Climate and Environment

Young Filipino activists want world leaders to not just listen, but also act vs climate change

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
Young Filipino activists want world leaders to not just listen, but also act vs climate change
Left to right: Filipino climate activists Jefferson Estela, Mitzi Jonelle Tan, Jon Bonifacio and Marinel Ubaldo)
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MANILA, Philippines — To have his voice heard in Glasgow, United Kingdom, 23-year-old climate activist Jefferson Estela had to tangle with financial difficulties.

The architecture student who leads the Youth Strike for Climate Philippines had to set up a crowdfunding page to raise pocket money for his trip.

He also reached out to lawmakers, hoping they would support his journey to attend the crucial United Nations climate talks, known as COP26, which could determine the kind of present and future that Estela and billions of young people across the planet could experience.

But most of the politicians did not respond and did not spare him a peso.

Fortunately, he made it to the cold and damp Scottish city through the help of Loss and Damage Youth Coalition as well as other organizations and individual donors. But his experience reflects the reality that the most vulnerable often face difficulties in attending important events due to high costs of travel and lack of political will.

“If they really support youth actions, then why such a thing is not being supported? We don’t want to be praised, we want to be supported,” Estela said.

Space in the negotiating table

Young people like Estela are the least responsible for human-induced climate change, yet they are the most vulnerable to its impacts.

Climate change threatens the survival of the young people in the global south—lower income nations facing the brunt of a warming planet—with strong typhoons, floods and extreme heat adversely affecting their communities.

Even though they are the most affected, they are the least represented.

“It is important that there is a space for the youth [in negotiations like this] not just because we wanted to talk about inclusivity. We are talking about our future here, and we cannot let these people decide for my life, for our lives, for our generation,” he said.

Marinel Ubaldo, a survivor of Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), said it is critical that young people from the most impacted places are represented in the talks.

“I’ve literally seen death and I don’t know if I can afford another super typhoon in my life because I don’t know if I can survive it… It’s important that we put a human face to the climate crisis,” she said. At least 6,000 people were killed when Yolanda battered the country in 2013.

The Philippines sent a 19-person delegation to Glasgow to fight for the nation’s interests in the summit, billed as the world’s last chance to avoid catastrophic global warming. The team was dominated by finance and foreign affairs departments.

The delegation has been criticized for the absence of officials from the Climate Change Commission, civil society groups and youth climate activists.

In a message to Philstar.com, Finance chief Carlos Dominguez, who serves as the government’s chief negotiator, said at least six members of the delegation are below 30 years old. He added three members of the team are in their early 30s.

“One young delegate is a full-blooded [Kakana-ey],” Dominguez also said, referring to an indigenous peoples group in the Cordilleras.

But does the country’s delegation know the reality faced by those young people on the frontlines of climate change, Ubaldo asked.

“Do they know the frustration we have thinking that we don’t have a future, or maybe we have a future but that means we’re busy surviving another typhoon or another climate disaster?” said Ubaldo, the country’s coordinator for the 16th UN Climate Change Conference of Youth.

COP for children

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, one billion children are at extremely high risk to climate change impacts.

“COP26 must be the COP for children,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said.

On the first day of COP26, Ubaldo and other young climate activists submitted a global youth statement to COP26 president Alok Sharma and the UN climate change agency.

The document lists down their top policy demands, which include need for effective climate plans, real representation at COP, policies that promote transition to renewable energy sources and for rich nation deliver on their decade-old climate finance pledge.

Filipina Mitzi Jonelle Tan also joined fellow climate activists Greta Thunberg, Vanessa Nakate and Dominika Lasota in sending a call to world leaders to act swiftly in tackling climate change by keeping the 1.5°C goal alive, ending fossil fuel investments and enacting policies that will protect the most vulnerable sectors from climate impacts.

Estela was only in sixth grade when Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) triggered one of the worst floods in Metro Manila in 2009. The deluge upended his life, and pushed him to call for climate action and climate justice.

“I don’t want to see any other kids to experience what I have experienced because it’s not normal. It’s not normal that a child thinks if he or she is going to die,” he said.

Tired of ‘blah, blah, blah’

Like Thunberg, Filipino climate activists are also tired of “blah, blah, blah.” They want world leaders to match rhetoric with action.

COP26 marks the third time that Ubaldo is attending climate negotiations. But she feels not enough progress has been made.

“I’m tired of attending this and going home [as if something happened] when nothing happened. I want to take home something that will actually help [my community],” she said.

Activists are skeptical the biggest climate summit in recent years will deliver. But it needs to, Tan stressed. 

“COP26 has to live up to expectations because this is a matter of life and death,” Tan, convenor of Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines (YACAP).

Jon Bonifacio, an activist with YACAP and Fridays for Future MAPA (Most Affected People and Areas), said failure at COP26 means “those experiencing the impacts of the climate crisis today will continue to do so, and their situation will continue to worsen.”

Beyond Glasgow

Regardless of what happens in Glasgow, the fight to prevent planetary collapse will continue, Bonifacio and Estela said.

“The fight is not limited to the Conference of Parties; it extends beyond that. It’s just one of the avenues we’re maximizing to get the changes that we desperately need,” Bonifacio said.

They will continue to demand world leaders to slash emissions and rich nations to provide compensation for the damages they caused. Once they return home, they will carry on with conducting climate education and reaching out to impacted communities to help them build resilience.

“If it fails, we will continue to hold people accountable. We will not be silenced,” Estela said.


This story was produced as part of the 2021 Climate Change Media Partnership, a journalism fellowship organized by Internews' Earth Journalism Network and the Stanley Center for Peace and Security.

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As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: October 25, 2022 - 4:28pm

Bookmark this page for updates on the United Nations climate summit, known as COP26. Photo courtesy of AFP/Tolga Akmen

October 25, 2022 - 4:28pm

Singapore announces it aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, giving a firm date for the first time, and will look at using hydrogen as a major power source.

The city-state targets for carbon emissions to peak in 2030 at 60 million tonnes, a reduction of five million tonnes from the previous goal, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong said.

The Southeast Asian nation also has plans to look at developing low carbon hydrogen as a major power supply in the long term. — AFP

May 26, 2022 - 5:15pm

Australia will present a more ambitious UN emissions target "very soon" and is bidding to co-host a COP summit with Pacific island neighbours, Foreign Minister Penny Wong said Thursday, signalling a ground shift in climate policy.

During a first solo overseas visit since her centre-left government was sworn in, Wong admitted that on the climate, "Australia has neglected its responsibility" under past administrations.

She told hosts in Fiji's capital Suva that there would be no more "disrespecting" Pacific nations or "ignoring" their calls to act on climate change.

"We were elected on a platform of reducing emissions by 43 percent by 2030 and reaching net-zero by 2050," Wong said. — AFP

March 29, 2022 - 3:31pm

Countries have proposed to hold an extra biodiversity meeting in Nairobi in June as talks in Geneva tasked with saving nature entered their final day Tuesday without an agreement.

In a document uploaded on the conference website, dated Monday, countries suggest holding a new meeting in the Kenyan capital between June 21 and 26 to "continue negotiations" on the document and other issues. 

The decision is subject to official approval by the Geneva meeting before it wraps up later Tuesday. — AFP

November 15, 2021 - 7:25am

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday hails a global accord to speed up action against climate change as "truly historic" and "the beginning of the end for coal power".

But he says his "delight at this progress" at the UN COP26 summit in Glasgow was "tinged with disappointment" because of a failure to secure the agreement of all countries to phase out hydrocarbons.

"Those for whom climate change is already a matter of life and death, who can only stand by as their islands are submerged, their farmland turned to desert, their homes battered by storms, they demanded a high level of ambition from this summit," says Johnson. — AFP

November 13, 2021 - 6:02pm

A UN climate summit text on Saturday urges nations to accelerate the phase-out of unfiltered coal and "inefficient" fossil fuel subsidies, after large emitters tried to remove the mention of polluting fuels. 

The text, which comes after two weeks of frantic negotiations at the COP26 summit in Glasgow, omitted any reference to specific finance for "loss and damage" -- the mounting cost of global heating so far -- which has been a key demand of poorer nations.

The mention on Saturday of fossil fuels was weaker than a previous draft, which called on countries to "accelerate the phasing out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels". — AFP

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