Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 24 August 2019

My conservationist great-grandfather inspired me to protect our planet

I am following in the footsteps of Sheikh Zayed by aiming to make the world a better place for future generations

A call to act on what author Nelson Henderson's line: 'The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.' Pawan Singh / The National
A call to act on what author Nelson Henderson's line: 'The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.' Pawan Singh / The National

We have just 12 years until we face an unprecedented chain of events that will affect humankind catastrophically. So says the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its latest report, which points to soaring emissions globally and an imminent threat to Earth’s ecosystems.

Many young people today are disheartened by the state of our planet and are encouraging older generations to take urgent action, worried that they don’t care because they won’t be around to suffer the consequences. A number of these motivated youth turned out in force to have their say at the Abu Dhabi Climate Meeting, a special forum held as a precursor to the UN Climate Change conference in New York in September. Although much is being done, we still have a long way to go.

There are myriad reasons why we should be hopeful as we see numerous examples of great work being done to address the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), set by the UN in 2015. A challenge can be seen as an opportunity, if you look at it through the right lens. For instance, the green economy is set to create 18 million new jobs by 2030, according to the UN’s International Labour Organisation. Sustainability is the driver of innovation and should be embraced.

The SDGs are a driving force for much of my charity and professional work.

Through my consultancy firm Alliances for Global Sustainability and my foundation Circle of Hope, I am fulfilling a desire to play my part in making the world a better place. My first initiative ‘Wanna Read?’ has helped create 17 reading rooms, 20 library trolleys and offered 8,500 books to relieve the stress, anxiety and boredom that children experience in hospitals while encouraging healing through reading.

Beacon of Hope, another initiative targeting the SDGs, has taught more than 10,000 children in 10 countries the importance of renewables and provided them with an easy-to-assemble solar light kit. I can see the impact my work has but I still feel it is not enough.

The green economy is set to create 18 million new jobs by 2030, according to the UN’s International Labour Organisation

Working for organisations with a vision to create an impact on people’s lives, communities and the environment is richly rewarding. Born in a country that is barely 47 years old, I have seen development unfold before my eyes.

Our leader Sheikh Zayed was a real visionary but also a big conservationist who played an instrumental role in increasing the numbers of Arabian oryx and houbara bustards, both of which were on the verge of extinction. Further afield, he played an important role outside the borders of the UAE by protecting tigers in India, as well as African and Asian elephants.

A great philanthropist who gave generously to those in need, he was a man with no formal education but who understood the meaning of humility and also humanity. I am constantly inspired by the work of Sheikh Zayed. He encouraged women to work and saw them as an integral part of the advancement of the nation. His vision and values are important to me and I take a great deal of pride in my work to ensure my great-grandfather’s legacy lives on, by having a positive impact on the world.

Many of the young people who are disheartened by the state of our planet recently turned out in force to have their say at the Abu Dhabi Climate Meeting.
Many of the young people who are disheartened by the state of our planet recently turned out in force to have their say at the Abu Dhabi Climate Meeting.

There is no excuse in this connected world for not making the right choices. The information is out there, we just have to act on it.

Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the first man landing on the Moon. It was also the date I graduated from Cambridge University with a masters in sustainability leadership so for me, this date is significant in highlighting the fragility of our planet. Time is ticking and because of climate change, we can see the environment deteriorating before our eyes.

As he set foot on the Moon, Neil Armstrong said: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” We must all take a leap of a different kind in order to slow down the destruction of our planet.

We must all take a leap of a different kind in order to slow down the destruction of our planet

A recent article in the Guardian suggested that if we all planted trees on uncultivated land, we could curb the climate crisis. With my alma mater, a committed group of fellow sustainability advocates, including myself, have decided to create two legacy projects for future generations, echoing the words of the author Nelson Henderson, who wrote: "The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit."

We plan to plant fruit trees and place a bench in the gardens of Robinson College in Cambridge. Our other project is the creation of a time bank, Susx – The Sustainability Exchange, whereby we give our time to help support start-ups, social enterprises and small to medium-sized organisations globally on the path towards sustainability.

Mental health is often overlooked but it is a growing concern, with issues exacerbated by our frenetic lifestyles. Giving back is one way to counteract this, as is spending time in nature. With every act of kindness, we improve our own wellbeing and make our lives more meaningful.

To that end, I will have a quotation displayed on the wall of the prestigious Moller Institute, an educational centre dedicated to leadership development, in Churchill College, Cambridge. It reads: "It is our collective duty to lead responsibly to create a better world for future generations."

I only hope it inspires many generations for years to come.

Sheikha Shamma bint Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan is chief executive officer of Alliances for Global Sustainability

Updated: July 23, 2019 04:53 PM

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