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Youth in the Middle East have strong views on the climate crisis. And this is why we should listen

Ahead of the crucial COP28 conference, we talk to young activists on what matters most to them

Youth in the Middle East have strong views on the climate crisis. And this is why we should listen
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

Evans Kioko’s journey into climate activism began during his childhood in Kenya, witnessing firsthand the effects of climate change on rural farmers, food security, wildlife, and natural biodiversity. 

“These experiences sparked a deep sense of responsibility and urgency within me to address these pressing issues,” says Kioko, a Dubai-based climate advocate.

He’s just one of millions of young people worldwide who have been forced to experience climate change’s devastating and irreversible effects personally. The unprecedented heat wave this summer is another grim reminder of the urgency of the climate crisis. 

Many young individuals like Kioko have been galvanized into action. 

Sometimes it takes the clarity of youth after their leaders and public institutions fail them. These campaigners are articulate and authoritative young men and women.

“We are the first generation to be impacted by climate change and the last to be able to combat it. For that reason, I believe amplifying the youth voices is a top priority,” says Mohammed Usrof, a COP28 International Youth Climate Delegate studying at Georgetown University. 

Climate change affects many people – we need to bring in more people from directly affected communities. The young people, they say, don’t want to be tokenized. For them, it’s important to talk and find solutions to fixing intersectionality in the climate movement and ensuring those on this crisis’s frontlines are included.

Fast Company Middle East’s Green Goals Summit is one such initiative that aims to uncover the unique perspectives and innovative approaches the younger generation brings to the sustainability agenda in its second on November 2 in Dubai.

The COP28 Presidency has launched the International Youth Climate Delegate Program, overseen by the COP28 Youth Climate Champion H.E. Shamma Al Mazrui, to ensure young people’s perspectives are at the heart of global policymaking on climate change.

Youth activism is moving into a new phase because the crisis is no longer a problem of the future but a very real present-day phenomenon.

Ruby Haji Naif, a COP28 International Youth Climate Delegate who started climate activism during high school in Syria, raising awareness about recycling and waste reduction, says excluding youth in policy decisions would result in a “significant loss of perspective, innovative ideas, and mobilized efforts.” 

“COP28’s success depends on embracing youth participation, channeling their energy, passion, and unwavering commitment to effectively addressing the urgent challenges of climate issues.”


According to various reports, we only have a decade left to stave off the irreversible damage caused by the climate crisis. This sense of urgency helped spur the fight against climate change among youth. A few years ago, we saw millions of people come out to support youth-organized protests around the globe.

While the world needs to reduce or eliminate emissions fast, there are longstanding arguments that bemoan the lack of “political will” to tackle climate change.

“While some efforts have been made, there’s a lack of sufficient action from policymakers and the private sector to tackle the climate crisis like setting ambitious targets, investing in sustainability, and embracing clean technologies and transparency,” says Kioko. 

“The policymakers and companies are worried about the economic impact of taking action as this may hurt jobs and businesses; however, the economic impact of inaction on climate change is likely to be much worse,” says Ruqia Abdullah, a COP28 International Youth Climate Delegate working with the United Nations World Food Programme in Yemen. 

“We need to take more action on climate change, to hold policymakers and companies accountable for their inaction, and to make it clear that we will not accept anything less than bold action to address the climate crisis.”


The young people also believe continued public awareness, youth engagement, and advocacy can be vital in driving meaningful change. But the real challenge, they say, is moving from simply raising awareness to creating a tangible impact through policy action. 

Ending dependence on fossil fuels, which over more than a century, have become entrenched in every aspect of the economy and people’s lives, is one that youth is also vocal about. 

While they understand transforming a system so vastly dependent on fossil fuels won’t happen overnight, they say it is one that the energy industry and world leaders have seen coming yet have dragged their feet on.

“Nuclear energy should be considered as an option. While wind and solar energy sources are valuable, they may not be sufficient to replace fossil fuels entirely. Urgent action is imperative to mitigate the impacts of fossil fuel consumption and ensure a sustainable future,” says Usrof.

To them, solidarity is necessary – beyond just the pure urgency of the situation, because young people have been uniquely affected. The climate crisis disproportionately harms young people for a myriad of reasons. Children are much more susceptible to many health issues caused by pollution than adults. During natural disasters exacerbated by the climate crisis, children’s education is one of the first things impacted. 

The climate crisis is also affecting young people on a psychological level.  

“Youth brings fresh ideas, possess moral authority, promote interconnectivity, ensure intergenerational equity, catalyze ambitious action, and leverage technology for effective and actionable solutions. Their involvement is not negotiable towards realizing a sustainable future,” says Kioko.

There has been no shortage of commentary and reflections on COP28, particularly on the fossil fuel industry’s role.

But youth are hopeful that COP28 will be a “turning point” in the collective fight against climate change; they want leaders to ensure adequate funding and support for climate adaptation and mitigation projects in developing countries. 

“Poor countries need financial assistance to transition to a clean energy economy. COP28 needs to see developed countries deliver on their promise to provide $100 billion per year in climate finance to developing countries,” says Abdullah.

“The leaders also need to agree on a mechanism to compensate countries suffering from the loss and damage caused by climate change.”

Different activists are treading different paths to try to achieve this. 

For Naif, her advocacy for COP28 will center the voices of youth and women, particularly from the Middle East, and ensure policies that address their specific needs and aspirations. “To empower these vulnerable groups to actively mobilize, share their demands, and create initiatives as they are disproportionately affected by climate change.”

While young people are more than capable and willing to fight against the real and immediate threat of climate change, they shouldn’t have to do it alone. 

“We can bring about positive and inclusive change by committing to concrete actions, centering the voices of the most vulnerable, and engaging those in positions of power,” Naif adds.

For more issues on climate change, sustainability, and innovative solutions, join the second edition of the Green Goals Summit. Click here to register.

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Suparna Dutt D’Cunha is the Editor at Fast Company Middle East. She is interested in ideas and culture and cover stories ranging from films and food to startups and technology. She was a Forbes Asia contributor and previously worked at Gulf News and Times Of India. More