Why Arab Youth Are Shying Away from Climate Activism and How to Engage Them

2019 was the second hottest year on record for Earth. It was also the year that witnessed the largest climate strikes in history when an estimated 6 million people around the world went out to demand action be taken against climate change.

  • A view of a windmill farm near the ancient city of Petra, Jordan. Valery Sharifulin/TASS (Photo by Valery Sharifulin\TASS via Getty Images)
    A view of a windmill farm near the ancient city of Petra, Jordan. Valery Sharifulin/TASS (Photo by Valery Sharifulin\TASS via Getty Images)

No social group feels more affected by climate change than young people. Therefore, it is unsurprising that young climate activists led the strikes and went out and denounced governments and corporations in more than 150 countries around the world for not prioritizing climate change in the national and global agendas.

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is one of the most susceptible regions to climate change effects on earth. Rising sea levels, increased average temperatures, and less and more erratic precipitation are threatening to render many cities uninhabitable because of extreme heat or being flooded underwater in the few upcoming decades.

Massive displacements of millions of peoples will wreak havoc to the biodiversity and stability of MENA countries and worsen tensions over water resources and food production. Water scarcity, aridity and drought are already being felt across the region. The future appears quite bleak given the existential challenges and one would expect that the bulge of climate strikes to have occurred in the MENA.

Unfortunately, a marginal number of climate strikes occurred in MENA countries where the majority of youth are being overwhelmed with their respective countries’ immense political and socio-economic challenges. The issue of climate change isn’t exactly a priority in their point of view; in the meantime, at least.

How to encourage youth to engage in the fight against climate change

A creative way to encourage youth in the MENA to engage more with the issue of climate change is by finding a way to connect it with the challenges they are facing. For example, green entrepreneurship would help alleviate unemployment and accelerate economic growth; installing renewable energy in households and switching to electric vehicles would help families deal with burdensome electricity, fuel and heating costs; and transitioning towards renewable sources on a national level would help improve energy security, decrease electrical generation costs and encourage foreign investment in local energy resources.

This is not merely wishful thinking as the region has made significant strides in the past few years. Regional governments – including those of oil-producing nations – have acknowledged the potential of renewable energy and have subsequently implemented solar and wind megaprojects and have put efforts to incentivize decentralized generation, with the goal of the eventual transition towards renewable energy in mind.

On the entrepreneurial level, there have been numerous successful green start-ups in the Arab region. In Jordan, a new smartphone application called “GreenJo” is gaining popularity as a way of both generating a source of income for households and to protect the environment by allowing households to sell their recyclable wastes. A Saudi Arabian start-up, NOMADD, has developed a water-less robot that is used to clean off dust from PV panels in the desert.

Civil society and the media have a critical role to play as well. But such organizations are banned or heavily restricted in many Arab countries and investigative journalism and freedom of the press are not guaranteed and often confined. Free access to information, transparency, democratic and accountable governance and civil and political freedoms are essential to make sure that the transition towards renewable energy runs smoothly and that the issue of climate change is tackled adequately.

To sum up, although indeed most of the young people in the MENA region have not expressed interest in climate change activism, an attempt to bridge their society’s political and socio-economic challenges with climate change can be made by educating and empowering them to realize that the two are not mutually exclusive. Governments, civil society organizations and the media should adopt that role. As youth activism regarding climate change builds up, a spillover of activism into other political and socioeconomic issues is inevitable.

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By Bandaly El-Issa, Part of the FES Young Climate and Energy Experts Program

Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung

Department for Middle East and North Africa
FES Berlin
Hiroshimastraße 28
10785 Berlin

info.nahost(at)fes.de

About FES 

The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung has a network of eleven country offices in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and implements projects in a total of 14 countries. Some offices, such as Egypt or Sudan, look back at a history of more than 40 years of cooperation.

Offices in the Region