Are Arab youth environmentally conscious?

by The Ideation Center

The Middle East is among the youngest regions in the world with half its population under the age of 25. Today, young men and women in the region are increasingly educated. Indeed, the region's talent pool is not only showing an equal share between men and women, but also nearing that of India in size (see Exhibit 1). Arab youth hold the potential to make a considerable contribution to the development of the region.

Recent events sweeping the region indicate that Arab youth are torn between a strong desire for active civic participation and structural challenges that make it difficult for them to partake in social and environmental development. These challenges include a dearth of youth – adult partnerships which help strengthen and legitimize ideas instigated by youth, a lack of consistent opportunities, and a predominance of the view that young people are part of the problem rather than the solution. Youth participation is even more restricted in the environmental front, given that the environmental agenda is not atop the list of regional leaders.

Indeed, recent research by the Sustainability Advisory Group in the MENA region shows that business leaders are still complacent about some of the critical environmental issues facing the region. For instance, a relatively high number of business leaders continue to rate water conservation, climate change, and waste management as unimportant. Our research suggests that there seems to be a growth in environmental consciousness from the 'bottom-up' - the youth demographic. We believe this growing consciousness will shape the discourse of environmental issues in the region in the coming years.

When we surveyed the youth about environmentally conscious behavior, we found that in the GCC, Levant and North Africa there seems to be increasing concern on issues of water conservation, energy saving and recycling. Water conservation is seen as the most pressing issue. Most countries in the region suffer from severe water shortages (just 616 cubic meters of renewable internal freshwater resources per capita for the MENA region compared with the global average of 6,266). More than 60 percent of survey respondents in the GCC indicated that they already try not to waste water. Higher percentages were seen in the Levant and North Africa.

Energy efficiency behavior changes are also apparent among this youth demographic. Our hypothesis is that the youth are already more motivated than older generations to make energy efficiency behavioral changes, possibly because they believe their generation will be impacted greater by climate change and energy security problems than previous generations. For example, when asked about using energy saving bulbs, youth in the Levant and North Africa were highly likely to say that they do, while youth in the GCC were less likely to do so.  

Recycling is another environmentally conscious behavior starting to take shape among this demographic. Surprisingly, fewer youth were likely to recycle across all markets. In fact, the majority indicated that they would do so only 'if it were practical'. This is a crucial finding for policy makers, environmentalists and educators alike.  There is a greater need for information, education and transparency to make the 'process' of recycling easier for individuals. Indeed, the process is far too complicated.  There are many questions that come with recycling such as what to recycle? How to recycle and where to recycle? Even those among the youth demographic who plan to recycle are likely to give up due to lack of information on how to do so. The Centre for Environment and Development for the Arab Region and Europe (CEDARE) has indicated that recycling and “take-back” programs for end-of-life products are lacking in the region, this is coupled by a lack of proper recycling technology that leads to the recovery of raw materials to be used in a new production cycle.

Sustainable socioeconomic development goes hand in hand with a sustainable environment. As the vanguard of change, and representing a large majority of the region’s population, the youth hold the key to solving the region’s environmental challenge.  Therefore, strengthening environmental consciousness among the youth demographic is crucial for the region's sustainable development agenda.  By instilling environmentally conscious behaviors at an early age the Middle East can make great strides towards a more environmentally friendly future.


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