Great expectations: Arab youth’s sustainability priorities

February 13, 2023


Great expectations: Arab youth’s sustainability priorities

February 13, 2023

Dina Alborno

Senior analyst, Policy & Insights, Economist Impact

Dina Alborno is a senior analyst with Economist Impact's Policy & Insights team based in London, working with Europe and Middle East-based clients in support of their public policy-related initiatives. Her recent research has focused on trade and globalisation, including themes such as migration governance and economic opportunities for refugees, in addition to environmental sustainability and climate change, including topics such as the sustainable management of shared water resources and youth priorities for sustainability. Dina holds a bachelor’s degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from the University of Oxford.

Key findings

The acute cost-of-living crisis remains at the forefront of Arab youth’s concerns. The Economist Intelligence Unit estimates that inflation in the MENA region hit 19.6% in 2022, compared with 9.8% globally. It is unsurprising then that almost half (44%) of young Arabs we surveyed cite inflation as the most pressing issue facing their generation. Young Arab sustainability leaders we spoke to claim that such economic instability can make it harder for the population to think about longer-term issues such as climate change.

But young people in the Arab world are also particularly concerned about environmental issues. Two-fifths (40%) of survey respondents consider environmental degradation, resource depletion and climate change to be the most pressing issue facing their generation, surpassing political and social issues. Among the wide range of environmental issues, they are most concerned about the prevalence and impact of air pollution, water scarcity, global warming, ocean pollution and food insecurity.

Climate-related threats and a lack of action to tackle them are causing eco-anxiety among Arab youth. Our survey finds that nearly three-quarters (70%) of Arab youth have felt anxious about the future of the environment and the impact of climate change over the past six months. Of these respondents, 41% have felt very anxious. For participants in the workshops, this stems primarily from a sense of inability to influence the course of action and inadequate climate initiatives by governments and businesses. Women experience the greatest impacts of climate change and are particularly affected by climate anxiety as a result: 34% of women have felt very anxious compared with just 26% of men. The mental health impacts of climate change can have profound economic and social implications, including losses to productivity, rising unemployment and increased government spending on health and social care.

Young Arabs, particularly women, are leading more sustainable lifestyles as a way to scale up their efforts to tackle climate change. They recognise the value of individual-level action and are keen to drive positive change. Almost all (98%) survey respondents report that they have made environmentally conscious lifestyle choices over the past year, including reducing food waste, limiting water and energy use, and recycling household waste. Women are particularly proactive: a higher share of women have adopted the 11 most popular individual-level actions than men. Two-fifths (39%) of women have started to recycle household waste and limit the consumption of single-use plastics, compared with less than a third of men (29% and 28%, respectively).

Arab youth want to influence climate policy but lack avenues to do so. Young Arabs, especially women, are hopeful about the role they can play in tackling the climate crisis: more than eight in ten (84%) women and three in four (76%) men believe that they can influence their country’s climate change policy. However, they lack opportunities to share their views: less than two-thirds (57%) of respondents feel that their governments listen to the concerns of young people in relation to climate change. As the government and business leaders of tomorrow, young people deserve to be heard and their views accounted for.

Arab youth value government climate action but believe that their governments need to do more. One in three respondents feels that governments should be the stakeholders primarily responsible for tackling climate change, and nearly three-quarters (74%) think that combating climate change should be their country’s top priority rather than the continued pursuit of economic growth. But just three in five (58%) respondents believe that their government’s actions are effective in addressing climate change. Young Arab sustainability leaders we spoke to are increasingly calling for their governments to translate their bold pledges into action and stick to their commitments.

Corporate climate action and accountability is a crucial piece of the net-zero puzzle. Over one fifth (22%) of Arab youth surveyed believe that companies should be the stakeholders primarily responsible for tackling climate change. To help meet net-zero targets, Arab youth believe businesses should focus on improving waste management, eliminating the use of pollutants and using more sustainable materials.

Download report (English)
Download report (Arabic)

Enjoy in-depth insights and expert analysis - subscribe to our Perspectives newsletter, delivered every week