In late April, environmental enthusiasts gathered at NYU Abu Dhabi's Downtown Campus for Biiah 2014, a one-day event hosted by the University's Ecoherence environmental advocacy student group. Biiah, Arabic for "environment," is the first climate change youth conference in the UAE and was created, according to event organizers, to serve as "the kickoff to a burgeoning environmental movement in the county, bringing together students, community members, and experts in the region."
The panel discussion started off with a keynote speech by His Highness Sheikh Abdul Aziz al Nuaimi, also known as the Green Sheikh, official environmental advisor to the Ajman Government. Biiah also boasted a keynote presentation by Robert Bradley, senior advisor of the Directorate of Energy & Climate Change at the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
"The team hopes to be able to bring awareness to people about the environment, especially to the youth in the UAE, for it is only if people are knowledgeable can real change in the environment happen," said NYUAD freshman Patrick Wee, the conference's participant relations director.
After the keynote speeches and panel discussions, participants partook in two workshops hosted by NYUAD faculty and guests. Workshop topics were also aimed at promoting a multifaceted approach to climate change. Some examples were "The Responsible Partnership — Why Caring For The Environment Is Everyone's Business" and "Scientific Evidence of Climate Change and Implications."
The conference was an opportunity for like-minded university students in the UAE to work together "to create a better national environmental landscape," Plottel said. "We hope to use the ideas we [heard during the event] to build a network of young people that are passionate about environmental issues. Our ultimate goal is to be able to send a delegation to the [21st Conference of Parties] in Paris, where a new climate agreement will be written. To do this we need to build a strong coalition of passionate youth that are willing to take this local knowledge to an international scale."
"We address climate change specifically, but we want to look at the issue from the holistic approach. For that reason we have speakers who talk about art and climate change, youth activism, national policy, and environmental law," said NYUAD sophomore Louis Plottel, one of three members of the conference's core organizing team. "We hope that their diverse experiences will start a cross-sectional approach to addressing climate change," he added.
This holistic approach to addressing environmental issues was apparent in the selection of panelists. Participants included Una Chaudhuri, NYUAD professor of English, Drama, and Environmental Studies; David Holland, NYUAD professor of Mathematics and Atmosphere-ocean Science and principal investigator of the University's Center for Global Sea-level Change; Shakeel Hussain Kazmi, professor of International Environmental Law and policy advisor to the Pakistani Ministry of Climate Change and the Green Climate Fund; and Simran Vedvyas, youth activist and chairperson and founder of SynergYouth.
The team hopes to be able to bring awareness to people about the environment...for it is only if people are knowledgeable can real change in the environment happen.