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

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

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, 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 Kakanai,” 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, to fight 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.

As It Happens

LATEST UPDATE: November 3, 2021 – 12:13pm

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

November 3, 2021 – 12:13pm

K-pop group Blackpink calls on world leaders to take action against climate change in a video message at the COP26 Summit in Glasgow.

Main vocalist Rosé says the group is convinced that climate change is the “most important issue of our time.”

“If we all act now, if we all step up with real ambition, if you world leaders siezed this vital moment at COP26, we can still realize what was promised in Paris 2015. We can still save our planet. We can still save our future,” the group says.

November 3, 2021 – 7:35am

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says humanity was starting to even the score against climate change after a two-day COP26 summit, but warned there was a “very long way to go”.

Johnson says he was “cautiously optimistic” after the summit in Glasgow adopted new promises on deforestation, methane emissions and cash for poorer countries to avert the worst of global warming.

“And I think what you can say today… is that we’ve pulled back a goal or perhaps even two, and I think we’re going to be able to take this thing to extra time,” Johnson tells a news conference. — AFP

November 2, 2021 – 9:57pm

More than 80 countries have signed up to a US and EU pledge to slash methane emissions by 30% by the end of the decade, European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen says. 

Cutting the powerful greenhouse gas by a third from 2020 levels will “immediately slow down climate change”, von der Leyen tells the COP26 climate conference. — AFP

November 2, 2021 – 4:49pm

China says it has increased daily coal production by over one million tonnes, easing its energy shortage as world leaders gather in Britain for climate talks billed as one of the last chances to avert catastrophic global warming.

The world’s biggest coal importer has battled widespread power cuts in recent months that have disrupted supply chains, due to strict emissions targets and record prices for the fossil fuel.

The production surge comes as world leaders but not Chinese President Xi Jinping — convene in Glasgow for COP26 talks to secure more ambitious global greenhouse gas emissions. — AFP

November 2, 2021 – 2:01pm

World leaders meeting at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow will issue a multibillion-dollar pledge to end deforestation by 2030 but that date is too distant for campaigners who want action sooner to save the planet’s lungs.

According to summit hosts the British government, the pledge is backed by almost $20 billion in public and private funding and is endorsed by more than 100 leaders representing over 85 percent of the world’s forests, including the Amazon rainforest, Canada’s northern boreal forest and the Congo Basin rainforest.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the agreement on deforestation was pivotal to the overarching ambition of limiting temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius. — AFP

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