UAE youth wants environment focused decision making, social responsibility: Survey

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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Nine out of 10 young people in the UAE want to see the environment of the country prioritized in the decision-making process.

Three-quarters said one of the first issues that need to be addressed is the removal of single-use plastic and almost all said that not enough people recognized the long-term risks associated with the misuse of nature and its resources.

The study

The results were disclosed in a study entitled ‘Is Nature a Priority for UAE Youth in the COVID-19 Recovery?’ conducted in collaboration with the Federal Youth Authority by Emirates Nature-WWF, Environment Agency Abu Dhabi and the International Fund for Houbara Conservation. The aim of the study is to make informed policy decisions in the UAE.

1,600 young people were interviewed over the past 5 months, to understand their opinions on the environment, personal responsibility, the COVID-19 pandemic, and food and water security.

The findings were discussed during a session with 370 young people by Dr Abdullah Al Nuaimi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, Shamma Al Mazrui, Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Huda Al Hashimi, Chief of Strategy and Government Innovation for the UAE Government.

“The interlude of COVID-19 has provided us with the urgency to reflect and realise that we need to act differently,” said Dr Al Nuaimi.

He said the stay-home orders proved that it was possible “if we put our minds to it” to minimize greenhouse gas emissions. When movements were restricted due to the pandemic induced lockdown, Abu Dhabi recorded a 62 percent reduction in nitrogen dioxide levels.

“Now I know what to tackle, and where we went wrong in for example, food security, safety, plantation and so forth,” said Dr Al Nuaimi.

Findings

Nearly all respondents said they were worried about food security and 89% said they would be open to including alternative proteins in their diets, such as insects or algae.

Food waste was also highlighted as a key area of concern by young people, 99 percent of whom said they were in full agreement that sustainable diets and the production of food that is environmentally friendly should be a priority.

The UAE’s reliance on food imports is partially due to the difficulty of producing food locally. There is a lack of freshwater and only five percent of the land is arable.

At least 73 percent of the young people surveyed said that the behavior they would most like to see changed for good was overconsumption. They recommended that behavioral science be introduced to allow structural change using technology and AI.

“The introduction of flexible remote working during the pandemic has exposed opportunities to optimize efficiency and move to a more local and self-sufficient way of life,” the study read.

Only 1 in 5 young people said they want life to go back to “normal” post COVID-19 and 58 per cent said they did not feel the world was prepared for another pandemic.

“This COVID-19 pandemic was a great reminder of our dysfunctional relationship with nature as it’s deforestation and loss of wildlife that cause an increase in infectious diseases. As studies show, for every dollar spent on nature restoration, at least $9 of economic benefits can be expected. I think it is very doable if everyone sets out to steer our earth in a better way,” said one of the participants in the study.

Each individual’s responsibility

Participants said that it was up to every person to be responsible and make personal decisions that would help protect the environment.

At least 96% said they would prefer brands that supported green recovery, with nearly 4 out of 5 people saying they would like to see an increase in the UAE’s culture of social responsibility and environmental conservation.

A solution proposed by 92% of those polled was to promote traditional values and practices that connect people to nature and minimize environmental pressure.

“The UAE’s culture and traditions are filled with behaviors and examples that show different ways of minimizing the pressure on the environment,” said another participant in the study.

“We must observe and learn from our grandfathers’ lifestyles and how they optimized the available resources with minimal carbon footprint and low environmental pressure.”

Effective policies

Two thirds of the participants said it was not enough to put policies in place, but to ensure its effectiveness, further regulation and enforcement were required.

They said that there was a need for more protected areas nationwide and suggested a centralized tool to provide them with information on the environmental effects of businesses, products and services.

They also claimed that there was a need for incentives to support non-motorized and shared transportation which can, in turn, enhance air quality.

“Engaging youth and NGOs, such as Emirates Nature–WWF, in designing the future and developing strategies for the most vital sectors is a national priority,” said Ms Al Hashimi, from the UAE Government.

“This in turn shall contribute to boosting the government’s efforts aiming at transforming innovative ideas into a tangible reality, positively affecting people’s well-being,” she added.


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