An Indian ragpicker looks for reusable garbage yard on the outskirts of Jammu, India, India, Friday, April.21,2017,Earth day will be marked on April 22. (AP Photo/Channi Anand) Image Credit: AP

On April 22 each year, the world celebrates ‘Earth Day’. This is the main international occasion to demonstrate support for Mother Earth and raise awareness on fundamental environmental themes for humankind. The theme of Earth Day 2017 is “environmental and climate literacy”. In fact, it is a three-year global campaign for environmental and climate literacy running up to Earth Day 2020.

This is a very timely theme following the signing of the Paris Agreement, which was a great step towards mitigating the impact of climate change. Environmental education needs to be a key part of this effort, especially in these uncertain political times in which the Donald J. Trump administration wants to “get rid of” the Paris Agreement — evidenced by its climate science denials and environmental threats in general.

The three-year campaign for Environmental and Climate Literacy is focused on promoting mandatory environmental and climate literacy, along with civic engagement and sustainable economic development. Earth Day 2017 will see teach-ins around the world and a March for Science rally that will bring together scientists and supporters to demand that world leaders recognise the scientific truths across all disciplines, including climate change and other environmental issues.

Environmental and climate literacy is the engine — not only for creating green citizens and advancing environmental and climate laws and policies but also for accelerating green technologies, renewable energy and jobs.

Humans have to change the way they think. If we want a green and sustainable lifestyle, we first have to ‘green’ our minds. Frankly, many of the green solutions are available. Some are very cheap and available in traditional sectors or from modern clean technology solutions.

Thus, education is the key to progress. When people are empowered with knowledge, people can take action to defend their environment and promote sustainable solutions to environment and climate change that benefit their communities for both the present and the future.

In addition, Environmental awareness undoubtedly plays a vital role in instilling green thinking in our minds. Environmental awareness is not an easy task and should be part of any policy tools to alter the behaviour of citizens towards an environmental-friendly behaviour. Environmental awareness and education should cope with changes in our societies whether economic or environmental.

UAE takes the lead

It is worth mentioning that the UAE is one of the pioneer countries in the region and globally when it comes to environment and climate literacy. Across the seven emirates, there are many initiatives and campaigns — such as Heroes of the UAE, Clean-up Arabia, Clean-up UAE and Paperless day — that aim to educate young generations as well as adults on various environmental issues involving water, energy, waste, wildlife conservation, etc.

These initiatives have been launched by governmental bodies like the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, Dubai Municipality and also by civil societies organisations like Emirates Environmental Group and Emirates Wildlife Society. It is worth mentioning that many corporates launch similar environmental awareness campaigns as part of their corporates social responsibility (CSR) activities.

Also, the Ministry of Education in the UAE pays a great attention to environmental programmes and has launched a number of initiatives targeting schools students in government and private schools. Among these initiatives are the Environmental GLOBE Initiative, the Horticulture Initiative, sustainable schools and campus.

However, one must say that environmental awareness campaigns should be part of a continuous process. Individuals must be constantly reminded of the importance of conservation and the benefits of turning to a sustainable lifestyle. This is likely to be a long process, but through this, we can guarantee a change towards a greener lifestyle over the long term. In addition, it is essential for schools and environmental organisations, as well as mosques and religious places to promote the integration of environmental awareness and education in order to most effectively protect our planet for future generations.

Earth Day is an opportunity to reflect on what we can do as individuals to reduce our environmental footprint to ensure that the Earth’s precious resources are utilised for the benefit of all mankind — both now and for future generations.

Last but not least, one can say that environmental problems and climate change, with its negative impacts, are real and affecting us all. Climate change is like an elephant annoying us in the room (that is, Planet Earth) and only through environmental education and awareness will we be able to kick it out of our room!

Dr Mohamed Abdel Raouf is an independent environment researcher.