UAE focus on sustainability leads to surge in climate-change interest from students

Cop28 is said to be a major factor in huge increase in number of students interested in sustainability

Zayed University has launched a series of activities under the theme #roadtoCop28.
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The UAE government's focus on climate issues is paying off, as suggested by a surge in the number of students studying sustainability at one of the country's leading universities.

At Zayed University the number of students on its sustainability programme have practically quadrupled, from 52 to 207 in the past year.

The programme has been enjoying an increase in interest as the world turns its attention to the UAE with Cop28, the UN climate change conference, taking place in Dubai at the end of next month.

"The UAE government's commitment to sustainability has encouraged students to act by seeking education that prepares them for future challenges," said Dr Suzanna Elmassah, the head of the programme.

“The aim is to educate and mobilise students around sustainable practices.”

Students on the course learn about the science behind the impact of human activities on the environment, and learn to develop sustainable solutions through the application of new technologies, business strategy, and social policy.

Cop28 in focus

In the lead-up to next month's climate change conference in Dubai, the university has launched a series of activities under the theme #roadtoCop28.

While the conference has served as a significant driving force, other global crises, such as floods and earthquakes, have also played a crucial role in boosting enrolment.

"The labour market is increasingly demanding a sustainability edge, and our students realise that," Dr Elmassah said.

"The programme’s academic content is carefully designed by an interdisciplinary faculty to adapt to local, regional, and global contexts.

"It offers a chance to equip people with the knowledge and skills needed to effect positive change and contribute to a more resilient and sustainable world," she added.

Activities include workshops on topics such as greenhouse gas emissions from the packaging industry and smart solutions for a circular economy.

The university has also launched a sustainability club, which is taking steps to address environmental issues through a range of initiatives.

“With branches at both Abu Dhabi and Dubai campuses, the club boasts a strong membership of 200 students,” Dr Elmassah said.

The programme is also joining forces with the British University in Egypt and the United Nations Development Programme to host a Cop28 simulation model.

Taking place in Cairo from November 7-11, the mock conference is a unique platform for students to gain first-hand experience in international environmental diplomacy.

Sustainable students

Emirati student Dana Al Seriari, 18, told The National about her time in the programme.

"The focus of our country is now squarely on sustainability, linking it to every facet of life,” she said.

"Since joining the course two months ago, we have been deeply immersed in topics ranging from climate change to biodiversity, and I am eager to learn even more as the programme progresses.”

Ms Al Seriari said her academic journey has already inspired conscious changes in her household.

"The programme has caused a shift in how I perceive and use everyday resources, like electricity," she said.

“As a result, unnecessary use of lights is now a thing of the past in our home, a change that my family has happily adopted.”

Fellow student Salama Al Mazrouei, 19, is in her second year of the programme.

She initially enrolled at the urging of her mother.

"I've always associated sustainability with recycling, thanks to early exposure through projects my mother involved us in,” she said.

But her time in the programme has shown her that sustainability encompasses much more.

Ms Al Mazrouei believes the scheme's reach is expanding beyond academic corridors.

"The subject matter is sparking curiosity not only among younger family members but also among the older generation," she said.

She finds herself frequently discussing the broader implications of sustainability, from resource management to business and food systems.

“It's clear to me that more students will be drawn to this critical field in the near future," she added.

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Updated: October 13, 2023, 12:18 PM