A Renowned Climate Change Activist Impacting Lives In The UAE
An Interview With Arushi Madan
Born on 17th April 1999, Arushi Madan, Regional Environment Ambassador to the Middle East (Tunza Eco generation), President of “Students for the Earth” and anchor of “Green Dream Earth”. In view of her commitment to preserving the earth, she is a recipient of many awards, among which are International Diana Award (UK); a prestigious global award with the certificate signed by the British Prime Minister Mr. David Cameron for her outstanding and selfless contributions to the community and environment, International Young Eco-Hero Award (Action For Nature, USA) and Green Star UAE award and other numerous National wards. In this interview with Climate Tracker and Sustainably Contributor, Odewale Abayomi, she shares her sojourn into climate change advocacy, COP21, and her dreams.
Kindly introduce yourself.
I am Arushi Madan, a grade 12 Science student of Delhi Private School-Sharjah and originally from Delhi, India. Living on the philosophy “Takers eat well but givers sleep well “, I have been working actively for environmental, humanitarian, and social causes. I am most passionate about environmental conservation.
I am Regional Environment Ambassador to the Middle East-appointed by Tunza Eco generation (Initiative of UNEP and Samsung) and also the President of youth community group “Students for the Earth” and Country in charge of another youth organization “Green Dream Earth”.
How did you become a climate change activist?
Ever since I was young, my parents used to tell me to switch off the lights when not in room, not to waste resources, not to throw waste around, keep the place clean, care for plants etc. That’s where my interest in the environment built up.
It developed into a passion and concern towards environmental causes when I started reading about alarming levels of global warming and it’s harmful consequences in the form of increasing natural disasters (like floods, droughts, cyclones), the spread of diseases, and extinction of species.
Once I went for the “Earth Day walkathon”, I noticed participants happily joining the walkathon without knowing what it is for and what message it is conveying. Ironically, at the end of the walkathon, I saw people carelessly throwing waste including empty plastic water bottles, cans, chips wrappers, etc in the open ground. Then I realized that there is a lack of awareness of basic environment values in the common man.
It made me think how can a serious problem of global warming, an environmental menace be tackled unless people are aware that the problem exists, it is realistic and they are the stakeholders in contributing to the problems and suffering from its consequences.
This realization inspired me to adopt the cause and take up the issue of spreading awareness. Ever since then, I have been into environmental advocacy by campaigns and working at grass root level.
What are the objectives of Green Dream Earth, Students For Earth, and your role as Regional Ambassador of Tunza Eco generation?
Students for the Earth is UAE-based and is a member of “Earth Charter Youth International Groups”. Both of them aim to inspire, mobilize youth (mainly) towards environment conservation, social and humanitarian causes. Students for the Earth also aims to develop youth leadership skills.
Tunza Eco Generation is a very popular environmental networking platform and is a venture between United Nations Environment Program and Samsung Engineering, it is based in Seoul and has ambassadors and members from various countries. Through Tunza Eco-Generation, we ambassadors share the events happening in our region related to Climate Change, Clean Energy, Biodiversity, etc.
We share our best practices, info about our campaigns and activities so that we can learn from each other. Every year in Jan/Feb, Tunza Eco Gen organizes Global Youth Eco Leadership Summit and invites the best members/ambassadors from different nations. I was selected to represent UAE in 2014 GYELS where we debated on global environmental challenges, listened to keynote speakers.
These 3 groups intend to tap the power and potential of our youngsters and give them a platform to shine and rise. There are 1000 active members of Students for the Earth and we have done many campaigns, actual projects like Clean Ups, Tree Plantation, Enviro-art contests, Earth Hour events, we have taken a group of young students to visit the green/sustainable popular sites of UAE to make them learn the principles and ways of sustainability. Our activities have inspired many and generated many eco-warriors. I have executed many projects at the individual level: I have given motivational presentations to educate women, laborers, and children, set up a waste management system in our building(11 floors, 66 flats), and made tables from recycled tires which is my best initiative so far. I take every opportunity to spread awareness about the need to save energy, reduce waste and protect the environment -at family events, at school, in festival gatherings, and in the community. I visit schools with environmental videos and games, quizzes, and Green Talk sessions, campaign at malls, food courts, cafeterias, and high foot traffic areas, teach students about the benefits of organic farming, organize educational trips for youth to sustainable buildings and other “green” UAE sites. On International Youth Day 12th August 2015, I took a group of students to DEWA which is the world’s largest government sustainable building. A few months ago, I concluded an innovative campaign called “A Dose of Help” by which we collected unused, not yet expired medicines for the needy. We collected more than 1000 units of medicines including insulin, nasal drops, paracetamol, and cough syrups. I have persuaded factories to recycle packing material, plant trees on my birthdays and my parents' anniversary, and started the “Ecoholics” Facebook page to spread positive environment values. I write about various environmental issues in National newspapers and local magazines, sharing my efforts to inspire others towards environmental conservation.
We take candlelight dinners at home every alternate day to save energy (we switch off all our mobiles, TV, unnecessary gadgets during that time and save energy and enjoy quality family time). Many youngsters got inspired by this and have started doing the same.
Have you faced any challenges while embarking on climate change advocacy and how did you overcome the challenge?
Initially, people were not willing to come for my campaigns. They & their parents thought it would be a wastage of their time. I, then, collaborated with companies like Bee’ah and Tunza Eco Generation (Environment networking platform for children and youth-initiative by Samsung and UNEP) and got nice give-away/souvenirs to be given during these campaigns. This strategy worked and give-away worked in attracting people to attend my campaigns. Once they attended my campaigns, I was successful in convincing them, generating interest in them to work towards environment protection.
While making tables from used tires, I faced challenges like how to bend them to give X-cross section to get the desired design of my table. I was guided by my parents to approach a garage that did this for me.
Another challenge was how to get round glass. I did not want to spend money on new glass as that would defeat the whole purpose. I wanted to just use discarded/used items. Then I came to know that junk dealers have square or irregular-shaped glass which they get as scrap after various exhibitions are over. So I got the used glass from them and with a glasscutter gave it a round shape.
During my initiative “Waste Segregation system “ in our building, after putting the boxes (meant for paper waste), I saw few residents throwing cloth tie/liquid waste in that box which had a clear label outside the box specifying to throw paper/paper-like waste in it. Then I realized that this system won’t be effective till each and every resident of our building is visited and made aware of its purpose and significance. So, I started meeting each of the 66 families one by one. I visited door to door to ensure every flat resident or every family is aware of what and why I set it up. At any point in time, some or the other family members were on vacation or not available. I made a list of all those who were unavailable and later kept visiting them till I met and educated each and every resident in our building.
As I am in my senior class(12th class), at times sparing time for my campaigns becomes challenging but I overcome it by staying back or working in zero periods and managing my time optimally. I have to customize my campaigns to make them convincing and interesting for target participants else people at times feel this “Climate Change” is a myth. I mean they still feel issues like global warming are hyped up.
Do you see COP21 resolutions being implemented across the globe?
In Paris, the nations of the world have for the first time shown that they recognize the huge importance of keeping the planet below 1.5°C. This has come about because of massive grass-roots pressure, and because the effects of global warming are now becoming increasingly clear across the Earth. The nations have also demonstrated that they cannot yet agree on how to truly solve global warming, but they have asked for an assessment on this by the IPCC within 2 years, and have pledged to reviews of targets every 5 years. Now is the time for nations to show how they move from making promises, towards real action. Nations need to start immediately to reduce the use of all fossil fuels if we are to meet a 1.5°C warming target. The world must be fully free of fossil-fuel use by 2050 in order to stay below a warming of 1.5°C.
Climate protection is not only about climate policy! Transport, trade, agriculture, and financial regulations need a 1.5 degrees credibility test to make sure they support each country’s ambition to prevent dangerous global warming.
The new global climate agreement is expected to encourage innovation globally as countries are committed to finding sustainable solutions to climate change in the context of their own national circumstances.
I am optimistic that the COP21 is a tipping point in the global response to climate warming, and that the necessary steps to rid ourselves of fossil fuels and run our societies with renewable energy will quickly accelerate after COP21.
Paris cannot guarantee success, but it does encourage hope. When even a country like the UAE, blessed with an abundance of cheap oil and gas, is pledging to get most of its energy from renewable sources, there has to be optimism about the implementation of the COP21 resolutions.
Dubai has pledged billions of dirham to meet its goal of providing 75 percent of its energy from clean energy sources by 2050. My only concern is that with the continued decline in oil price, it is becoming tempting for nations to increase their oil consumption, if this continues then they are already deviating from the promises they made at COP21.
If the oil consumption increases, again the producers will produce more, and the cascaded reaction leading to an increase in carbon emissions and subsequent failure of COP21 targets and promises.
What plan is underway towards ensuring that the UAE government implements its INDC?
The UAE has been developing sustainable solutions to protect the interests of future generations and address the impacts of climate change. The UAE is the largest renewable energy investor in the region and the country is driving clean technology breakthroughs through research and development. The UAE is currently the biggest renewables market in the GCC with $1bn worth of projects under execution or operational. The country has set an ambitious goal to achieve a 24 percent clean energy mix by 2021, further strengthening its commitment to climate action.
In addition, recent UAE announcements such as Mission Innovation, a global effort to increase research and development investments in clean energy, and the International Solar Alliance, a coalition to promote the development and deployment of solar power, demonstrate the UAE continued progress in sustainable development. The UAE’s actions are already underway with a directive plan to address climate change and transform the nation’s energy mix.
Though the UAE is a major oil producer, it has readily incorporated clean energy and sustainability on the national agenda. Clean energy, in particular, has been widely adopted in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, with a special focus on solar. Clean energy projects such as the national grid through 100 MW, Shams 1 concentrated solar power plant, and the construction of the 1GW Mohammed bin Rashid Solar Park in Dubai has been revolutionary in the region. Dubai has pledged billions of dirham to meet its goal of providing 75 percent of its energy from clean energy sources by 2050. Small initiatives like exempting parking fees for green cars are happening all the time to encourage consumers and residents to opt for clean energy-based cars
UAE earlier had a fixed price for oil (petrol and diesel). A few months ago, it deregulated petrol price. Every month price is reviewed and changed. This was done mainly to encourage people not to waste fuel, go for options like car pooling or use public transport.
Where do you see yourself in 15 years' time?
I want to do my higher studies in Electrical and Electronic Engineering so that I can acquire the skills and knowledge to develop energy-efficient systems and contribute to the Clean Energy World. I see myself on the list of people who have contributed to Clean Energy projects by actually working on National or International level projects. I want to actually make a difference in fighting Climate Change.
What advice do you have for young people across the globe?
I would like to advise the global youth to shed away hesitations and not to wait for others to initiate. Have a “Let me” approach rather than “Why me”. Apart from academics, involve yourself in social and voluntary activities to improve the lives of others, to give back to society, and to make this world a better place. Be the change you wish to see in the world. By doing social, humanitarian, and environmental activities selflessly, I learned that one has to set an example for others to follow and practice before preaching. I realized that small acts can have big impacts if all of us do collectively.
So, if you find a place dirty, please don’t say “the place is dirty”. Rather, clean it and say “It was dirty”. Do it and set examples for others. Give life to your slogans by practicing them.
Interviewer: ODEWALE Abayomi Joseph, Climate Tracker, Nigeria