Illustration by Shahd Nigim.

Higher Education Climate Dialogues: Advancing Collaborative Sustainability in the UAE

Students at NYU Abu Dhabi and American University of Sharjah will be collaboratively hosting a virtual conference focused on promoting climate action and sustainability throughout UAE universities for the second time.

Feb 7, 2022

Feb. 14 marks Valentine’s Day and also the first day of the second Higher Education Climate Dialogues conference. The conference this year will be hosted on Feb. 14 and Feb.21, as an online collaboration between NYU Abu Dhabi and the American University of Sharjah.
Last year’s conference, held virtually in April, successfully enticed 112 participants from 34 different universities — 26 of which were outside the UAE. Participants engaged in a wide range of innovative panels on topics like green capital and climate action in education. Panelists included figures like NYUAD’s Director of Sustainability Antonios Voluodius, President of the U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development Debra Rowe and Deputy Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency Gauri Singh.
The mission of the Higher Education Climate Dialogues conference is not only to spark dialogue across stakeholders between different universities but also to directly inspire ambitious efforts to make campuses more sustainable and promote environmental awareness among students within the UAE. The conference offers great opportunities for everyone involved; from networking for students to resources for university staff, collaboration opportunities for researchers and partnership opportunities for NGOs, HECD has made an effort to engage all.
Thanks to the success of last year’s conference, the ambitions for this year’s rendition are higher. In the UAE, this is perhaps just the right time for such an initiative, with Expo 2020 in Dubai having a strong sustainability-focused agenda that will be addressed during one of this year’s panels.
While the event was originally set to take place in-person across the two host campuses in Sharjah and Abu Dhabi, it will now be held over Zoom. The last-minute change in plans has required a reimagining of some aspects in the conference to maintain engagement over the online setting, but the conference seems set to proceed without a hitch.The fact that the conference is now virtual has not reduced the enthusiasm of the team: “Last year the conference was online, we were excited to do it in person but we wanted to have a conference where everybody felt safe,” said Laura Moncada, Class of 2025 and lead of the HECD Partnerships Team.
It has often been challenging to garner buy-ins from conference stakeholders on this second edition of the conference. Building partnerships on a volunteer basis during a tumultuous time has been no small feat, and has involved sitting down and learning the stories of a diverse group of stakeholders committed to climate action.
The scale of HECD makes this all the more impressive. An entirely online conference, held over two days, bringing together universities and key sustainability stakeholders from all over the world provides a welcome space for new initiatives and research to be born. Moreover, as the UAE stands at the forefront of important environmental efforts within the MENA, this unique opportunity becomes more relevant.
You can find out more about HECD by visiting their website. There, the agenda for both days is filled with interactive discussions and panels about everything from sustainable architecture to the UAE’s possible future role in hosting the COP 28 conference.
“[I would say] this [is] an amazing opportunity for any student to be able to interconnect with like-minded peers and leaders in sustainability and climate action,” said Moncada.
Ethan Fulton is Opinion Editor and Satire Columnist. Email him at
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