In the last few decades, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has become a leading voice in the quest for climate action. Warming at almost twice the global rate—and with unique geographic and sociopolitical features that make it particularly vulnerable—the region’s search for sustainable climate solutions is becoming more and more urgent.
Today, more and more countries are making sustainability a part of their long-term development agenda. Leading the way is Saudi Arabia which, through the Saudi Green Initiative, has committed to achieving net zero by 2060. It was also the host of MENA Climate Week 2023, the region’s premier platform to explore climate change-related issues.
Exploring MENA Climate Week
MENA Climate Week 2023 brought together practitioners, policymakers, business leaders and civil society to find new solutions to the climate crisis in line with the requirements of the Paris Agreement. It also marked the start of the first-ever “global stocktake”, which dissects the region’s progress along four main tracks: energy systems and industry; cities, urban and rural settlements, infrastructure and transport; land, ocean, food and water; and societies, health, livelihoods and economies.
IE University student Valeria Flores Siles got the exciting opportunity to take part in this historic event. As a second-year student in the Dual Degree in Economics & International Relations and president of the IE SDGs Club, it represented a culmination of her long-held interests in politics, sustainability, diversity and impact.
A chance for new perspectives
Valeria describes MENA Climate Week 2023 as an exciting melting pot of people and ideas. “It was truly inspiring to see everyone come together for a common goal, despite our different backgrounds,” Valeria explains. She especially enjoyed the insightful conversations held with participants from all over the world, which allowed her to learn what climate action looks like in different countries, such as Mexico, Malaysia or the US.
The event involved a series of panels, roundtables, discussions and other activities, giving participants exposure to varied perspectives and in-depth insights. It also featured expert analyses of the barriers to climate action as well as emerging opportunities in the region.
Snack bar conversations
Beyond the learning experience, Valeria saw MENA Climate Week as the perfect place to expand her global network. She was able to connect with not only her peers from other academic institutions, but also renowned professionals leading climate discourse and action worldwide.
“I was honored to meet Dr. Gudrun Hubinger, an expert in global medical information,” she says. And, as is typical for these kinds of professional events, first contact was established in the most unexpected of ways: “I met her at the snack bar and we talked and connected via LinkedIn.” Through this chat, Valeria learned more about Dr. Hubinger’s experiences and gained extra motivation to keep traveling the world and working toward her goals. “It’s unbelievable how one small conversation can encourage you that much,” she admits.
Lessons on sustainable leadership
For Valeria, the event reinforced various lessons, but two stood out the most. First, she saw firsthand just how important it is to become a leader of change. It’s the only way to inspire sustainable, meaningful and long-term positive impact in any organization. However, this can only happen once leaders embrace the “three Rs”: reliability, reachability and research.
Second, Valeria understood the need for authenticity in climate action discourse after a moving speech by Meenakshi Raman, a distinguished lawyer and leading climate change advocate for developing countries. “We must move beyond mere words and hold nations accountable for their efforts in the fight against climate change,” says Valeria.
“This event offers a unique opportunity for expanding one’s horizons, connecting with diverse individuals and learning from experts in the field.”Valeria Flores
Valeria highly encourages other students at IE University to take part in enriching activities such as MENA Climate Week. From experience, she knows that they offer unique opportunities for both personal and professional growth. This event helped her expand her horizons and connect with a diverse mix of professionals. Furthermore, it’s a chance for students to enrich their learning with firsthand knowledge and insights from leading experts in the field.
“MENA Climate Week has ignited a passion to pursue a career that aligns with the values and principles I have embraced during this experience,” Valeria admits. The impactful event hasn’t just enhanced her perspective, it’s helped her shape her future path and accelerate her progress towards her career goals.