The UAE's sustainability agenda has marked out clear directions for the government and society to take. The country's youth must now join in this transition in full. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

The UAE has reiterated time and again that its youth are integral to their vision of the future of the nation. Not only have the country’s leaders been vocal about it, they have backed up their words through constant investment in the youth.

This is, of course, a colossal responsibility… and a privilege. Few countries so actively empower their younger generations, but for this dynamic to truly be effective, the benefits have to flow both ways.

Recently, a whitepaper was released – Is Nature a Priority for UAE Youth in the COVID-19 Recovery?, and the findings overwhelmingly displayed a concern on the part of the youth about sustainability and environmental impact going forward.

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Pick up that baton

Of course, the government has implemented a number of initiatives to ensure the nation can continue to grow sustainably. But there are also ways in which the youth can take action to mitigate the concerns raised in the whitepaper.

For example, at the most basic level, students can coordinate with their school’s authorities to administer eco-friendly strategies, such as removing plastic cups from drinking fountains and limiting printing to conserve paper. These may seem like minute changes, but consider the aggregate impact if these kinds of adjustments are integrated nation-wide.

The UAE has always fostered a culture of innovation. Therefore, it is likely that the most meaningful and large-scale change will be brought about as a result of research and development.

Bring on the R&D

Of course, activism is useful, but the potential benefits that R&D can yield is bound to be more far-reaching. University students need to take the impetus here.

Research can be carried out in various ways, whether it be a statistical analysis of waste and over-consumption patterns, exploring the efficacy of potential policies, or even designing a replacement for an outdated and polluting component of our modern devices. Data-driven analysis can clearly highlight areas where society can be made more efficient, which can be specifically targeted and addressed as required.

Appetite for solving

Of course, tech innovation can produce tangible solutions to existing problems and inefficiencies. The UAE’s youth have already demonstrated an affinity for this kind of enterprising spirit through their involvement with the country’s space programme and the upcoming Expo.

Hopefully, this can translate over in the service of pursuing a more sustainable future, both for the local and the global community.

However, the duty is certainly not exclusive to students. Those looking to establish start-ups or managing a fledgling business also have a part to play. In founding their business, the UAE’s aspiring entrepreneurs need to ensure that their practices are as environmentally friendly as possible from the outset.

Change at outset

It will inevitably be easier this way, as making small adjustments to an already existing system is far simpler than overhauling the entire system down the line. This can involve implementing a recycling policy, or sourcing materials/services from suppliers who also follow sustainable practices.

Once again, individuals may be put-off by the apparent insignificance of these approaches, but they need to appreciate the bigger picture. If everyone can make these small contributions, the cumulative effect can be hugely beneficial.

The shift towards greater sustainability is a joint effort. The UAE government is certainly doing its part, and it is time that the country’s youth joined them. This is not to say that the youth have not already been making strides.

However, to achieve substantial change, the entire country needs to unite behind this goal, and the youth, as a key demographic, play an integral part in that.

- Umer Lakhani is a Dubai-based ungrad.