At the comfort of his own home, sharing his story during the closing ceremony of the 4th National Climate Conference (NCCC) was not a problem for Rendell Aaron Lateo of Malabon National High School, Division of Malabon City.
With him talking in front of the computer, Lateo was one of the three speakers of the Student Panel during the closing ceremony of this year’s NCCC with a theme, “Alpas: Channeling Youth Eco-anxiety to Climate Action” spearheaded by the Department of Education (DepEd) through the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Service (DRRMS).
The Grade 12 student knew that his age didn’t matter and felt that he ought to stand to once more ring the bell for the climate crisis, via an online platform, streamed worldwide.
Being an active member of the Youth Strike 4 Climate Philippines, he told in his speech the journey of how he got to be a climate activist while having a broader understanding of what is happening in the world.
His affiliation with the Youth Strike 4 Climate Philippines is inspired by the world-known young climate activist Greta Thunberg, which aims to let Filipinos hear the global trend and participate in making the call louder — demand climate justice and listen to the youth.
Growing with prevailing crisis
Lateo, a resident of the Camanava (Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas, and Valenzuela City) area of Metro Manila, said his family was used to floods which can even last for years. As a child, he was amazed when his mother would pay and let him ride a boat to school.
The young Lateo had the thought, “wow, magbabangka!” while gradually being aware that their community is submerged in flood. “It is as if our towns are built in the sea, even when it’s actually not,” he said.
He also enjoyed watching bees and other insects while feeling the morning breeze. He appreciated the organisms more while noticing that his encounters with the flying creatures are getting rarer by the day.
But being a keen observer of the changes in the surroundings gave him a clearer view of the real state of the world.
“As I grew up, I came to realize that those occurrences of floods are not normal, and it shouldn’t be… I also realized that this phenomenon unfolding right in front of me is in fact a worldwide trend,” the teenager said.
The said plight with floods is because of the intensifying typhoons that enter the Philippines and the rising sea levels, which was 3-4 inches above the global sea level average from the past two decades according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate.gov, an American-based website which focuses on providing data and information about climate.
In an analysis published in the journal Biological Conservation, more than 40% of insects are also rapidly declining because of urbanization and the worsening climate condition. This review about the threatened biodiversity of insects was made last 2019 by Francisco Sánchez-Bayo from the University of Sydney, Australia, and Kris Wyckhuys of the China Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing.
“This is a serious matter that needs global attention,” Lateo said.
‘They deserve the spotlight’
Lateo said that the concept of climate change that people were exposed to has “evolved into a much bigger threat we now call the climate justice” that should be acted on immediately.
Moreover, while mentioning that his future is at the stake of the foreseen crisis, the senior high school student considered himself a spokesman who will amplify the call of those on the frontline of experiencing the effects of climate change.
“I frequently bared into thinking that there are many people right now who still have not yet recovered from the recent strong consecutive typhoons. It got me thinking how the lack of climate justice is literally killing lives and destroying properties,” he said.
The young man told that stories of families affected by the worsening climate crisis are like nightmares to him. From the farmers losing income and having devastated lands, to the fishermen facing the threats of rising sea levels, they were just some that Lateo mentioned who deserved to be heard.
It can be remembered that due to the onslaught of Typhoons Quinta, Tonyo, Siony, Ulysses, and Super Typhoon Rolly, more than a hundred people lost their lives and at least 300,000 families were displaced whose houses and livelihood were devastated, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.
“You see, we are all affected by the climate crisis, but the most people heavily impacted are those who have less. And yet why are we acting as if everything is normal? Climate change further widens the gap between the rich and the poor,” he added.
Demand accountability, climate justice
Lateo also used the opportunity to once more call everybody, especially the government and private sector accountable for the climate crisis and that a global emergency must be declared.
He mentioned in his speech that there are hundreds of famous corporations that contribute 71% of the global greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere since 1988, making the climate state worse. “If no changes will be done, it is projected that we would have reached a 4-degree Celsius increase in temperature by the end of the century,” Lateo added as he referenced the Carbon Majors Report.
With the Philippines responsible for less than a single percent of the global carbon emission, Lateo however emphasized that we are the most vulnerable to the impacts of global warming. While big countries like the U.S. and China contribute the most, the teenager mentioned that the “(national) government must take the lead in calling out the government (of other countries), as the climate issue is also a humanitarian issue.”
Nonetheless, Lateo said during the Q&A portion that these are also their calls during youth strikes before the pandemic, building upon the climate conversation. He also said he was looking forward to ringing the bell for climate justice on the streets, once again.
“I know that (deeds of activism) have very minimal impact but that is why we need more people to speak and stand up for the environment… In the fight for climate justice, we need all people, all walks of life. We need the students, teachers, parents, workers, and most of all, the government,” the young advocate said.
He also urged everybody, especially the youth, in taking a step forward by demanding climate justice and encouraging officials to listen to the call of the youth and declare a global emergency. This is “to signal the urgency and the beginning of a just transition to renewable energy sources for a sustainable and equitable future for all.”
“We need listening ears for it is our future that is at stake,” Lateo said.
This feature story was written and prepared by Arnie Justine Duran (Student-Journalist) and Justine Joy Chua (School Paper Adviser) from San Jose Del Monte National High School, Division of San Jose Del Monte City, who are graduates of DepEd-DRRMS and AYEJ.org’s Green Beat Initiative: An Online Environmental Journalism Training.