Doha’s Silver Lining: The Arab Youth Climate Movement

Activists from the Arab Youth Climate Movement participating in a climate change march in downtown Doha, Qatar.

Activists from the Arab Youth Climate Movement participating in a climate change march in downtown Doha, Qatar. (photo courtesy of IndyAct-Issam Abdallah)

As you’ve likely heard by now, the U.N. climate talks (also known as COP 18) that concluded a couple of weeks ago in Qatar fell short of the expectations of many who wished to see true progress toward a global plan to fight climate change.

But the way I see it, there was a silver lining. Not only was this the first time that a U.N. climate meeting was held in a Gulf country, it was also the first time that Arab youth turned out in full force to protest inaction and solicit change. Both of these developments highlight an exciting step forward for the Arab world.

I had the unique opportunity to attend COP 18 in Doha through IndyAct, an NGO based in my home country of Lebanon. In the process, I also became involved with the Arab Youth Climate Movement (AYCM). This group was created earlier this year by IndyAct, which had been frustrated by the lack of Arab presence — especially youth — in previous negotiations. Since then, the movement has gained support from international organizations such as 350.org and TckTckTck.

The World Bank recently predicted that climate change will increase drought, desertification and other negative impacts in the Arab world — a shift that will affect younger generations the most. Under the motto “Arabs: Time to Lead,” AYCM has brought together youth from more than 10 Arab countries to spread awareness and urge governmental action. Nothing of the sort had ever been done before — and in Doha, AYCM activists ensured their voices were heard loud and clear.

The fact that this movement has only recently gained momentum is highly significant. In the wake of the Arab Spring sweeping the region and creating a new space for change, incorporating climate change into political conversations is crucial. It’s time for Arabs to prove that they can commit to larger goals and embrace change on all levels, including environmental ones.

To encourage these commitments, the AYCM was extremely active at the negotiations. We did not feel that Qatar hosting COP 18 was enough; we wanted the COP presidency to push Arab states to come forward with concrete commitments. Therefore, we pressured our respective countries to focus on two agendas: pledges to reduce emissions and financial commitments to help other countries reduce and adapt to climate change impacts.

Creative and loud (we are Arabs after all), AYCM and IndyAct engaged in several major actions. On the onset of the second week of the negotiations, they organized a major march on the Doha Corniche (waterfront), pressuring Arab countries to act.

Unfortunately I was unable to attend it, but I was happy to learn that this was apparently the first public demonstration in Qatar’s history — and the first time that civil society had done a climate change event this big in the Middle East. Marching and chanting, hundreds of protesters attended and stirred a lot of commotionor, as we say in Arabic, harake.

Other successful actions focused on political will, committing to pledges and urging Qatar to lead. One of our actions resulted in two Arab youth being de-badged and sent back to their countries. That’s what we get for being avid activists!

It was definitely extremely exciting and inspiring to be part of such a crucial and dynamic movement at such an important time. However, in the end only Lebanon (yay!) committed to a 12% pledge in emissions reductions.

Katherine Shabb

Katherine Shabb

Despite marking our presence in the COP 18 negotiations, we all left unsatisfied. I can only hope that with continued activism by groups like the AYCM, national governments will realize that their citizens want change — and act accordingly.

Katherine Shabb is an intern on CI’s Foundation Relations team.

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