TOKYO – Youth climate movements inspired by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg are growing across Asia, pressuring governments and businesses to do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fight against related social inequalities.
Growing up in the Philippines, 23-year-old Mitzi Jonelle Tan says she experienced so many typhoons and floods that she feared she would one day drown in her bedroom. As she learned more about climate change, she realized that her fears were “rooted in climate anxiety and the inaction of world leaders around the world.”
In 2017, she was protesting as a math student, joining the March for Science movement launched after climate change skeptic Donald Trump became President of the United States. When Thunberg began his “school strikes” in 2018, skipping ninth grade classes to demand environmental action and creating the global Fridays for Future (FFF) movement, Tan and some of his peers realized they should create their own group led by young people.
They launched Youth Advocates for Climate Action, a Filipino version of FFF, in 2019.
Tan is one of more than 700,000 people from more than 1,500 locations who joined a global youth climate strike on September 24, weeks before the UN climate conference COP26 in Scotland in early November. In Manila, Tan said 100 people participated, although the protest was reduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Young people are essential because we are in all sectors of society,” from farmers to the middle class, Tan said. “When young people are able to unite, it is like unite the whole world.”
Tan added that there is more than one way for young people to get involved. “But I chose to focus on raising awareness … and making people aware of the changes that need to happen for us to move towards climate justice” – essentially, measures to deal with the disproportionate impact of change climate on the poor and vulnerable.
The Global North – the richest countries – “owes us to make sure that we are able to adapt and cope with loss and damage and shift to renewables,” she said, “because they caused the climate crisis “.
Research by the University of Bath on the youth perspective on climate change found that up to 75% of respondents aged 16 to 25 thought the future was scary. Among respondents from 10 countries, this sentiment was most prevalent in the Philippines, at 92%, followed by Brazil and Portugal. Eighty percent of respondents in India felt the same.
The World Bank describes the Philippines as one of the “countries most vulnerable to climate-related weather events”. Tan believes the moratorium on the archipelago’s coal mines should be enforced more strictly and that environmentally disruptive projects should be stopped, including land reclamation projects in Manila Bay. She is working with the country’s education department to promote more relevant education on climate change beyond distant glaciers and polar bears.
Ahead of next year’s Philippine presidential election, “most important is that we find leaders who actually put climate change on the agenda,” or at least “find the lesser evil,” Tan suggested. She didn’t know if a candidate would do the trick. “I think no matter what, people should vote” and encourage others to do so, then work to hold elected leaders to account.
Young conservationists are also making their presence felt elsewhere in Asia. In India, 22-year-old Disha Ravi, leader of the local FFF movement, was arrested in February on charges of sedition in connection with her support for protesting farmers, according to reports. Japan’s FFF section held online events on September 24 as part of the global strike, amid the country’s coronavirus state of emergency.
Kim Dohyeon, a 17-year-old activist in South Korea, joined other activists, including Thunberg, in an online press conference ahead of the global strike. “Youth 4 Climate Action Korea will call on the current government for stronger climate plans until the very end of his term, and we will not let the next president reverse this trend,” she said, referring to the next ones. elections in March 2022.
South Korea, like Japan and other countries, has set itself the goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. But Kim said Seoul relies on unstablished technologies and is not. willing to make drastic changes to energy systems and industries to achieve the goal.
“Government officials have told us repeatedly that they are doing what they can do under realistic constraints,” she said. “But let’s face it: with the current plan, we can never thrive on a healthy planet.
“Time is running out, so who is naive here: us young people, or those in power?”
Beyond local activism, Asian climate advocates are collaborating to expand their reach. Tan said she had worked with partners in the UK to campaign against Standard Chartered Bank for “funding fossil fuel companies here in the Philippines”. More recently, FFF groups in Bangladesh and Japan campaigned to convince the Japan International Cooperation Agency and Sumitomo Corp. to stop a coal-fired power plant project in this South Asian country.
“It is so important that we approach the climate crisis as a global movement,” said Tan, “because it is a global problem”.