The last two decades of climate work in the Philippines have seen several new important laws, such as the Renewable Energy (RE) Act. These laws provide an opportunity to redefine the energy sector, but energy corporations continue to dominate even the shift to renewables, and are not always taking all necessary measures to make the transitions just and sustainable: This task continues to fall to civil society.
Among many other provinces that are attempting the shift, Negros Occidental and Rizal have converted farmlands to solar farms, posing the problem of inadvertently displacing farmers’ livelihoods. Coal powerplants have also been closed down and emptied of its workers. A similar trend is seen in Metro Manila, as the government initiates the first wave of transitions from old smoke-belching jeepneys to modern engines, for environmental and sustainability reasons. It comes with a hefty price of leaving thousands of jeepney drivers jobless as around 180,000 jeepneys will be decommissioned.
Amid these dilemmas between sustainability and justice, FES Philippines has brought together its youth partners to form a Youth for Just Transition (Y4JT) Network to lay down a path towards transitioning to sustainability without leaving anyone behind.
Three young leaders representing different organizations in the network were asked about their experience of its formation. Cheng Pagulayan, an advocacy officer for climate change and energy transition at Oxfam Pilipinas and who volunteers at a youth media organization, the Young Progressives Hub, talks about how young people can shape opinion through social and traditional media. Tonic Madulid, currently the president of Reboot Philippines, shares her story as a renewable energy advocate. Lastly, Camille Simbulan, a young woman leader of a seafarers union, talks about how the maritime sector’s efforts on just transition contributes to the overall action of young people towards the climate crisis.
Cheng: Young people are among the most heavily affected by the climate crisis and also at the frontlines in pushing progressive ideas and actions towards climate justice. But right now, there’s still a gap in engaging a wider network of youth in weather- and climate-vulnerable communities.
I wish to see a strong local movement of youth advocates and activists for just transition who bring unique stories and solutions to their own communities. Because the just transition discourse does not only talk about technological solutions to the intersectional issue of climate crisis but also about the future we want for ourselves.
Tonic: What we envision with Reboot Philippines is a just and democratic transition to 100% renewable energy in the Philippines. As part of today’s youth belonging to the energy and built environment sector, it's imperative that while we aim for nationwide progress in energy access, security, and sustainability, we ensure that this shift also addresses present systematic gaps and inequalities. Progress should not come at the expense of the people as its proponents for change. Achieving this balance is important to me as a Filipina taking part in nation-building through my advocacy and my profession and as a young leader creating a unified voice for youth in the discussion of sustainability in the Philippines.
Camille: I would like to see a just, inclusive and equitable transition in the maritime sector as the industry races to reach the ambitious climate targets it has set to achieve – 45% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030 and net-zero by 2050. A just transition is important to me because we, in the trade union movement, have made it our mission to prioritize the rights, welfare and overall wellbeing of seafarers. We stand in solidarity with the maritime industry and other stakeholders across sectors in the collective goal to combat climate change and to push for a more sustainable and resilient global supply chain. But it is imperative to put the human element—the workers—at the heart of the transition. After all, they are the warm bodies—the hands that literally move the supply chains and the global economy. The labour sector is the backbone of every industry. Hence, in the monumental transition to a greener world, workers, both men and women, must have equitable access to opportunities to education, upskilling, retraining and green jobs. Everyone must be onboard—no one should be left behind.
Camille: I really feel the solidarity within the Just Transition Network spearheaded by FES. Through the Y4JT Network, I was able to see the different perspectives of young climate activists from various sectors, which gave me a clearer sense of the reality outside of the industry I am in, and a bigger picture of the climate movement in the country. I have been learning a lot from my comrades in the network.
Tonic: Seeing the youth as partners for sustainability unlocks a sector composing the 56% of our population that can potentially become a demographic dividend. Global issues like the pandemic and the climate crisis need action that can be supported locally - but these actions still need local and sectoral interpretation. Members of this Y4JT Network consists of regions and sectors representing the localized movement towards how a just transition can happen in the Philippines. While I’m already awed by the impact made by the other member organizations of this network in their respective localities and sectors, I look forward to how much more can be done together in pushing for just transition as a youth network.
Cheng: I am very grateful for being part of this diverse network which also, for me, is a space for healthy discussion and ideation on the just transition process in the respective sectors we represent. It was also interesting how this network as a platform brings diverse perspectives on how the climate crisis affects us and how we see ourselves as part of the just transition movement.
Tonic: I am hopeful and even confident that the youth agenda will come into fruition in the Philippines. Today’s climate emergency calls for solutions that are equal in urgency and intensity and having the meaningful participation of youth is an insurance for its continuity in the future of our country.
Cheng: While the horrors of climate change are already happening, we are seeing a huge demand for climate-just solutions from young people like us in the Philippines. Our task is challenging, but I remain hopeful that we can forward and mainstream just transition in the country.
Camille: It is very encouraging to see a lot of young people who are interested to get involved and to learn about our Just Transition agenda. Yes, there are tonnes of challenges ahead of us but I believe we just have to keep going, stay firm and committed, educate and mobilize more people. I think if we can build our momentum and have a collective voice in society, we will eventually be able to fulfill our agenda in the Philippines.
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