Generation Z wants more action for a sustainable future, reveals global research from Masdar
Climate change and environmental degradation will pose the world’s gravest threat over the next 10 years, according to online study of Post-Millennials in 20 countries
Climate change will be the world’s biggest challenge over the next decade, according to a global survey of young people carried out by Masdar, the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company.
Unveiled at COP22, the United Nations Climate Change Conference taking place in Morocco, the ‘Masdar Gen Z Global Sustainability Survey’ is the first global survey of the attitudes of young people aged 18-25 – the demographic cohort known as ‘Generation Z’ – towards climate change, sustainable development and renewable energy.
The landmark online survey spoke to nearly 5,000* Post-Millennials in 20 countries across the Middle East & North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, the Americas, Europe and Asia. Countries were also classified according to their economic development as either developed, emerging or frontier.
Carried out earlier this year to coincide with Masdar’s 10-year anniversary, the survey offers a valuable insight into the thinking of tomorrow’s decision makers on the critical issues of energy and sustainability.
The findings clearly illustrate the level of concern among young people about climate change, with 40% of those surveyed naming it among the biggest challenges facing the world in the next decade, ahead of the economy (34%), terrorism (32%), poverty & inequality (29%) and unemployment (29%).
Post-Millennials also made clear their appetite for a stronger say on sustainability, with eight in ten (83%) saying governments need to listen more to young people about the issue. A similar number (80%) believe current leaders have not done enough to protect the environment, and it is up to their generation to build a more sustainable future.
They think government and the private sector share responsibility for developing clean technology (81%), but they expect more government investment in renewable energy (84%).
According to Masdar’s survey, today’s youth also see their own behaviour as particularly important when it comes to supporting clean technology. Half (50 per cent) believe that getting individuals to change their behaviour is one of the main barriers to investing in renewable and clean technology.
Encouragingly, almost two in three young people (59%) said they are interested in working or studying in an area related to sustainability. This trend is particularly pronounced in emerging (67%) and frontier (72%) economies.
“The UAE believes youth engagement is critical in our path to a sustainable future,” said His Excellency Dr Thani Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment. “The findings from Masdar’s Gen Z Sustainability Survey reflect the UAE’s leadership in advancing and creating awareness of renewable energy and sustainable development worldwide.”
“We cannot deliver on sustainable development without empowering our young people,” said Her Excellency Shamma bint Sohail Faris Al Mazrui, UAE’s Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Chairwoman of the Emirates Youth Council. “The Masdar Gen Z Global Sustainability Survey shows that our youth seek to lead change in sustainable development and the future energy economy. Both government and the business community have a golden opportunity to harness youth’s ideas, vigour and optimism.”
Her Excellency further emphasised the importance of youth research for future policy creation and decision-making.
Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said: “There are marked differences between countries and regions in young people’s views on the environment and climate change, but one thing is clear. There is huge demand among our youth for corporate and public investment in clean technology and renewable energy. The winners in the green economy will be those who can harness this youthful idealism and combine it with regulations, long-term investment, cultural change and political action.”
The survey found that around half of Generation Z (46%) think they are setting the best example when it comes to environmentally responsible behaviour, and many are prepared to use their consumer power to reward or punish companies over their sustainability record. Almost half (46%) have chosen to spend more money on products from a company that behaves sustainably, and 31% have boycotted a company that they perceived as following unsustainable practices.
Young people in developed countries are more concerned about the financial costs of going green than those in less developed nations. But solar power was the preferred future energy source overall.
Commenting on the global Gen Z survey, Mohamed Jameel Al Ramahi, Chief Executive Officer of Masdar, said: “We are pleased to see the high level of understanding of young people from right across the world of the importance of delivering a more sustainable future. Over the last 10 years, the clean energy industry has become one of the world’s most exciting and dynamic growth markets.
“As we look ahead, the findings of our global survey provide an important insight into the action required to accelerate the adoption of renewable energy and clean technologies. Today’s youth are the policymakers, industry leaders, technical experts and consumers of tomorrow – an audience with whom we and the wider energy and sustainability community must engage to realise a more sustainable future.”
MASDAR GEN Z SUSTAINABILITY SURVEY: TOP 10 GLOBAL FINDINGS
1. Youth say climate change will be biggest threat to the world over the next 10 years, ahead of the economy and the threat of terrorism
When asked to name the top three challenges facing the world today, thirty-two per cent of young people said climate change and the environment, after poverty & inequality (36%) and terrorism (33%). And 40% overall say the issue will be the most important challenge faced by Earth in the next 10 years, ahead of the economy (34%), terrorism (32%), poverty & inequality (29%) and unemployment (29%).
Fifty-nine per cent of young people in Europe, 53% in the Americas and 52% in Asia said that news coverage was their main source of information about the environment. Fifty-four per cent in sub-Saharan Africa and 27% in MENA said their environmental awareness came from laws and regulations.
2. Young people want to find solutions to climate change
Young people were most concerned about air pollution (90% ‘very’ or ‘somewhat anxious’), then water pollution (88%), humans running out of natural resources (87%), global warming (86%) and availability of clean water (85%).
In sub-Saharan Africa, more than nine in 10 young people were very or somewhat anxious about the availability of clean water (94%) and food shortages (93%).
The most important benefits of protecting the environment are not financial, young people said. Forty-seven per cent said the primary benefit was ‘lowering pollution levels’, followed by safeguarding the planet for future generations (46%), and sustaining biodiversity (36%).
Many young people are so committed to the environment that they want to use their career to help it. Almost two in three (59%) said that they are interested in working or studying in an area related to sustainability.
3. Government regulations are needed to help the environment but corporations should take equal responsibility
Young people believe that government and businesses have to work together on clean technology, with 81% saying that they are equally responsible.
Seventy-five per cent of respondents in both MENA and Europe, and 80% in Asia, say the same, as do nine-tenths of respondents in Africa (90%) and the Americas (87%). But government regulation is needed to realise meaningful changes in behaviour on sustainability, according to 86% of youth surveyed. The vast majority of Post-Millennials (83% overall) believe the private sector has a responsibility to adopt renewable energy and clean technologies, but very few companies have a genuine commitment in their eyes. Sixty-four per cent of young people said that companies do the ‘bare minimum’ to comply with environment regulations.
4. Youth say they’re doing more than most to be ‘green’
Young people said that they were doing more to help the environment than other generations. Around half (46%) said that they were doing ‘more or much more’ than most people, and 41% said they were doing at least the same. Their main contributions? Recycling (58%), reducing energy consumption (51%) and using low-energy products (42%). Young people said that a lack of infrastructure, in particular recycling bins, was the main barrier to acting more sustainably, followed by a lack of support from business and the financial community, with more than a quarter (26%) of those interviewed globally giving this answer.
Interestingly, only 21% worldwide felt that cost was the greatest barrier to adopting more sustainable behaviour, but it was cited as the biggest obstacle in developed countries (21%) and by 26% of Post-Millennials in the United States. Less than a tenth (8%) of respondents overall expressed no interest in changing their lifestyle.
5. Young people boycott companies that harm the environment
Gen Z youth use their spending power to reward or punish companies based on their perceived impact on their environment. Almost half (46%) of those interviewed said that they spend more money on a company’s product or service if it is environmentally sustainable.
Thirty-one per cent have boycotted a company for unsustainable practices. Young people in China, Brazil, India, the UK and Saudi Arabia are the most likely to boycott a company for environmental reasons. Youth in Kenya, Spain, Japan, Morocco, Egypt and the UAE are the least likely.
Half (49%) think that green products are just as good as the conventional alternatives. But Gen Z youth in the Middle East are the least likely to think this, with only a fifth to a third of respondents in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE and Jordan saying that both types of products are equally good.
6. Behavioural change is needed to help renewable energy investment
Getting individuals to change their behaviour and the cost of new and improved technology are the main barriers to investment in renewable technology, according to the survey, with each obstacle cited by 50% of respondents.
Counterintuitively, youth in frontier countries feel more empowered than their peers in wealthier countries to take action on the environment, with 95% saying that they do not regard their lifestyle as barrier to them doing more for the environment personally, compared to 89% in developed nations.
So what are the biggest drivers of green technology? A society that values the environment over wealth creation and financial gain (48%), followed by a good education system and world-class universities (42%), and public demand for change (ranked joint third with the impact of climate change). Entrepreneurship and a vibrant community of small-to-medium sized businesses are prioritised by a fifth (19%) of Post-Millennials globally.
7. Education is vital in making the world more sustainable
Encouraging responsible behaviour on the environment starts at home, with 82% of respondents saying they trust family the most to set a positive example. Schools and educational institutions came second at 74%. Big business ranked joint eighth (48%) alongside national governments in terms of trust, above religious leaders but well below small and local businesses (trusted by 61% of the Gen Z sample).
In MENA, schools and education bodies are seen to exert the most influence on the sustainability and renewable energy debate, after the general public (ranked first). The United Nations, the media and environmental NGOs round out the top-five influencers for Arab Post-Millennials.
8. Developed countries seen as clean-tech leaders
Germany is seen as the leading country for clean-tech, then Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. The UAE was the highest rated MENA country, ranked just outside the top 10. Nearly half of respondents (49%) believe that their country has been getting greener over the last year or so. Youth in China are the most confident about their country’s performance (but only one in five think their country is ahead of others in terms of investing in clean energy), followed by youth in the UAE and Jordan. Youth in Egypt, South Korea and Nigeria are the least confident.
9. Solar and wind energy are the favoured green energies
Sixty-three per cent of Post-Millennials around the world believe that solar power should be their country’s priority energy source in the future, according to Masdar’s study. Around half (49%) want their country to focus on wind power, the top choice of youth in Germany and the UK, while more than a third overall (37%) point to hydroelectric power.
Solar energy is the most preferred future energy source in the UAE (53%), followed by natural gas and oil. After the UAE, the preference for natural gas is highest in China (35%) and Russia (29%). Nuclear energy receives the most endorsement from youth in Jordan (35%) and India (32%), while Saudi Post-Millennials are unsurprisingly the most attached to oil.
More than a third (38%) of Gen Z youth in Saudi Arabia see oil as the country’s priority future energy source.
10. Young people in frontier countries are the most committed to creating a sustainable future
Considering the exposure of Frontier countries to the effects of climate change, youth in Jordan, Kenya and Nigeria are the most concerned about the environment, with 66% saying they are ‘very concerned’ about the environment, compared with 48% of youth in emerging countries, and 34% in nations classed as developed in the study.
Interestingly, Post-Millennials in the frontier states surveyed are the most likely to believe that all countries have a shared responsibility to adopt renewable energy and clean technologies, rather than it being the main duty of wealthy countries, with 73% taking this view. Frontier nations are also the most optimistic about the adoption of renewable energy in their country, with 83% saying that their country will have made significant progress during their lifetime.
Frontier youth are more committed than youth in other countries to buying environmentally-friendly products, and 52% say that the general public should be taking the initiative on adopting sustainable energy consumption and production, compared to 43% and 39% of youth in emerging and developed economies, respectively.