Young climate action advocates at the 2017 #nowASEAN conference

©UNICEF Philippines/2017/Larry Monserate Piojo

Youth delegates representing five Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states came together on 23–25 November 2017 for the #nowASEAN conference. Supported by UNICEF and organized by the National Youth Commission, the conference united young people in Southeast Asia to lead a culture of climate and disaster resilience, and to propose the establishment of the Southeast Asian Youth in Climate Action Network. Meet some of the young leaders and climate action advocates who participated:

©UNICEF Philippines/2017/Larry Monserate Piojo

Mahjalin Baldesco, 23 (Tacloban City, Philippines)

Mahjalin is a member of the ASEAN Youth Leaders Association of the Philippines and works for a climate change project of Plan International. As someone who works at the grassroots level, she wants to learn more about sustainable ideas that can be replicated in the communities that she handles. “Children should be really empowered. Youth participation and engagement should not be only on paper,” she said.

Mahjalin believes that there should be more efforts to enable children to take action on climate change. “I think seminars like #nowASEAN should focus on engaging young people for them to be able to use their knowledge and skills,” she said. “Children and youth are not just beneficiaries. They are not just victims. They can also be catalysts of change.”

©UNICEF Philippines/2017/Larry Monserate Piojo

Nurul Elia binti Anuar, 26 (Malaysia)

As someone who works in the Ministry of Youth and Sports, Nurul is hoping to increase participation from young people on climate action. “We do have initiatives for young people in Malaysia, but we don’t really have the movement to promote climate action and disaster resilience,” she said. “When disasters occur, there were many helping hands, but in terms of disaster prevention actions we are still lacking.”

With the effects of climate change becoming stronger, Nurul thinks that the #nowASEAN conference is an opportune time for young people in the region to come together for climate action. “We have realized in this conference that young people’s voices are powerful. It’s very important to have a platform for young people so they can voice out their opinions and ideas on climate action,” she said. “Now is the time for ASEAN!”

©UNICEF Philippines/2017/Larry Monserate Piojo

Abdulaziz Dapilin (Zamboanga City, Philippines)

Abdulaziz is happy that youth disabilities have been included in the #nowASEAN Conference. “As a sector, youth with disabilities are not properly represented,” he said. Because of their special needs, children and young people with disabilities are among the most vulnerable during emergencies and disasters. “They need to have a voice,” he said.

As a youth member of the Zamboanga City Disability Alliance, Abdulaziz advocates for inclusion for children and young people with disabilities. “The National Council on Disability Affairs and other government agencies in the Philippines already have efforts in disaster preparedness for youth with disabilities. What still needs to be done is to recognize these efforts and scale them up to the national and international levels,” he said.

©UNICEF Philippines/2017/Larry Monserate Piojo

Niels Gabriel Nable, 19 (Pasig City, Philippines)

Niels thinks that the #nowASEAN conference is a good opportunity for young people to pursue and further their common advocacy for climate action by learning from each other’s ideas, cultures and perspectives. “I believe in the power of collective action,” he said.

Niels is the chair of the Ateneo de Manila University Loyola Schools Student Council’s Committee on Environmental Protection. He also organized the first global climate change week in his school, which aimed to raise awareness on different environmental topics and the interdisciplinary aspect of climate action. “It’s important to raise awareness about climate change and its impacts before we can mobilize people to take action on this issue,” he said.

©UNICEF Philippines/2017/Larry Monserate Piojo

Toh Hui Ran, 23 (Singapore)

By participating in the #nowASEAN conference, Hui Ran hopes to learn how climate change affects the region and what countries can do to address it. “Climate change is a far-reaching and interconnected problem. It’s not something that affects a single country in an isolated way. It’s not something that one country can solve by itself,” she said.

Hui Ran hopes to bring together young environment advocates in Singapore to help strengthen the #nowASEAN network and contribute to climate action dialogue and collaboration.

“Singapore is fortunate to not have experienced severe climate-related disasters in the past, although flash floods and the threat of food insecurity loom large in the near future. However, we can certainly contribute to the wider ASEAN discussion on climate change through thought leadership, solutions and aid. As the 2018 ASEAN Secretariat, we also look forward to being a platform for galvanizing climate solutions in the region and pushing for the climate action agenda,” she said.

©UNICEF Philippines/2017/Larry Monserate Piojo

Khai Tual Sawn, 25 (Chin State, Myanmar)

As a social development worker, Khai has dedicated his life to helping vulnerable people in Myanmar, especially those affected by climate change. “There is a lack of knowledge on environmental conversation in Myanmar,” he said. As a result, deforestation, forest degradation and has caused severe flooding and landslides in the country, such as the one that affected Chin State in 2015.

Khai’s experience working on the ground — including providing emergency relief during the Chin State flood— has persuaded him to study climate change and migration for his master’s degree thesis. Natural disasters have destroyed the livelihoods of many people in Myanmar and forced them to move. “In the summer, there is drought. In the rainy season, there is flooding. Every year is a learning process,” he said.

Khai hopes that he can improve his country’s climate change adaptation strategy and disaster risk management framework. He believes that young people need to be empowered to act on climate change. “This is my profession and passion,” he said. “I believe that if we don’t stop the effects of climate change, we will not achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.”

©UNICEF Philippines/2017/Larry Monserate Piojo

Marisa Vertudez-Milla, 24 (Rizal, Philippines)

As the focal point for youth and children in the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples (IP) and a member of the Dumagat community, Marisa ensures that the voices of indigenous children are heard. “It’s my first time to attend a conference like this and I’m overwhelmed by the fact that there is IP participation,” she said.

Marisa believes that indigenous knowledge can contribute to climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction. IPs take care of the environment, but they are among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change — often caused by those living in the cities and the companies that exploit their lands. “Indigenous people believe that land is life. Life begins and ends in the ancestral lands. This is integral to the identity of IPs, and this why we take care of the environment,” she said.

Interviews by Javier Bornstein and Vittorio Paolo Milanes

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