UAE: Emirati COP27 youth leader spearheads sustainability club at Zayed University

Main idea behind initiative is to prepare students for upcoming COP28 and to involve youth in climate action


Nasreen Abdulla

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Published: Fri 20 Jan 2023, 5:31 PM

Building on her experience as a shadow negotiator at COP27, Emirati student Alia Abdulmajeed Hussain Abdulrahim Ahli has established the sustainability club at Zayed University (ZU), hoping to inspire more youngsters to get involved in environmental issues.

“The idea was to raise awareness about SDGs, climate change and what actions are being taken,” said Alia speaking to Khaleej Times.

“We also wanted to involve youth in climate action since they will be the leaders of tomorrow.”

This comes as the UAE President, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, on Friday announced 2023 as the Year of Sustainability in the country. The country is gearing up for the global climate summit COP28, which will be held at Expo City Dubai this year from November 30 to December 12.

Alia is being supported in her endeavour by Dr Suzanna Elmassah, Associate Professor and the Sustainability Program Lead at ZU. “The group hopes to empower the UAE vision and commitment towards the environment,” she said.

“We hope that by creating awareness, we will facilitate this vision as young people have the multiplier effect on society. They will be the decision-makers in the coming 20 years so they need to be aware.”

The main idea of the sustainability club this year is to prepare its students for COP28. “Every month we have an activity related to one theme of COP28,” said Dr Suzanna.

Earlier this week, the group held a talk on the role of packaging in eliminating greenhouse gases. “We had guest speakers who spoke about how to transform the packaging industry to reduce carbon emissions and how people should be responsible in consuming plastics,” she said.

The UAE's role

Alia said that she had huge expectations from COP28 later this year. “One of the biggest issues here in the UAE is how much we as an economy are so dependent on the oil and gas industry,” she said.

“We are shifting to other sources of revenue and energy and I am sure that COP28 will be a landmark occasion for our country.”

Dr. Suzanna commended the UAE leadership on their decision to appoint Sultan Al Jaber, the managing director of Abu Dhabi National Oil company (ADNOC) as the COP28 president-designate. “It was a very smart move,” she said “It proves that the oil and gas industry will be transforming to reflect the commitment the country has towards the environment. It is a message if you ask me.”

COP 27

Alia, who was among six students from ZU who accompanied the UAE delegation to COP27, said it was a life-altering experience for her. “There were three groups we could choose from which were climate finance, mitigation and adaptation,” she said. “I chose climate finance. We received the agenda every day and we had to join several meetings where we would take notes in forms provided by the government. I learnt a lot as I was shadowing negotiators and seeing them in action. I didn’t know how the whole process worked. The learning from that session was what inspired me to open up the sustainability club as well.”

According to Dr. Suzanna the opportunity to go to COP27 was an unparalleled learning experience. “The students learnt how real negotiations work,” she said. “Sometimes the discussions would go on for hours maybe to change a word. So this patience, the logical thinking, the details, the debate were all something that really prepared them to go to COP 28, later this year.”

The challenges

Both Alia and Dr Suzanna admitted that there were many challenges in getting youngsters to work with them on issues of the environment. “There are many students who are interested but to get them on board is a little difficult,” Alia said.

“It is mainly because they are unaware about the environmental issues we are facing and the climate action that is needed and the pledges that are being made locally.”

Dr. Suzanna said they are working hard to make students realize how climate change can impact their daily life. “They don’t understand that this big global issue is affecting for example their daily food intake,” she said.

“It also impacts their health, their job market, salaries, quality of food and quality of education. This is the message we want to deliver to the community. What you think is a global issue is affecting your daily life significantly.”


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