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I landed a Climate Tracker fellowship almost serendipitously. My former editor found out about the opportunity being open to Southeast Asian journalists on Facebook. She slacked me the link to it and suggested that I apply. Having just returned from a 10-year hiatus from journalism, I was at that time thirsty to learn journalistic writing again. Especially because now, I find myself writing about what is considered as one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century: Climate change.

I was very excited to find out that the fellowship was going to be in Manila, and that among the lecturers were veteran journalists and climate negotiators. However, I was crushed to learn that the fellowship was only open to participants from 18-30 years old. I was at that time already 8 years past the age limit!

I dropped the fellowship application off my mind. But on the weekend before the application deadline, I thought to myself, I stopped writing for 10 years, and so, I’m probably about as new to journalism as the 18-year-old university student especially that journalism has changed a lot in the past decade.

So, I sent a private message on Climate Tracker’s Facebook page to inquire about my predicament. To my surprise, I got a response that I could join! That was all that it took—the courage to try!

From then on, I made a promise to myself that I won’t ever waste that chance I was given. I was determined to do my very best in the application process, which required us to publish an article on coal.

Fortunately, my article qualified and was even chosen to be published in the Climate Tracker website. It was amazing! I didn’t expect that that article would be my golden ticket to an awesome learning experience ahead during the fellowship!

How awesome, you ask? Perhaps 23 pages of notes from the lectures in those three days would give you an idea. Yes, 23 pages! I wrote down every detail of every discussion. They were, and are, gems to me. And why won’t they be, when they’re coming from Prof. Tony La Vina, the pioneer climate negotiator for the Philippines, Ma’am Ellen Tordesillas of Vera Files, Ms. Imelda Abano of the Philippine Network of Environmental Journalists, and Mr. TJ Dimacali, formerly the SciTech editor at GMA Network and now a Fulbright scholar with the MIT? All the lecturers at a Climate Tracker fellowship are top-caliber, and this is the same everywhere they hold a fellowship. The Indonesia fellowship, for instance, had Mongabay’s editor in it!

From the Southeast Asia fellowship, I applied to join other Climate Tracker opportunities and was qualified for the online fellowship to write stories aligned with the COP23. For the online fellowship I was able to attend webinars where topnotch international climate experts gave the best sound bytes. For my loss and damage article, I used quotes from Julie-Anne Richards of the Carbon Levy Fund. For my article on climate change and health, I was able to interview Amy Orta, a Climate Tracker fellow from Puerto Rico on climate trauma, just within days of the devastating Hurricane Maria.

What were my biggest take-aways from the Climate Tracker Southeast Asia Fellowship?

  • That as a journalist, my only commodity is the truth. My mandate is to speak the truth, even to power.
  • That journalism requires the discipline of verification.
  • That there can be powerful stories in numbers and data.
  • That there are dangers in reporting about environmental issues, but that you must write the story anyway because that is your mandate as a journalist
  • That your story can be a force for good, that it has the power to end social injustices

How did the fellowship change my life?

  • First, it gave me access. To a journalist, access is everything. We are not out here to write stories based on our own imagination. We are here to find stories, verify them, and tell them. That is why access is everything. Climate Tracker is one of the biggest international hubs of climate journalists. It is very well connected to the sources who can authoritatively speak on climate change.
  • Second, it created relationships. Professional relationships that will open doors of opportunities for you. If you want to be a climate journalist, and I see no better time than now to pursue this field, then consider Climate Tracker as the premiere professional network you simply must get into.
  • Third, it made me realize that the world needs climate journalists who will tell the story about how big business has caused the biggest danger our planet now faces, and that behind the science, climate change stories have a human face. Beyond the darkness of stories in the climate space, journalists can spark hope. We can trumpet the importance of a just transition to renewable energy. I emphasize just. We can deepen the discourse on renewable energy projects that must be approached through the human rights perspective. We can, and we must, aim for a world where prosperity is not only concentrated on the privileged few. We can, and must, open peoples’ minds about how renewable energy transition is not only good for the planet, it is also good for the people in that it provides access to electricity where there was none before.

It’s not been a year since my fellowship, and yet I have already learned a lot in the climate space. And in just a few days, I will be leaving for Bonn, Germany as part of the delegation selected to cover the intersessional in May.

Access. In Bonn, I will have access to exclusive interviews to the global negotiators. I will have access to climate experts. I will have access to stories that are not easy to hear from outside the UNFCCC.

Climate Tracker has been a life-changing journey for me. And because I have an insatiable spirit of learning, I don’t see myself ever staying far. I’m grateful to Climate Tracker, and I’m grateful to Renee Karunungan, the person who replied to my PM and said yes, I could join.

Don’t miss this chance. Join a Climate Tracker fellowship and be counted among the best young climate journalists worldwide!

Ping Manongdo

About Ping Manongdo

Ping Manongdo is the Philippine correspondent for Eco-Business, a Singapore-based digital media that covers news on sustainability, cleantech, and smart city innovations in Asia Pacific.