United Arab Emirates - 06, September 2021: The Secretary General of the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD), Her Excellency Dr. Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, highlighted the importance of empowering youth and encouraging them to take collective action for the preservation of the environment during her address to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Global Youth Summit 2021.
The Youth Summit is part of the IUCN World Conservation Congress which is being held in Marseille, France from 3rd to 11th September 2021.
At home in the UAE, Her Excellency informed her audience that roughly 75% of the population of 3 million is under the age of 35 years, with around 25% of the population between 20-35 years’ old. “It is important to harness this critical resource and the UAE government has recognised this by appointing one of the youngest ministers in the world at the age of 22.”
“Youth are wise, they are powerful, and they know the change they want to see, and they know how they want the future to look like,” said HE Dr. Shaikha.
During her address, Her Excellency also reflected on her joining EAD 20 years ago as a young passionate graduate, eager to do her part to protect the environment of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. She said “From my earliest days with the Agency, I received unwavering support and care that the Abu Dhabi government provide to the youth of the Emirate. I shadowed experienced scientists in the field as I enhanced my knowledge and field skills, and I was given the opportunity to develop myself academically. First, with my master's degree and then my doctorate.”
She added: “It is now my turn to continue to nurture and encourage our young people as they grow into the leaders of tomorrow. I do this through championing the cause of capacity building for youth in the environmental and conservation sector. I personally mentor several young people at EAD to help them develop and advance their scientific understanding and management skills. I lead community events engaging youth in conservation efforts.”
She further stressed: “EAD supports, and leads, a number of key youth engagement and development initiatives, such as sustainable schools, young rangers, and environmental ambassadors, as well as EAD’s active youth council. We run international youth circles to engage young people from across the globe to participate in the discussion on environmental sustainability.”
She added: “Recognising the enormous potential of this important segment of our population and the value they bring with their youthful ideas and vigour, we wholeheartedly promote their involvement at all levels, particularly at senior levels, where they can influence and inform decision making. As such, we have 27 members in the Federal Level Youth Council, plus there are 7 Local Level Youth Councils (one per emirate) that have 111 members. Some of the Agency’s younger staff are part of the Abu Dhabi Youth Council, and there are 81 Corporate Level Youth Councils (private sector), which have 934 members.”
She further emphasised that the UAE Youth Councils have proven to be very effective and are reinforcing efforts to promote the inclusion of youth in the decision-making process, while encouraging them to be proactive and to take a leading role in determining the future.
“We look forward to more active engagement of youth in citizen science as we roll out programmes and initiatives aimed at addressing knowledge gaps. These include new Apps which we know youth will find attractive as they are all technology savvy and very well versed with smart digital solutions.”
She added that, at the global level two global youth councils have been established, involving 28 young members from the UAE, USA and UK. In addition, EAD supports youth development internationally through our Scimitar-horned Oryx conservation work in Chad by providing opportunities for young Chadians to be part of the programme.
During the Summit, one of the main questions Her Excellency addressed was how to take forward youth priorities and outcomes highlighted during the Global Youth Summit in her own work. In response, she expressed her keenness on making data accessible to young people and fostering a healing human-to-nature relationship through a number of immersive awareness programmes such as the ‘Connect with Nature’ initiative and other eco-tourism initiatives.
She said: “Young work force provide fresh insights into their organisations and are enablers of creativity. Engaging the youth in one’s organisation can empower them and build their strengths, helping top decision-makers recognize younger staff as a resource that can inform their decisions.”
Her Excellency also shed light on several examples of EAD youth-related programmes. These include sponsored corporate programmes such as Shell’s “Enviro-Spellathon” launched in 2001, which has since evolved from a paper-based to a digital platform and reaching 1.8 million young people.
Furthermore, the Sustainable Schools Initiative, sponsored by BP since 2009, now has over 150 schools (almost one third of all Abu Dhabi schools) with thousands of children taking part in field-trips and undertaking eco-projects. Similarly, the Borouge-sponsored Sustainable Campus Initiative has grown since its launch in 2014 to now include 23 universities (or almost 20% of all the universities in UAE) taking part.
Moreover, the Roots and Shoots EAD programme, in cooperation with Jane Goodall Foundation, provided a generation of young Emirati with inspiration, knowledge and skills to make a difference and enjoy sustainable life.
She said: “We celebrated the annual Roots & Shoots Awards in UAE with 13 different schools being awarded. During the event schools were recognised for their contribution to the Roots and Shoots cause and took part in activities to learn about turtle conservation. Additionally, we have the E-green platform for delivering of online training modules. The focus so far has been on materials for the Sustainable Schools Initiative as well as more general topics on habitats and species.”
Her Excellency also discussed this year’s EAD Virtual Experience that saw the Agency publish 3 video tours around Al Wathba Wetland Reserve and also around the international award-winning Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, which so far has had 2,890 views.
She added: “We also conducted 4 virtual activities with 1,667 participants through our social media channels to raise awareness on biodiversity. We have plans to do more in the future, capitalising on the affinity youth have with digital technology, and leveraging it as a means to bring them closer to the real world.”