Our youth's creativity offers hope for the environment

International Youth Day was a recent reminder of who can make the greatest difference to our future

Young people organise a beach cleanup in Indonesia. EPA
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It is said that youth is not a time of life, but rather a state of mind.

August 12 was the UN International Day of Youth, and I believe it is incumbent on us all to never forget what it is like to be young.

For those of us in positions of influence, we must keep true to the dreams of our youth. That will enable us to govern with the experience of age, but the energy of youth – a potent combination.

When we are young, we are often told that patience is a virtue.

But the more I speak with our young people, particular on the most pivotal issues facing our nation and our planet, I am convinced that there is also a time and place for impatience.

We are now less than four short months away from Cop28 and young creative voices are more essential than ever to drive the climate change conversation.

It is therefore fitting that with Cop28 on the horizon and in 2023, the UAE Year of Sustainability, the UN has dedicated International Youth Day to the challenge of how to create a more sustainable world and respond to climate change. The theme of International Youth Day this year is developing youth skills suitable for the Green Economy.

The UAE leadership recently mobilised greater youth participation at ‘The Road to Cop28’ which was the first Cop28 event to take place in Expo City in Dubai in the runup to the climate conference. The event amplified the efforts of youth-led and youth-focused organisations in climate action. Needless to say, these efforts are not limited to a country or a region but are part of a global drive.

Young creative voices are more essential than ever to drive the climate change conversation

For most of us, when we think about how our world is impacted by climate change we form mental pictures of glaciers, prolonged drought, rising sea levels, or species driven to the edge of extinction. This is because the impacts of climate change are well-researched and commonly discussed and are primarily what most people associate with global warming.

And yet, one of the most fascinating aspects of the sustainability discussion is the relationship between climate change and culture.

The reality is that there is a growing awareness that climate change is one of the greatest threats facing culture today, and that the form that threat poses takes many guises.

In almost every part of the globe, cultural heritage sites are suffering and degrading from the effects of climate change. They are threatened by increasing fires to floods, droughts, desertification, and ocean acidification.

Across the seven emirates of UAE, that should be of significant cause for concern, because our own wealth of historic sites provides a poignant reminder of our cultural identity. Without them, that connection risks being slowly eroded over time.

Across the world, the identity of communities is already under threat from the march of climate change. In fact, the entire uprooting of communities due to climate change threatens entire ways of life, including the practice and transmission of living heritage. Oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, festive events, and traditional knowledge are all vulnerable in the face of climate change.

Left unchecked, climate change will also contribute to lost economic opportunities in the cultural and creative sector, as well as cultural tourism.

In essence, climate change is disrupting the lives of communities across the globe, dramatically limiting their ability to preserve, access and benefit from their culture.

But all is not lost. Not least because culture is also a powerful tool for addressing climate change impacts.

In fact, policymakers increasingly recognise that culture has the potential to be a driver to address our climate emergency. That’s in part because, culture does not simply echo the world around us, it is also a response to it – it challenges our norms and ideals, and provides us with a platform to express, share and shape our future. Creativity, for example, is essential for finding new solutions to environmental challenges, while artists and creators have an enormous role to play in inspiring climate action.

At the Ministry of Culture and Youth we are acutely aware of our own organisational vision: “Culture that inspires the world and youth shaping the future.” That vision, in a world under threat from climate catastrophe, is more relevant than ever.

We are ensuring our youth contributes to our drive to preserve the heritage of humanity across borders. Our restoration and rehabilitation work to protect the heritage of Africa is one such example where young volunteers will play a key role. The UAE’s Africa fund will support heritage sites in Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan, in partnership with the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas (ALIPH).

Across the planet, on the International Day of Youth, young people are leading the charge for action to combat climate change. And it is a source of immense pride that many of the most passionate and effective are young Emiratis, using the creative mediums to express themselves.

People have long suspected that climate shapes attitudes and behaviour, but it is a source of great inspiration to me that the attitudes and behaviour of our young creatives, are now shaping climate action.

In essence, they are motivated by the challenge to fight for their future and to fight for our futures.

I commend the impatience of our youth and the imagination of our creatives, because their hard work and perseverance continues to drive the sustainable change, we all desire.

Published: August 14, 2023, 2:18 PM