Today's youth can win the climate fight

Innovation is going to be a game changer

The 2022 winners of the Zayed Sustainability Prize take to the stage during the opening ceremony of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week on Monday. AP Photo

Inherently innovative, adaptive, motivated and determined to make positive change, today’s youth is playing a crucial role in protecting our planet and restoring its health. Simply put, old traditional ways are no longer working when confronted with global challenges, and we need bright young minds to come up with new ways to respond to the most pressing issues of today.

Even though young people aren’t responsible for climate change, they must face the consequences. A sad fact is that young people born after 2010 will experience around four times more extreme climate events in their lifetimes than those born in 1960.

It is our duty to prepare them for this future, and ensure they are ready to address the looming effects of climate change. It is also our responsibility to harness their power of innovation to develop climate-smart solutions that are instrumental to the success of our efforts to mitigate climate change and adapt to its consequences.

Youth contributions can unlock substantial socio-economic and environmental benefits. However, to realise these benefits, we need to empower our young men and women to come up with trailblazing ideas and assist them in translating these ideas into reality.

A major platform that is driving youth innovation to combat global challenges is Zayed Sustainability Prize, an annual event that takes place as part of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW). Inspired by the sustainable development legacy of the UAE’s Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed, the prize has been recognising youth achievements through its Global High Schools category since 2013. To date, 45,000 students from around the globe have benefited from the innovative solutions selected and turned into reality by the prize, which have improved the sustainability of their schools and gone on to positively impact 425,000 people in their communities.

The UAE’s Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed, had a sustainable development legacy that inspired the Zayed Sustainability Prize. Ramesh Shukla

This year’s edition has received a remarkable 4,000 applications from 151 countries. This is a proof that the world has come to rely heavily on innovation to solve current and future problems.

Another leading platform targeting youth at ADSW is Youth 4 Sustainability that brings together young professionals and university students to build the next generation of sustainability ambassadors and environmental leaders through a dedicated series of programmes.

Both events are making tangible progress in tapping into the potential of youth to tackle global sustainability issues.

We in the UAE believe in youth engagement as one of the most effective tools to help populations break the cycle of vulnerability and build resilience to climate change. In this context, the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment has developed the Emirates Youth Climate Strategy to pave the way for young people to develop environmental leadership skills and enable them to contribute to solving the environmental concerns of today and tomorrow.

Recognising that youth can bring a fresh perspective and novel way of thinking, we plan to support the highest levels of youth participation in delegations and formal proceedings at Cop28, which we will host in 2023. Bringing the voices and energy of young people to negotiation tables and bridging the gap between them and decision makers will ensure that Cop28 is an inclusive and youth-centred event that will drive momentum towards robust, ambitious climate action.

The climate crisis has increased uncertainty about our future. However, one thing remains clear: our children will bear the brunt of climate change effects. Let’s empower them and equip them with the right tools to chart a better, greener, more sustainable future for themselves.

Published: January 18, 2022, 5:08 AM
Mariam Al Mheiri

Mariam Al Mheiri

Mariam Al Mheiri is the UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment and Minister of State for Food Security