Thu 23-03-2017 00:19 AM

IGCF 2017: Climate change experts highlight role of civil society in effecting meaningful change

SHARJAH, 22nd March, 2017 (WAM) -- Day one of the sixth International Government Communication Forum (IGCF 2017) concluded with an insightful panel discussion on the importance of putting civil society at the centre of the climate change dialogue across the globe.

Environmental experts from the public and private sectors concurred on this point at the session themed ‘Environment and Climate Change in Media Policies’. Both segments agreed that media communication needs to be impactful and relay the right messages to civil society to enable them to effect meaningful change.

Mark Schapiro, an author and award-winning journalist specialising in international environmental stories, moderated the discussion. Panellists included His Excellency Dr. Thani bin Ahmed Al-Zeyoudi, UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment, John Bruton, former Prime Minister of Ireland, former EU Ambassador to the US and Chairman of International Financial Services Centre (IFSC) Ireland, Khaled Issa Al Huraimel, CEO of Sharjah environmental company Bee'ah, Safa’ Al Jayoussi, Head of Climate and Energy Campaign in Arab World, Founder and Executive Director for IndyACT in Jordan and winner of the 2016 Young Energy Professional of the Year Award, and Kehkashan Basu, UAE-based student and winner of the 2016 International Children’s Peace Prize.

Representing the viewpoint of the public sector, Dr. Thani Al-Zeyoudi said: "The UAE Cabinet has agreed on the UAE Centennial 2071 to make our government the best in the world. This shows that we are well aligned with a long-term vision for the nation. In terms of communicating the effects of climate change, studies show that less than 19 per cent of nations globally are engaged in environmental dialogue, which shows that people are disengaged on this topic.

"We as a government need to convey these complex concepts to our communities, as well as impress upon them the consequences and impact of their actions. In this context, we find the role of the media to be very important, especially in simplifying the concepts for the people. Unfortunately, much of the media reporting today focuses on the catastrophic nature of climate change. Whereas, in my opinion, the media needs to additionally shed light on the positive actions that are being taken to mitigate environmental degradation."

Giving the example of the Heroes of the UAE initiative, he added: "The UAE has effectively used this platform to educate children on the effects of climate change, and to encourage them to enable positive environmental behaviour within the household. Issues such as the impending water crisis in the region need to be conveyed with a sense of urgency to the people to help them become participants in the relevant interventions such as the UAE Energy Plan 2050 to make renewables account for as much as 44 per cent of our nation’s energy mix."

In response to Kehkashan Basu’s question on how to integrate the youth in the climate change dialogue, Dr. Thani Al-Zeyoudi said: "We need to build up the environmental responsibilities of the youth through the education system. In the UAE, our leaders created a new Ministry of Youth last year, which has also been instrumental in establishing national and local youth councils that seek to get the youth involved in addressing the nation’s challenges. The Ministry of Climate Change also worked recently with youth across the region to create Arab Youth Centres that aim to involve the youth in the future dialogue."

Speaking on the role of the private sector in the climate change dialogue, Safa’ Al Jayoussi said: "Private sector entities play a major role in communicating the needs of the people to the government, as well as in advocating for change. There is an urgency in this region to create a dialogue between the public and private sector as well as civil society. Unfortunately, climate change does not seem to be a priority, with the UAE being an exception. The steps the UAE has taken, including the establishment of the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, shows that the country cares about environmental challenges. Across the region, we need to be able to communicate the benefits of climate change intervention, especially from a cost-cutting perspective."

Demonstrating the success of public-private partnerships for environmental causes, Khaled Issa Al Huraimel said: "Bee’ah was created as a public-private partnership with the aim of addressing the huge waste management challenge we faced in the UAE, and establishing Sharjah as the environmental capital of the Middle East. Today, seven years after we envisioned this goal, I can safely say we have achieved record rates of over 70 per cent waste management away from the landfills. We are also actively involved in taking our vision across the UAE and the region. To this effect, we have tied up with Masdar to develop renewable energy sources. Our work at Bee’ah, in collaboration with the Sharjah Government and Shurooq, also extends to managing air quality and water quality, all of which will ensure a better future for the region’s environment. While most environmental initiatives in the region are fully run by the private sector, we have learnt that there are great benefits to working hand in hand with the government."

Speaking from the perspective of the EU nations, John Burton said: "The success of environmental intervention, such as recycling initiatives and setting of zero-landfill targets, has been largely driven by the fact that these targets are set individually for each country in the EU with clear indications of penalties, such as fines levied in case of violation. This has worked in most EU nations, except in cases such as Poland, which has a coal-driven market, or Ireland, where methane gas from livestock created environmental hazards. Within this framework, however, we find that it is very important to get the people on your side, to make the decision to recycle. Moreover, we need to repeatedly remind the people of the impact their household decisions could have on their own children and future generations."

The IGCF 2017 runs from March 22 to 23 at Expo Centre Sharjah. Under the Theme ‘Societal Participation Comprehensive Development’, IGCF 2017 examines how the world’s nations can leverage effective government communication to achieve the United Nations’ sustainable development goals (SDGs) that have become the top priority of government programmes, international institutions, media organisations and civil society.