Youth is a resource the Middle East has in abundance
Gen Z are the ambassadors of sustainability for the future
Every year, the UAE welcomes the world’s leading voices in renewable energy and sustainability for Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW). Much has changed in the decade since the event started.
At the first World Future Energy Summit in 2008, Abu Dhabi issued a call to action to help catalyse the development of renewable energy in the Arab world. On January 13 next year, the first day of ADSW 2018, industry watchers will be debating the emergence of renewable energy as a mainstream power technology.
According to a report released by the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) at last month’s UN climate summit in Bonn, 80GW, or gigawatts, of renewable energy capacity will be added to the global energy mix every year between 2015 and 2030, based on the national pledges made under the Paris agreement. But the actual rate of deployment already exceeds 125GW annually.
Here in the UAE, barely a week goes by without a sustainability target being announced: more solar panels on our rooftops, more electric vehicles on our roads, greener buildings, more (and cheaper) clean power.
While large renewable energy projects will always grab the headlines, today’s global energy transformation is increasingly taking place at the grassroots. We’re seeing sustainability start-ups, green supply chain companies and new services catering to the increasing use of clean technologies by more established industries – often small-scale, extremely nimble and disruptive. These ancillary businesses will account for the lion’s share of the 26 million clean energy jobs that Irena estimates could be created worldwide by 2050.
Against this backdrop of rapid change, the priority of ADSW today is to issue a call to action of a different sort. Together we must ensure that the next generation of energy leaders has the necessary skills to adapt to the new sustainability paradigm – to find and create new jobs, to design the technologies needed to address new sustainability challenges and to shape policy.
For this reason, youth will be centre stage throughout ADSW 2018. The agenda includes a dedicated youth panel at the official opening ceremony on January 15; a youth circle run in collaboration with the UAE Ministry of Youth Affairs; and a three-day student exclusive hosted by 35 youth “ambassadors” handpicked from Abu Dhabi schools in co-ordination with the Department of Education and Knowledge.
In addition, the Climate Innovation Exchange (Clix), held under the patronage of the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, will help entrepreneurs and clean tech innovators secure funding from global investors.
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All these platforms will approach the core ADSW topics from a post-millennial perspective, while consolidating year-round youth engagement on sustainability issues at home and abroad, a key part of ADSW’s future mandate.
In fact, the emphasis of ADSW on youth draws from the findings of the first global survey of young attitudes towards climate change, sustainability and renewable energy, commissioned by Masdar to mark its 10th anniversary last year.
A total of 5,000 youth aged 18 to 25 were interviewed in 20 countries across the Middle East and North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, the Americas, Europe and Asia, as part of the Masdar Gen Z sustainability survey. According to the research, global youth believe climate change will be the biggest challenge over the next decade. What’s more, nearly two-thirds said they were interested in working in or studying sustainability.
In 2018, the Year of Zayed, ADSW pays tribute to the legacy of the UAE’s Founding Father, who championed youth as enablers of national prosperity and progress.
Youth engagement is essential to build knowledge industries. It is why the Masdar Institute, part of the Khalifa University of Science and Technology, is the core tenant of Masdar City, Abu Dhabi’s rapidly growing free zone and clean tech cluster home to local start-ups as well as multinational companies.
With the collaboration of all stakeholders, Arab youth can be the sustainability entrepreneurs and innovators of the future alongside their international peers. After all, youth is a resource the Middle East has in abundance, while the region continues to face acute sustainability challenges.
The size of the commercial opportunity in sustainability in the Middle East and North Africa is vast and it is not restricted to large-scale renewable energy projects. Neom, the planned $500-billion economic zone in Saudi Arabia, with investment zones dedicated to energy and water, food, mobility, biotechnology and other critical industries, is further evidence of that.
Young people, by far the largest demographic in the Arab world, can play a critical role in shaping tomorrow’s sustainability ecosystem. Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, today one of the world’s largest sustainability gatherings, is an ideal platform for business, government and the education community to empower our youth to accept this responsibility with confidence.
Mohamed Jameel Al Ramahi is the chief executive of Masdar