Beatrice Tulagan isn’t a fan of “just” planting trees. Don’t get her wrong – Tulagan, the 21-year-old policy research and advocacy director of The Climate Reality Project Philippines (CRP), believes in the value of reforestation and saving forests, but she does not want to limit environmental protection or battling climate change to a one-time effort of planting trees, an act that has been unfortunately been also abused and misused as a token gesture of going green.
Tulagan instead wants to shine light on institutionalizing reforms, one of which is through policymaking at national and global levels – an undertaking that has “never really been touched upon” as much as it should have been by youth organizations. There is a plethora of initiatives that cover tree-planting to recycling, but Tulagan wants to instill among young people the value of anchoring these efforts on mechanisms that could produce long-term impacts.
Since joining CRP in 2015, Tulagan has taken on the task of introducing students and young leaders from different parts of the country to the intricacies of crafting policy statements and developing positions in the climate change negotiations. Through these interventions, young people are able to raise the importance of including the principles they fervently believe in – such as in the case of Tulagan, human rights and transparency – in the new climate agreement.
Doing this is a delicate balancing act, a careful consideration of cultural context and socioeconomic priorities of various countries. Tulagan knew this firsthand from experience, as she along with other young Filipinos pushed for the inclusion of the language on “vulnerable communities” and “human rights” in the 2015 working draft produced on the perspective on climate change of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Power Shift Youth delegation in Singapore. She saw how geopolitics meshed and clashed with national non-negotiables. It was a 3-day tedious marathon of debates and discussion with her counterparts from neighboring countries. In the end, they were able to include “vulnerable communities” and “human rights” in the preamble.
It’s uncanny how four words could change the spirit of things, and Tulagan will fight to have these four words officially captured and reflected in policies and official negotiating stance. These and “climate justice,” which reminds those in power and the affluent countries that they should be the ones which must aggressively start the transition to renewable energy because it is their historical emissions that caused climate change even as its effects are felt the most by nations with negligible carbon footprint – the same countries that suffer from a lack of capacity and resources. This builds the narrative that the welfare of the most vulnerable must be at the core of the fight against climate change. This principle is what made Tulagan “fall in love with the movement – it always has a human face.”
Tulagan was first introduced to the movement when typhoon Yolanda (international codename Haiyan) – one of the strongest storms to make landfall in history – devastated parts of the country in 2013. Tulagan was then safely back home in Quezon city, but the waves of pain and frustration crashed against her as she saw the number of deaths rise every hour. “They are compounded into a list of people you’ll never meet, but I do not want the rest of us to be distant just because we are not related to anyone of them or because the victims appeared to us as but blurred faces.”
Tulagan, a student of Philosophy and Literature at Kalayaan College, then applied the following year for a UN Development Programme fellowship enabling her to participate at the 20th Conference of Parties in Lima, Peru as one of the youth delegates in the Philippine negotiating team.
She saw the value of specializing on a negotiation track and chose to focus on climate change adaptation and loss and damage, a mechanism that will help communities cope with the effects of extreme and slow onset weather events which are beyond adapting to, such as the loss of lives, homes and habitats and having damaged infrastructure. ”When you’re young and you’ve been convinced that you’re on top of the world, you can do anything you want, that[specializing] is like shedding hubris, admitting that you can’t do everything, you have to focus on one thing you want to do and you’re also good at.”
It was also there where Tulagan was exposed to the potential and power of collective action from the youth, recalling how the India Youth Climate Action Network presented their statement showing how they went around India to research about the level of knowledge of the Indian youth about climate change. “I was 19 at the time it’s good to meet people who are so into it,” she said.
When she went back to the country, she became the youth representative of the Agreement for Climate Transformation 2015, where she saw and appreciated how civil society organizations tackled climate change issues at a grassroots level. This is how she learned about the CRP.
In CRP, Tulagan pushed for the inclusion of a policy and advocacy session in their Road to Paris campaign. She has overall trained around 300 young Filipinos from different universities in the country on the language, politics and particularity of the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris, France , the UN climate change talks in general and the importance of having the youth’s voice included in it. To her gaiety, Tulagan saw how the students she trained in Baguio came up with a Filipino Youth Statement on Climate Change.
Tulagan will have the chance to engage more young Filipinos at the Climate Leadership Reality Corps, which will be held in Manila on March 14- 16. Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore – who’s behind the eye-opening documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” and the Climate Reality Project itself – will lead efforts to educate the youth about communicating the science of climate change. Tulagan, on the other hand, will do what she does best – create opportunities to increase the youth’s exposure to using their personal outreach and networks to influence climate policies and actions.
Planting the seeds of policymaking among the youth is just one of the ways by which Tulagan aims to show how diverse and strategic the youth can be in addressing the challenges of climate change. Another way is directly working with policymakers themselves. Tulagan recently linked up with Sen. Loren Legarda in studying the viability of carbon pricing, which will charge entities for every ton of carbon emitted. The Philippines signaled its support for the mechanism in 2015, as President Benigno Aquino III became part of the Carbon Pricing Panel in 2015 which aimed to expedite the global shift towards clean investments.
Tulagan is challenging tokenism and breaking cynicism. She believes that if the youth can articulate the change they want to see through grounded and context-based policies, they can spur actions that can truly change a generation. This is ultimately the message she wants to convey to the youth and to the world – go plant trees, but don’t stop there.