By Beatrice Tulagan

I am an environmental defender. It took me a while to claim this term, not because I’m not proud of my job, but because I haven’t received the death threats that many others have.

You see, I live in the Philippines — one of the deadliest countries for environmental defenders.

What is my job? To empower youth across Asia, from Indonesia to Bangladesh, who are challenging the status quo. We are up against the giant machinery of one of the dirtiest industries ever— the fossil fuel industry — and have not hesitated to call out the governments and banks who choose to prop up the largest carbon emitters instead of supporting the people’s future.

Just two weeks ago, during the Asia Climate Rally, young people from 11 countries announced a unified cry for climate justice. We demanded climate justice by calling on governments to defund the fossil industry, protect environmental defenders and uphold the people’s democracy.

Above: Youth speaking out against climate change at the Asia Climate Rally

The energy was electric. I was inspired by their actions, energy and most importantly, their hope. Yet a small part of me couldn’t help but worry. While their voices rang loud and clear, I’m afraid that one day, these voices, or perhaps my own, might be silenced.

The young people that I work with hail from countries where democracy is more of a luxury than a right. Want proof that human rights come after the interests of the powerful? Read about the Omnibus law in Indonesia, the anti-terrorism law in the Philippines or the laws that prosecute environmental defenders.

It is no wonder that millennials are disillusioned with the inability of governments to deal with rampant inequality (that has been since exposed by COVID-19) and the climate emergency.

“You’re going to get into trouble,” someone once said. As a climate organizer, I wasn’t a stranger to this phrase. But I continue, and I use my concerns as fuel to fight for our future.

Because the science is clear. We must limit the warming of our planet to 1.5°C to avoid the worst climate impacts. Yet, at the cusp of the 5th anniversary of the Paris Agreement, not a single country is on track with their climate goals. Sure, Japan, South Korea and China have all declared net-zero pledges — but if you look at the fine print, many of these pledges are simply false solutions. They do not take into account overseas investments which form the bulk of their carbon emissions and hinge on unproven technologies.. The reality is, many governments and banks are still continuing to fund the fossil fuel industry.

The path forward is simple, yet so fraught – with politics and personal interests. We are running out of time, unless governments and banks choose to do the right thing. We cannot recover from this pandemic and avert climate disaster unless governments place human rights before all else: Our right to climate justice, our right to live in our ancestral lands, our right to live healthy lives, our right to a future where we can thrive.

We need a Just Recovery, and this starts with holding governments accountable for their 1.5°C climate goals.

I am an environmental defender. But what I’m really defending is our human rights — for a brighter future.

I hope you can join me this Human Rights Day. Sign this petition.



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