'When women lead in climate talks, they take whole communities along': How UAE women are leading the path to Net Zero

UAE-based climate strategists and authors, Farah Naz and Nahla Nabil, launching a first-of-its-kind sustainability book for children at COP28, on how women are redefining the conversation around climate change

Photo: Shihab/Khaleej Times

Somya Mehta

Published: Fri 1 Dec 2023, 4:59 PM

Last updated: Sat 2 Dec 2023, 12:54 PM

The much-awaited climate change conference that the city has been gearing up for this year kickstarted on November 30, making an urgent call to action to tackle the ongoing climate crisis, which is only getting more and more serious with every passing moment. After a year marked by unprecedented heat and drought, the upcoming UN climate summit, COP28 or the 28th meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which aims to address an array of complex issues, has gathered representatives from across the globe for a fortnight of pivotal talks, dynamic debates, and insightful experiences held at Expo City Dubai.

At the forefront of the conference also lies the objective of engaging the youth— the leaders of the future—in the climate change discourse, empowering them to contribute innovative solutions to tackling environmental challenges. Spotlighting this need are two authors, Farah Naz and Nahla Nabil, launching their children's book at the global conference, which not only aims to contribute to the country’s fight against climate change but also cements the pivotal role that the youth will play in envisioning a greener, cleaner future.


Children and climate change

Titled Mission Zero, this literary collaboration stands out not only as a noteworthy addition to children's literature but also as a groundbreaking work—the first of its kind from the region—addressing the critical issue of climate change. With a commitment to educate young readers about the pressing issue of climate change, it represents the region's initial foray into capturing the essence of global campaigns like Race to Zero, Race to Resilience, and UNSDGs, made suitable for a younger audience.

The book will be launched at COP28 on Dec 4

“The book revolves around two siblings, Omar and Sara, who embark on an educational journey about climate change when confronted with an emergency involving their grandfather. What distinguishes this book is its dedication to keeping children informed about the latest changes, updates, and green technology in the field of climate change, in a simplified manner, making it reader-friendly and engaging for kids,” says Farah, who’s is an award-winning climate change strategist and author with 20 years’ experience throughout the building sector. She currently serves as the director of ESG and Innovation, AECOM Middle East and Africa, UAE.

Through the book, young readers will not only understand the basics of climate change but also explore new and vital concepts, including food security, water scarcity and renewable energy. “We have taken the exciting concepts of ‘Race to Zero’ and ‘Race to Resilience’ and presented them in a fun and engaging manner. These initiatives, often perceived as complex, are simplified so that young minds can grasp their significance and can pave the way for a greener future,” says Nahla Nabil, who’s recognised as a Top Voice on LinkedIn in the Mena region, bringing two decades of experience to the field of sustainability.

The authors added, “As mothers, we both share a deep responsibility to equip our children with the right tools and knowledge to tackle the challenges of the future. We believe that education is the first step towards a sustainable and resilient future, and this book is our contribution to that mission.” In the backdrop of their illustrious careers, both Nahla and Farah are mums to young eco-warriors and take immense pride in their roles as mothers.

Pioneering change

With both the authors having decades-long experience in climate strategy, what’s particularly striking is that their journey into the world of sustainability and climate urgency started way before it became part of the mainstream narrative. Leading the change ever since, the women have been at the forefront of pioneering conversations around climate advocacy, urging community members and authority figures to each make their contributions to fulfil the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

When asked what led to their foray into this world, both authors expressed a shared interest in learning about the environment during their formative years. Nahla’s journey into climate action and sustainability began as a child, watching Emirati environmental advocate, Habeeba Al Maraashi, eloquently explain the concept of the environment. “Her words had sparked a flame in me, which continues to live on till today,” says Nahla, originally from New Zealand, with Sudanese roots.

WK281123-SK-BOOKFarah Naz and Nahla Nabil in Dubai. 28 November 2023. Photo by Shihab

Farah, who has led the sustainability and innovation strategy for the Museum of the Future, Louvre Museum in Abu Dhabi, Bee’ah HQ in Sharjah, Masdar Eco Housing, and the Expo 2020 Sustainability Pavilion, grew up in an academic family with a strong inclination towards STEM subjects. With her father being an infrastructure engineer and mother a creative bureaucrat, the latest tech developments and its impact on the climate was always front and centre of the discussions for little Farah.

Speaking of her journey, making it as a successful engineer in the UAE, Farah adds, “It’s a not a place for the faint-hearted — the speed of progress and development across the region is phenomenal — but I would encourage people to get a taste of the intensity and be part of the transformative engineering journey that the region will experience in the next decade.”

She adds, “Dubai is such a dynamic place with people from across the world, which automatically means that cultural inclusion is the norm.”

Both women agree that their strong focus on academia as children, especially in the more conventionally male-dominated fields, has empowered them to lead the way for climate change as adults.

Women and climate change

Including more women in climate discussions isn't just beneficial; it's essential for creating effective and lasting solutions, says Nahla. “Women, who are often the most impacted by climate adversities, bring vital perspectives that enrich the dialogue, leading to innovative and inclusive solutions."

As primary caregivers and educators in many societies, women are in a powerful position to instill sustainable practices from the ground up. "When women lead in climate talks, they look at the big picture, thinking about whole families and communities," says Nahla. "This also helps kids learn about taking care of our planet from a young age."

In her own journey, Nahla also noticed that women, with their empathy and understanding, are able to make complicated topics such as climate change easier to understand for everyone. "Their stories, filled with personal experiences and emotional depth, really connect with people and inspire them to make a change," she adds.

WK281123-SK-BOOKFarah Naz and Nahla Nabil in Dubai. 28 November 2023. Photo by Shihab

"This is not just about women being part of the conversation; it's about redefining the conversation to be more caring, inclusive, and focused on our planet and future."

To this, Farah, who’s an active advocate of gender equality, adds, “In the same way that good engineering in the region is recognised and valued irrespective of gender, key stakeholders in the sustainability discourse should also comprise women in equal measures.” The climate strategist was also part of a unique panel discussion on women pioneering the path to Net Zero held earlier this year in association with Century Financial, uniting women leaders from different walks of life to take charge of the climate narrative.

Roadmap to Net Zero Future

Defining ‘Net Zero’ as “the end goal, wherein a building or a city produces no net greenhouse gas emissions”, Farah mentions, “Climate scientists have suggested that achieving Net Zero prior to 2032 must be a global priority for governments at all levels, in order to avoid permanent alteration of the climate and a worsening crisis situation for billions of people.”

Farah, who has also co-authored the region’s first book on Net Zero carbon emissions titled Net Zero City, which offers a roadmap for cities to achieve a sustainable future, says, “Most of the companies listed in the Fortune 500 have an annual revenue bigger than the budget and it is becoming intensely clear that the next phase of the climate agenda will be driven by investors and asset owners.”

To this, Sameera Fernandes, a leading voice in building sustainable business practices, further adds, “This is why it’s imperative to create a strong network of women focused on sustainability, empowering them with adequate financial literacy, to catalyse a shift from women being mere earners to becoming the decision-makers at the forefront of making sustainable investments.”

With the book launch, all set to take place at UAE Pavilion, Green Zone, EXPO City Dubai on December 4, the authors aim to leverage the prestigious platform to emphasise the importance of education and awareness in the fight against climate change.

The women are hopeful that COP28 taking place in the UAE will further this conversation, creating more spaces for women and the youth to become catalysts of change in the climate discourse. “We hope that COP28 will generate a fresh urgency and commitment among nations to address the climate crisis in a comprehensive manner, not underestimating the role women and young leaders can play in the changemaking process.”


Somya Mehta

Published: Fri 1 Dec 2023, 4:59 PM

Last updated: Sat 2 Dec 2023, 12:54 PM

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