Bring them on! The young will have an instinctive feel of what needs to be done to take the social development goals further. Image Credit: Ador T. Bustamante/Gulf News

Many of us of were moved by Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg’s environmental movement, which started with her, aged 15, sitting alone in protest outside the Swedish parliament in August 2018. Frustrated by the lack of climate action, Thunberg has since spent the past two years using her influence, intelligence and ability to see things clearly – as sometimes only young people can – to inspire a generation of young environmentalists.

In this task, she has demographics on her side. The global under-30 population accounts more than half of the 7.5 billion people on this planet. This diverse and digitally-connected generation know that they will pay the price if the world fails to heed the UN’s warning that greenhouse gas emissions must be cut almost in half by 2030 to limit global warming below 1.5 degrees celsius.

They understand that missing this target will lead to extreme weather patterns, loss of species, rising sea levels and many more unintended consequences – and that they will be the ones to inherit this world.

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Not the sole voice

Thunberg is just one of the most visible examples of an environmentally aware generation demanding change. Closer to home, Kehkashan Basu grew up in Dubai and in 2013, at age 12, became a United Nations Environment Programme Global Coordinator for Children & Youth, after working tirelessly since the age of eight to encourage beneficial environmental behaviour among companies in Dubai.

Now, aged 19 and living in Canada, she founded Green Hope Foundation to give voice to young people around the world.

Replicate that energy

What’s apparent from these stories is not just our youth’s concern about environmental threats, but also their hopeful view of how much better things could be if we were to put environmental considerations at the top of our agenda.

This is a subject close to my heart, seeing as I have led the CSR education and awareness initiatives that have had a positive impact on the UAE’s environment and society during my nine years at Bee’ah, the Middle East’s sustainability pioneer.

One of the programmes that I am most proud of is Bee’ah School of the Environment (BSOE), which was founded in 2010 and has since reached over 250,000 students from KG to Grade 12 across the UAE. BSOE aims to create a greener generation through a diverse range of online and offline interactive activities, and on September 8, we held a virtual awards ceremony that commemorated a decade of BSOE and our competition Environmental Excellence School Award (EESA). More than 500 schools presented projects under the theme ‘The Preservation of Marine Life and Water Resources’.

The gaming approach

But as forward-thinking as these programmes are, we recognise the need to continually evolve to stay relevant for today’s young digital natives. That is why this year we will be launhing two interactive games, ‘Urban Waste Management’ and ‘Future Masters of Sustainability’ with different challenges on each level, to gamify education and keep our youth engaged.

While the full impact of BSOE’s initiatives will only be visible in coming years, the students that we reach out to have the potential to become environmental ambassadors who will educate and inspire their friends and families, sparking a wave of positive change.

Job options too

I am often struck by how the students who we interact with at BSOE want to pursue a purpose-driven career once they become more exposed to the challenges related to their environment and society. I know this personally from having pursued an education in environmental sciences, that passion and dedication creates abundant opportunities for change.

I am now in a professional career, where I get to put the theories I learnt into application and practice.

Career prospects in the sustainability and environmental field will only increase in the coming years. The UAE’s Minister of Climate Change and Environment, Abdullah Al Nuaimi, recently told a UN-backed environmental conference in Bahrain that “any plans of economic recovery must factor in the green economy as its cornerstone”.

Our nation’s youth are our most precious resource. They hold the key to ensuring that environmental awareness is at the heart of our lives.

They have the passion, commitment and knowledge to change the world. And they will succeed...

- Hind Al Huwaidi is Outreach Manager at Bee’ah.