green Education Partnership Roadmap, in co-operation with Unesco and Unicef, in preparation for Cop28.
A ministry initiative, the “net-zero heroes”, led to 35 students from countries including the Emirates being trained by Unicef. “We're going to continue to push the children's voices forward,” Dr Al Shamsi said.
“There is a long-term plan to ensure that these students work as advocates for climate change and climate education, and disseminate this knowledge and skills among their communities and schools.
“This will create a butterfly effect where we want the children to be the real champions to advocate for climate awareness and climate action.”
Learning lessons on climate change
Austin Alexander, vice president of sustainability and social impact at global water technology company Xylem, attended Cop28 and spoke of the importance of giving young people the right role models.
“Often, youth are not asked to have their voice at the table in any serious way when we're talking about climate. Even in solutions to solve climate change, it is incredibly important,” Ms Alexander said.
“One of our 2025 sustainability goals is to educate 15 million youth on water challenges around the world. We're trying to bring their innovative minds and voices into how we develop the next set of technology.”
She said Xylem was working with Premier League football club Manchester City to boost young people's interest in water issues.
“We just released a video with Pep Guardiola, manager of Manchester City, which is a fun way to engage with youth by bringing in some of their favourite sports teams, talking about water issues,” Ms Alexander said.
“That's something that kids are talking and thinking about outside the classroom. So, to hear from others on these important issues, we think is really powerful.
“Youth engagement is one of the core pillars of our sustainability and social impact work as a company.
“Our goal is to create ambassadors or activists on water that are out in their community, because when youth care about these issues, that really spurs change in other areas.”
Xylem employees are encouraged to volunteer in schools to improve water education in communities. On Friday, the company will announce a partnership with the World Bank on their Water Innovators Challenge, which helps to bring youth into technology innovation. They are looking to fast-track scalable solutions to water challenges.
In October, the Ministry of Education joined forces with the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation to focus on sustainability, climate action and educating young people on the impact of climate change.
The foundation has organised climate action and sustainability-focused workshops and boot camps combining the environment and entrepreneurship.
In the “eco-preneurship boot camp”, adults aged between 18 and 35 learnt about creating businesses that solve climate issues. Winning teams had their ideas showcased at Cop28, with one team to be selected to receive long-term advice and support after Cop28.
“The youth’s voice is critical and it needs to be welcomed and leveraged because they are inheriting critical issues and global challenges that are going to require collective efforts,” said Sonia Ben Jaafar, chief executive of Al Ghurair Foundation.
“If we don't do our jobs, the education sector will not have the tool kits to be able to articulate intelligently and innovate with regards to this. We want them to be involved, from the grass roots to the higher levels, and we want to see impactful practical solutions.”