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Climate anxiety rises among Mena youth

Mena youth climate anxiety Wam
A group of UAE young climate champions at a Cop28 event on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York
  • 66% of 18-24s very concerned
  • More than half will boycott damaging brands
  • Engaging youth a key Cop28 aim

More than two-thirds of 18-to-24-year-olds in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) say they are “very concerned” about the potential impacts of climate change.

More than half are ready to boycott brands that damage the environment, a survey shows. 

Previously unreleased findings from the 15th annual Asda’a BCW Arab Youth Survey, published earlier this year, identified increasing worry about climate change among the region’s young people. 

Two thirds of the 3,600 Arab citizens surveyed reported that they were “very concerned” about the impacts it could have on the world. This was the highest percentage in five years.

An even higher proportion (71 percent) said that climate change is already impacting their lives, the survey found. 

Meanwhile, the overwhelming majority (87 percent) said they believe their governments are taking positive action against climate change.

Just over half (56 percent) said they would like their governments to set accountable targets to achieve net zero emissions

A report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) this week found that only six of the 17 countries in Mena have set a target for reaching net zero carbon emissions or otherwise reducing greenhouse gases.

They mainly include countries in the GCC, most notably the UAE and Saudi Arabia, although other Mena countries are increasing renewable energy investments.

The agency warned that fossil fuel demand must fall by a quarter by 2030 if governments want to limit the increase in global warming to the 1.5oC maximum stipulated in the 2015 Paris Agreement. 

The latest Climate Shift Index by US-based not-for-profit Climate Central, showed that Gulf nations were among the most heavily impacted by climate-driven high temperatures in July.

However, less than half (42 percent) of Mena youth said that Arab countries should be doing more than other nations to tackle climate change, according to the survey.    

Respondents were equally split on how to address global warming, with 49 percent saying that people should change the way they live, and 47 percent saying that technological advancement is the best solution. 

Most of the GCC-based young people surveyed (80 percent) said their everyday behaviour has an impact on climate change, compared to only 60 percent in the Levant and 58 percent in North Africa.

“The Middle East is home to some of the world’s largest energy producers and proven oil and gas reserves,” said Sunil John, president of BCW Mena.  

“This has positioned the Arab world at the heart of the global climate change dialogue.

“However, it is less reported that Mena also bears the severe brunt of climate change. Heatwaves and flash floods affect livelihoods, threaten social security and drive people to migrate to newer lands.

“Amid all this, it is encouraging that much of the region’s largest demographic – its 200 million-plus youth – understand the implications of climate change.” 

He urged businesses to take heed of their sentiment and make “genuine efforts” to minimise their environmental impact. 

Getting the young involved

Involving the region’s young people in the climate change debate is a key strand of the Cop28 presidency’s action plan for the United Nations summit in Dubai later this year.   

Cop28 president-designate Sultan Al Jaber and the UAE’s youth climate champion Shamma Al Mazrui hosted a ‘youth ambition majlis’ on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York last week.

The event aimed to provide a forum for young people to share their ideas and ambitions ahead of the Cop28 event. 

Adult, Female, PersonWam
UAE youth climate champion Shamma Al Mazrui (second left) and Cop28 president designate Sultan Al Jaber at the youth ambition majlis

UAE schools are also engaging pupils in the climate change debate. Abu Dhabi’s Mamoura British Academy, run by Aldar Education, this week joined the shortlist to win the environmental action category in a global competition – the World’s Best School Prizes 2023. 

Earlier this month, the UAE’s Centre for Climate Diplomacy at the Anwar Gargash Diplomatic Academy (set up by Abu Dhabi wealth fund Mubadala and state oil giant Adnoc) launched a research initiative to prepare future regional leaders for diplomatic discussions about climate change.

More broadly across the region, there is evidence of greater public awareness of the need to maximise energy efficiency.

In Saudi Arabia, for example, the number of households expressing an interest in reducing electricity consumption rose from 66.1 percent in 2021 to 91.9 percent in 2022, according to newly released figures from the General Authority for Statistics.

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