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Hamdan bin Zayed: UAE will continue to lead by example in fostering environmental literacy

Hamdan bin Zayed: UAE will continue to lead by example in fostering environmental literacy
30 Jan 2024 07:58

MAYS IBRAHIM (ABU DHABI)

On the opening of the 12th edition of the World Environmental Education Congress (WEEC), His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Ruler’s Representative in Al Dhafra Region and Chairman of the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD), remarked: “The 12th edition of the World Environmental Education Congress is a testament to our nation’s unwavering commitment to advancing environmental education, knowledge-sharing and innovation in the UAE – important elements that will pave the path for progress.”

“As the first nation in the region to host the congress, we are proud to advance the UAE’s legacy in harnessing cross-cultural dialogue and sharing innovative practices. We will continue to ensure that the UAE leads by example in fostering environmental literacy and empowering communities to build a more resilient and sustainable future,” His Highness added.

The event, held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, kicked off in Abu Dhabi on Monday, bringing together international experts from various fields to exchange knowledge on environmental education, climate change, and sustainable development, under the theme “Connecting People, Creating Tomorrow”.
H.H. Sheikha Shamma bint Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, President & CEO of the UAE Independent Climate Change Accelerators (UICCA) inaugurated the event with a keynote address.

“Climate change affects each and every one of us, and we all have a role to play in determining our future. Promoting climate literacy is a crucial step in raising understanding of the causes of global warming, and the actions we can all take to mitigate it,” Her Highness said.

Her Highness further highlighted the significant role of science and education in ensuring that current and future generations are well informed enough to “act with foresight” in navigating the impacts of climate change. “In the continuity of the intense efforts to confront environmental challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and escalating pollution, the significance of environmental education often remains overlooked. While policy changes are crucial for safeguarding the planet, elevating education stands as the foundational step in realising our environmental objectives,” Her Highness remarked.

Her Highness also commented on the WEEC as a unique platform to address shared challenges collectively, reaffirming the UAE’s commitment to carry forward its sustainability heritage. “Our collective response, shared knowledge, and commitment are the compass guiding us toward sustainability. It is in this context that WEEC2024 assumes a paramount role, serving as a powerful catalyst that will gather educators, NGOs, governments, and academia from across the globe to engage in profound discussions, critical evaluations, and invigorating exchanges on Environmental Education, all with the aim of driving tangible change,” she said.

“The United Arab Emirates has a unique heritage, one that intertwines sustainability with the very essence of our existence. Through smart resource management, innovative architecture, and most importantly, a strong sense of community, Emiratis have not just survived. Moreover, they thrived in this challenging desert environment for generations,” Her Highness added, noting that the UAE today stands as a global hub for scientific innovation and technology.

Her Highness also highlighted the vision of her great grandfather and the Founding Father of the UAE, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, and his “profound” passion for the environment.

“He understood that our wellbeing was intricately linked to the health of our natural surroundings, that the inhabitants of this environment were not separate from it, but an integral part of the delicate tapestry,” she said, noting that his commitment to sustainable development continues to shape the UAE’s present and future.

“Education, as the cornerstone of this mission, holds the key to translating our aspirations into reality. However, we must recognise that it should be no ordinary education. It must be transformative, and empowering, enabling both women and men to become torchbearers of our sustainability heritage,” she added.

“WEEC2024 emerges as a beacon of unity, where minds from around the world will come together to discuss the best solutions to these challenges head-on, forging decisive actions and strategic pathways towards a sustainable future through environmental education,” Her Highness said.

Concluding with the words of her great grandfather, Her Highness Sheikha Shamma bint Sultan said: “We cherish our environment because it is an integral part of our country, our history, and our heritage. On land and in the sea, our forefathers lived and survived in this environment. They were able to do so only because they recognised the need to conserve it, to take from it only what they needed to live and to preserve it for succeeding generations”.

Noting the UAE’s commitment to furthering environmental efforts, Her Excellency Dr. Amna bint Abdullah Al Dahak Al Shamsi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, said: “This significant global conference underscores our commitment to environmental stewardship and the role our nation plays in safeguarding the future for generations to come. We all know that the challenges posed by climate change demand bold and decisive action, and the UAE is leading the global community in educating and deploying solutions.

“Our dedication to protecting our planet stems from the understanding that environmental education plays a pivotal role in the wellbeing of our ecosystem. This commitment only serves to highlight that our global journey towards sustainability is more urgent than ever,” she added.

In her opening remarks, H.E. Shaikha Al Dhaheri, Secretary-General of the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD), described education as a fundamental human right and a critical tool in “our arsenal in the fight to save our planet”.

“We aim to build a worldwide community for education and sustainable development, a network that binds us together in our diversity and drives us toward a shared vision of a sustainable future. By fostering a global exchange of ideas and best practices, we enable every nation, every community, and every individual to contribute to and benefit from a wellspring of collective knowledge,” she said.

Al Dhaheri further stressed the importance of an inclusive approach to education that recognises and values the rich cultural and ethical diversity that each region of the world contributes to the global ecosystem.

“Together, we can turn the code red alarm into a green light for action, education, and hope,” she noted, expressing hope for the congress to result in a definitive plan of action for the sake of current and future generations.
Springing from its belief in the immense potential of its youth to contribute to the future they will one day inherit, the EAD has been committed to investing heavily in education, she added.

According to Al Dhaheri, over 17,000 children have participated in outdoor learning through the EAD’s field trip programmes, and 1.8 million children have improved their cross-curricular eco-literacy through its Enviro-Spellathon programme. Moreover, through the agency’s sustainable school initiative, which currently includes 460 schools, children have recycled over 23,000 litres of water, 26,000 kilogrammes of waste, over 8,000 kilogrammes of paper, and over 2,000 kilogrammes of plastic every month of the year.

She also discussed pressing planetary crises, including climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution, noting the importance of individual and collective contributions for a sustainable future. She noted that the Abu Dhabi Climate Change Strategy has set a target to deliver a 22% reduction in its carbon emissions by 2027.

Terrestrial reserves in the emirate currently make up 17% of its total land area, while marine reserves form 14% of the total aquatic biome. Abu Dhabi has also recently introduced a ban on single use plastic bags, and is emirate about to launch a waste management “behavioural nudging” campaign, according to Al Dhaheri.

Mario Salomone, Secretary-General, World Environmental Education Congress Network said in his welcome note: “The 2024 WEEC congress embodies a global commitment to environmental education, which our host country generously demonstrates by also assuming the presidency of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

“The UAE’s role as host has been crucial, creating a ripple effect that I hope will extend far beyond the congress, inspiring impactful change worldwide,” he added.

Salomone further highlighted the need for mainstreaming environmental education for the future of humanity, noting the importance of learning in dealing with the “polycrisis”.

“Learning processes are essential. Through learning, we acquire the elements to move between the paths of history and the cases of life. We can learn well or poorly. We can become selfish and individualistic, or supportive and cooperative. We can absorb conservative or innovative knowledge. Unlike material growth, which is impossible on a finite planet, learning has no limits,” he said.

A key component of the congress, the Youth Environmental Education Conference (YEEC) will offer workshops, interactive sessions, and panel discussions, nurturing leadership skills and inspiring action among young changemakers. Designed as a transformative platform, YEEC aims to engage and empower young minds, providing them with an opportunity to connect, learn, and gain valuable insights from global leaders in environmental education, sustainability, and youth empowerment.

Elizabeth Wathuti, Founder & Executive Director of Green Generation Initiative, Kenya, commented: “Platforms such as the Youth Environmental Education Conference (YEEC) are pivotal in securing humanity’s future and ensuring the livability of our world today. If our actions lack sincerity, we fail not only those currently affected by the crisis but also the generations to come. The imperative lies in embracing genuine solutions and amplifying their impact through education. Environmental education equips individuals with the knowledge and tools needed to address challenges effectively, empowering the younger generation to become informed caretakers of our planet’s future.”

The WEEC, which continues until February 2, will feature a wide range of plenaries on environmental and sustainability education featuring global industry thought leaders from the UAE and around the world. Each day of the congress is designed to build upon the last.

The opening day of the event spotlights critical environmental challenges, highlighted by a roster of exclusive speakers discussing the Triple Planetary Crisis and the interconnection of Water, Food, and Energy. The second day pivots to defining goals, promoting worldwide unity for a sustainable future, and advocating for environmental education.

Day Three delves into the dimensions and means for implementing Environmental Education, emphasising collaboration, values, and cultural diversity. The fourth day encapsulates the key insights and action plans derived from the first three days, focusing on concrete actions aligned with the set goals. Concluding the congress, the fifth day offers field trips, giving attendees the opportunity to visit Abu Dhabi’s ecological and educational landmarks, blending theoretical knowledge with practical experiences.

The WEEC 2024 showcases its dedication to sustainability through various initiatives aimed at minimising its environmental footprint. The organisers have collaborated with ADNEC, the venue host, to adopt eco-friendly practices and have launched a unique project to offset the carbon emissions of delegates by planting mangroves.

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