MARRAKECH // Today’s youth feel protecting the environment is more imporant than economic gain and see education and social awareness as key enablers to sustainable development, according to a new survey by Masdar.
The Masdar Gen Z Global Sustainability Survey questioned about 5,000 people, aged between 18 and 25, worldwide to understand what challenges they saw in the future.
“The findings of the research are very clear: youth demand a sustainable future and believe more investment in renewables from public and private sectors is critical to achieving this,” said Mohammed Al Ramahi, chief executive of Masdar.
Although the environment ranked third in the top five challenges faced by young people today, after poverty and the threat of terrorism, it was identified as the top challenge to address in the next 10 years by 40 per cent of those surveyed.
Young adults today are serious about taking responsibility for the environmental legacy they have inherited, believing it is the biggest issue for their generation to solve and they were sceptical of corporations’ attempts to deal with climate change.
In fact, they were willing to boycott corporations they saw as disingenuous when addressing climate change. Almost half, 46 per cent, chose to spend money on products from companies that behaved in a sustainable way and 31 per cent would boycott a company they perceived as following unsustainable practices.
The survey also found that young people did not see the older generation as capable of addressing climate change.
“Putting young people as agents of social change doesn’t mean condescendingly telling them the future is in their hands, which frankly is a cop-out,” said John Crowley, from the Unesco Management of Social Transformation Project.
“The issue is that they are agents of social change because it is within their capacity to change their future.”
Emirati-Omani student Mohammed Al Ghailani, who took part in the survey, said companies were beginning to take young people’s opinions seriously. “They are starting to understand,” he said.
“We are starting to think about the total environmental cost of a product,” he said, adding that he chose products that were environmentally friendly. He said consumer power was a means for youth to begin carving corporate environmental policies.
“It’s an effective tool and the only way to make corporations reconsider their actions,” he said. “The survey shows the youth perspective and if companies fail to recognise that, it will be their end.
“Purchasing power of the youth is much higher than it should be so we do actually have a say when it comes to the products available in the market, and companies need to learn how to adapt.”
The survey also found that young people’s levels of trust in government, the media and big business to behave sustainably was relatively low.
“Many of the leaders’ plans don’t align with many young people’s expectations of ambitious climate action,” said Timothy Damon, a member of Youngo, an observer constituency of youth non-governmental organisations. “Young people need to be in solidarity to really push for the most progressive change in politics.”
He said there needed to be more avenues for young people to have input on decision making and that countries had no excuse to not include them.
Masdar’s chief executive agreed. “To effectively plan and take action in delivering a sustainable future, we need to understand the hopes and concerns of today’s young people,” Mr Al Ramahi said.