This is our first interview in this series for Contemporary Fashion, which is a new sustainable fashion magazine out of New York. We wanted to do something that wasn’t about fashion, but was a reminder of how pressing the climate emergency is, and how important it is that everybody does their part. I thought we could start by asking you to say a little bit about yourself, how old you are, and what you like to do when you aren’t doing activism work.
Sure. I’m currently 29 years old, and besides climate activism, I work with Climate Action Network, which is the world’s largest network of NGOs working on climate issues—but that is very much related to climate change. I do communications work, and focus on digital and social media stuff. On the side, I also work with the LGBT movement here in the Philippines, and on youth development and focus on human rights and social justice. I also do a bit of consulting on the side, around communications. I work part-time for Cities Alliance, part of UNOps, and I do a bit of client work here and there, writing speeches, press releases, and whatnot. I’m also a writer, aside from being a climate activist.
You’re a writer. Do you do any creative writing, or just nonfiction?
Mostly nonfiction, climate-focused. I could send you some of my articles I’ve written before. I work on climate issues, urban issues, mostly op-ed articles or news articles, so it’s mostly nonfiction stuff.
I’d love to hear more about your background. Did you grow up in Manila?
Actually, no. I grew up in a smaller city called Legazpi in Albay province. So this is where I really began reflecting, because back in 2006, I encountered the first so-called “super typhoon.” It was like a new category of typhoons for me. In this small town, on the Eastern coast of the Philippines, on the Pacific side, we get all the typhoons and the flooding before the rest of the country does. So, as a child, I was like, “why is this happening to us?” And that same year, 2006, Al Gore’s documentary film, ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ came out, and our teachers made us write reflections about the film. And that’s when I realized, okay, what’s happening to me in my life, in my community, where people lose their lives, their homes, their businesses, to these things, is because of climate change. And since then, I took it upon myself to learn more about this.
So I moved to Manila to study at the University, and I studied geography, because that program and that discipline really talked about the Earth, the planet. And I got to study the planet a lot more, and this is where I was able to equip myself with the knowledge I needed to understand climatic systems, the policies around climate change, environmental policies, and all of that. And I started working here in Manila, in environmental research with the government and with the private sector and finance. And ten years after ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ came out, in 2016, I was able to participate in a training with Climate Reality Project. So Al Gore came to visit Manila, to give us that training, and I was able to finally meet him in person. And that is where a lot of this climate-change focus really took off.
So since then, one of the other participants at the training recruited me to be part of Climate Action Network, and that’s when I started working as Southeast Asia Regional Communications Officer for Climate Action Network, through the Climate Reality Project, and since then, I’ve been working on the climate crisis. I moved to the U.K. in 2018, for a scholarship (at the University of Manchester) under the Chevening program, where I studied Urban Planning and Development, particularly for the Global South. Because I think, in Southeast Asia, one of the biggest challenges is making our cities more resilient to climate change, and making sure that we have the correct infrastructure, and the correct urban planning, for the future, so that what happened to me fifteen years ago, back in my home province, does not happen to other people in other cities all over the region.
So I came back to the Philippines, I applied what I’d learned, and I continue to work for Climate Action Network. I also work for 350.org, and continue to volunteer with the Climate Reality Project. I’m also working with Cities Alliance through UNOps.
It’s funny, for my PhD, there were both critical and creative elements, so I wrote a climate fiction novel, and one of my protagonists has a similar background to you. Clyde grew up on the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation in the Florida Everglades, and when he was eight years old, his family and their community were forced out of the Everglades due to sudden sea-level rise. I thought it would be the type of experience that could turn someone into an activist, or otherwise make them want to dedicate their careers to working on climate change (he’s a climatologist).
That is very interesting. I recently encountered the term, “Cli Fi.” I’m not sure if it’s in the dictionary yet. There’s been a lot of climate fiction written recently. It’s an ongoing thing, apparently.
Exactly. I’m curious. You’ve achieved so much for your age, but how does your family feel about your activism?
In my family, my brother had been an activist, as well. He went to the same university, The University of the Philippines, where a lot of leaders come from, and activists, as well. So while we’re not doing the same work—he’s been active in politics, doing campaigns on different issues, as well, they’re not entirely surprised with me being a climate activist. Although, initially, as a young person back in university, they were worried that I went home late, that I stayed overnight for trainings, and engaged with different communities, going to different islands, different parts of the Philippines, to train other young people. And obviously, that got them worried, but eventually they got used to it, and now, they see their brother, or their son, is a young leader. And now, I feel like they are proud of me, because it has opened doors for me, as well, and gave me opportunities to work in many different organizations in the Philippines, and international organizations as well.
Well, I think they should be proud of you. I’m always proud of, and grateful to, other activists, and appreciate everything you’re doing. And you do so much climate work. How long have you called yourself a climate activist?
I’d say I started really young. My first protest was on environmental impacts when I was maybe 16 or 18. So I would say over a decade now.
And that’s how you got started in activism more broadly, by going to a protest?
Yeah, exactly. In terms of activism, I’ve been active in different topics or thematic areas. There’s human rights, student’s rights, LGBT rights in the Philippines, and environmental issues, like climate change, and there was a mining issue where I used to live in my province, so that was also a big issue we faced. Pollution – air pollution, water pollution, things like that.
What does your activism look like today?
For me, activism takes different forms. It could be, yes, protests, but aside from opposing regulation or policies, or development plans by the government, we also make proposals. So we don’t just oppose, we also propose. We oppose fossil fuel projects around the Philippines and Southeast Asia, but we also propose more green development policies. Other [proposals] focus on a just recovery from Covid-19, for example, a just transition away from fossil fuels into renewable energy. So we opposed coal projects in the region, for example, we oppose financing foreign coal projects and other fossil fuel projects through protests, through non-violent direct action, like actions in the climate negotiations at COP26. We also do a lot of lobbying. So we engage with climate negotiations in governments, multilateral organizations, and even businesses like the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank, to push for financing of more green development and renewable energy.
And in your free time, you go to protests?
Yeah, before the pandemic, that would have been more possible. We do take part in protests, especially where leaders are meeting and discussing plans and policies for the future of the country and the region.
You’re in Manila, right? So how is Covid-19 there now?
It’s been really bad recently. The Philippines and other parts of Southeast Asia have been battered with the Delta Variant. So we’re back on maybe the second-strictest form of lockdown that we’ve ever been in. So that’s really limited our movement and our mobility, and our ability to mobilize people, so a lot of our work has changed to more digital, online, and social media activism. That’s why I focus largely on digital and social media channels, so we can still engage decision-makers, despite the challenges of Covid-19.
You work with groups, and engage governments in your work. Do you think that individuals can make a difference on climate change, or do you think it’s down to governments and big business?
I think everyone has a part to play in beating the climate crisis. From the individual level, at home, in their household. Urban farming reduces carbon emissions, being on a low-meat or vegan diet, reducing your reliance on fossil fuel-based transport, help. But we really need those higher-level, systemic changes, to have a holistic approach to the systems that are causing the climate crisis. For example, emissions-reduction targets by national governments, which are planned by national governments, have to be ambitious enough to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius target of the Paris Agreement. Big businesses have to take part as well, because not only do they employ large numbers of people, but they also have huge carbon footprints in our global economy. And that has to change, as well. Banks and financial institutions have to divest from fossil fuel, and shift their finances and invest in renewable energy and green technologies, as well. So everyone has a part to play, even civil society, academia, and you guys in the media. So there’s no action that is too small, because we need everyone to take part in the systemic change for climate justice.
I’m wondering, in an ideal world, what would you like to see happen at COP26? Or coming out of COP26?
At COP26, we want countries to come together, and commit to really ambitious targets for reducing carbon emissions, so that we can have a carbon-neutral world in the near future, and achieve net-zero emissions within the next decade. And really be able to achieve the target of the Paris Agreement, of 1.5 degrees Celsius. And definitely not more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Aside from that, some of the other, more specific outcomes we’d like to see would be a commitment from first-world countries to the $100 billion cost, per year, for climate financing. Robust rules and mechanisms around Article 6, or carbon markets, there’s a lot of work needed around that as well. A lot of commitments, even from non-party actors, as well, for climate finance, for adaptation and mitigation projects around the world, particularly in the global south, and for countries to really commit and ensure that we are able to create a pathway that’s aligned with the Paris Agreement, to ensure a just and safe world for all.
And if that fails, do you have any hope for the future?
Yeah. I really hope that, at all levels, we take the climate crisis as a top priority, in the same way that we have given attention to the pandemic, because with the climate crisis, with the changes in extreme weather conditions, slow-onset climate impacts, we are going to see a lot more pandemics in the future, among other impacts. Health impacts, economic impacts, political impacts and political changes, brought about by climate change. So it’s not just about the environment anymore. That’s a huge part of it, but it’s really about systemic changes that will affect our everyday lives, in every aspect of our lives, whether you’re a regular person in society, in government, in business, media, academia, it will really affect us all. It’s already affecting us, in so many different ways.
We’ve seen how climate impacts have ravaged communities here in the Philippines, other parts of Southeast Asia, and the Global South. The flooding with hurricanes and typhoons, and the droughts. But we are already seeing this happen in Europe and America, as well. So literally no one is immune to the impacts of the climate crisis. And there is no vaccine for the climate crisis. But there are solutions now, and we just need the political will and the commitment by governments and decision-makers, to take on this path for a clean energy future.
And you think that could happen at COP26?
Yes, for sure. COP26 presents an opportunity for countries, governments, to come together and realize the sense of urgency that we need. Because we are coming into the decade of action, wherein the decisions and the policies of all countries will determine whether or not we are able to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. COP26 is a pivotal moment this coming November, wherein, starting next year, we should see a sharp, sharp decline in fossil fuel generation and consumption, from all over the world. And I think it’s very timely, because the pandemic has shown us that we live in a very globalized world, more than ever before, but this world is really fragile, and it’s starting to show the cracks in the system, especially with the gross inequalities that we live with today. So many people have so little, while so few people have so much, in terms of resources, wealth, and even power. It’s time for us to really reflect and make sure that we are able to fight for social justice. Because the most effective people in communities are the ones who are least responsible for the climate crisis.
I was going to ask, “If the climate emergency ended tomorrow…”–but I suspect that you would continue working on other social justice issues. So I’ll ask, if the world turned perfect overnight, and all of these issues that you fight for went away, what would you want to be doing with your life?
Well, hmmm. That’s a really interesting question. I think I would go into the arts, doing design work still, because what I’m doing now is really merging the two things that I am passionate about. Design, arts, and the emergency of environmental issues. So without environmental issues, or the climate emergency, I’m left with design. So I would probably be an urban designer, or an architect, or an industrial designer of furniture or decor, or interior designer . That’s my other biggest passion, that gives me that state of flow, of designing things. But right now, I’m happy that I’m able to do that while pursuing climate justice, as well.
Well, I hope you get a chance to work on other things that you love in your lifetime, and I appreciate all that you’re doing. Thank you so much for joining me, and being the subject of our first climate activism interview. Are there any organizations, action networks, or other websites you’d like us to share with our readers?
Yes, thank you so much. I’d like to share our website; climatenetwork.org; the social media channels of Climate Reality Philippines, which I’ve been part of since the 2016 training with Al Gore; 350.org. I’m still part of that, I used to work on their campaigns for Southeast Asia. Those are the main ones, but we’re a network of organizations, so WWF has a Philippines branch, Greenpeace has a Philippines branch, and these are also members in our area and other parts of the Philippines, as well.