What the young can teach us about climate change

Green warriors of the UAE are inspired and have a strong vision of their ideal world

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg protests with her placard reading "School strike for climate"  as part of her Fridays for Future protest in front of the Swedish Parliament Riksdagen in Stockholm on October 9, 2020.  / AFP / Jonathan NACKSTRAND
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On a daily basis, we read headlines of disasters such as the disintegrating Spalte Glacier in Greenland and the devastating wildfires on the West coast of the US. The effects of climate change are increasingly evident. But if there is one thing these climate-related challenges make clear, it is that everyone must contribute to create a sustainable future for us all.

Education is the key in making a difference to the future, and it entails a change in the mindset of a generation on how to approach the problem.

We take the issue very seriously and are proud that for the past few years the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature has been single-use-plastics free.

We have a green procurement strategy and it is important to us that as part of our programme, we organise thought-provoking talks on sustainability issues. Authors such as ethologist Dr Jane Goodall, sustainability adviser Tony Juniper, and green champion Stephen Ritz have all appeared at the Festival to talk about their areas of expertise.

It has been compelling to see the affect change-maker Greta Thunberg has had on the debate. She and David Attenborough have elevated the urgency of the sustainability message.

Inspired by Thunberg's example, children across the world have joined the movement to save our planet. People like Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough have made the issue resonate more acutely, prompting individuals to do our bit, instead of sitting back and expecting only government or environmental bodies to take the lead.

A healthy environment is essential to the survival, well-being and development of children, and therefore a requirement for fulfilling the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. If environmental issues are really human rights issues, children's rights are an intrinsic part of environmental protection.

This is why we were so thrilled last year to became part of the Voices of Future Generations initiative, under the patronage of Unesco, and support Sheikha Hissa bint Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum in her role as the Gulf region's Goodwill Ambassador for the project.

Voices of Future Generations is a unique writing initiative that encourages young people to write stories in Arabic or English, with the focus on sustainability issues.

The range and ingenuity of their submissions has been exceptional

We have just announced the first regional winners of this competition. Looking at their submissions, one thing was clear: young people of the UAE are eloquent, inventive and have a strong vision of their ideal world.

The range and ingenuity of their submissions has been exceptional – from wanting an end to racial discrimination, to wanting increased tolerance, to the urgent need to preserve water in the face of climate change and solving the problem of plastic pollution, each entry had to tackle one or more of the Sustainable Development Goals. But the children's submissions were not traditional educational texts; their stories were tales of adventure and overcoming adversity.

If you look at our current situation vis-a-vis the pandemic as the first chapter of an adventure story, it gives us hope. We are setting the scene for the battle to come, where the next generation will prevail. After a mighty adventure, they will triumph over climate change, intolerance and inequality and viruses. This perspective gives us the courage and energy we need in life to succeed, and make our reality match those of the stories.

These stories are imaginative, empowering and inspiring, and they show that together, we can build a better future. As we have seen in the reach of Greta Thunberg's message, children are more likely to be influenced by other children. So these adventure stories are a wonderful way to build awareness of the challenge ahead in a meaningful way.

It is exciting to be part of a project that helps these young people have their voices heard through writing, which is at the heart of what we do.

Being a part of this global initiative also makes the connections between what is happening around the globe and shows us that we are not alone. We need to work together to find the answers.

There will not be one simple, straight forward, all-encompassing solution. There will be multiple initiatives just like this one all around the world that will play a part in a more sustainable future, to the benefit of us all.

The 2021 competition is now open for registration. Never has there been a more important time for young people to think of safeguarding the future.

It will be interesting to see whether their experiences during 2020 have had an affect. Whatever direction the stories take, I can’t wait to see how the next cohort of young writers plan to make our world a better place.

Ahlam Bolooki is festival director for Emirates Airline Festival of Literature