Indigenous youth taking global to local climate action

What is local climate action? Indigenous youth of the Apu Palamguwan Cultural Education Center (APC) in Upper Pulangi, Southern Philippines are grappling with the language of COP27, the Conference of Parties convened by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). How can the complex concepts of COP that are subjects of global debate be translated in the local context and how is the local experience communicated back?

The UNFCCC defines climate change, as “a change of climate attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere.” In the marginal upland context, local climate change is felt in the loss of seasons, the overextended stay of La Niña for the last three years, and now the looming threat of El Niño. These changes make it difficult for small farmers to adapt their agriculture to meet local food security.

Loss and damage, a key focus of COP27, is a matter of justice that should deliver compensation to climate-vulnerable communities locally. The impacts of climate change disproportionately affect the most vulnerable, and this where climate justice comes in the form of local compensation, local land use policies, and disaster preparedness measures that are responsive to the needs in the margins.

With this global reality, there is a genuine call for indigenous youth to take up new responsibilities in acting on these challenges. For indigenous youth in APC, climate action is protecting biodiversity for a sustainable climate through forest regeneration, sustaining clean water for the community, and securing food security with their families. They then strive to take these up through programs in the high school and a brief internship in a local organization. There are also technical-vocational training courses on forest and water management, organic farming, and bamboo cultivation and processing for sustainable construction in the community.

Reflecting on youth-led climate action

APC students from Grades 7 to 12 recently reflected on climate change and its impacts, especially in relation to their context in the marginal uplands. The gathering is also a simple effort for the Global Day of Action on 12 November during the second week of COP27, with decentralized mass mobilizations held in different parts of the world to demand urgent action and justice. Indigenous Peoples have an important role at the forefront of climate action, and it is crucial that youth voices in demanding climate justice are heard.

APC students and other youth calling for climate justice during the March 2019 School Strike 4 Climate, in solidarity with 1.5 million youth around the world

To start their reflection, a photo was shown of the 15 March 2019 APC school climate action when over 150 APC students from Grade 6 to 11 and Hulas youth (the APC program for community youth on technical skills and formation) joined the global School Strike 4 Climate in solidarity with over 1.5 million children around the world. The youth who gathered that afternoon were delighted to see the photo of their elder sisters and brothers more than three years ago holding up signages calling for climate justice.

The youth started a 12-kilometer mountain-terrain walk from the APC campus in Sitio Bendum to the next village of Barangay Saint Peter where they met the students from the local high school. The youth groups joined together and proceeded to the next village of Barangay Zamboanguita and met another set of students from another local school.

APC youth walked for 12 kilometers from the mountain down to the valley where the other local schools were and joined other youth and students during the School Strike 4 Climate

As they gathered, the role of Indigenous Peoples in responding to the climate crisis through forest and water regeneration efforts and why their voices need to be heard were shared with other youth. They held talks on climate change and listened to the other youth in other parts of the world were also saying.

In 2021, for COP26, APC youth held a virtual On the Way to Change pilgrimage and engaged several schools and youth groups in the Philippines to exchange stories of climate action, and their hopes for an ecologically responsible future.

A youth who participated in the COP26 pilgrimage shared her reflection:

“In my experience of the pilgrimage, I realized how each of us is affected by the impact of climate change in different ways. I learned about the different responses of the youth to climate action, such as coastal clean-ups being led by a group of students in Saint Aloysius College in Malta and tree planting activities led by students in Saint Isidore High School in the Philippines in response to forest degradation.

When we talked with different youth, I understood the importance of seeking climate justice. We also shared our actions here in Bendum and the trainings on forest and water management, and organic farming, and how caring for the land and forest is part of our cultural identity. The youth we talked with were motivated by what we shared, and this encourages us to continue.”

APC youth watching the Caravan of Hope video clips from South Africa

It is now 2022 and with COP27 held in the African continent, the youth expressed solidarity with the Caravan of Hope in South Africa, where a team from the Jesuit Centre for Ecology and Development (JCED) in Malawi travelled to different communities affected by climate disasters, and creatively called for climate justice through ARTivism activities.

The youth were asked about climate action and justice and they responded in the following:

  • Climate action is important to protect and restore the natural forests. Also, our voices seek to encourage other youth to act.
  • Climate justice is important so that people’s lifestyles can shift towards sustainable living for our generation and the next. As indigenous youth, it is important for us to fight for climate justice. Our voices should be heard because we are the ones fighting for the next generations.
  • Climate action is important so that we can protect our forest, our gaup (ancestral domain), and our community, so that the next generation can enjoy the beauty of the forest, the freshness of the air, the cleanliness of the water, and healthy food.

Reflecting on the indigenous youth’s relationship with biodiversity

Following the discussions, the youth then reflected on biodiversity and how its protection is an important action towards a sustainable climate and agriculture.

To energize the youth and start the discussion on biodiversity, the youth played a simple game where they named different indigenous species. They named pillar species that give the structure to the forest, such as Salumayag (Agathis philippinensis Warb), Sanbun-a (Castanopsis indica), and Kaliyaan (Dipterocarpus validus). The youth also named various bird species including Talegkēs (Penelopides panini) and Banog (Haliastur indus), insect species such as Abatod (Coleoptera), and Tigasaw (Lasius niger), and flowering species such as Kautot-utot (Lantana camara) used as a pest repellant, and Maligaon (Tagetes).

To encourage reflection on the importance of biodiversity, the context in Manila, a densely populated city, was shared to that of Bendum, the upland village where APC is situated. In Manila, as with many highly urbanized communities, there is limited greenery as there are many high-rise buildings towering over people instead of trees. Clean water is purchased, air is constantly polluted due to vehicular emissions and cool air comes from air conditioners for those who can afford it, and the ground is covered with concrete instead of soil.

The youth reflected on what Bendum would be like without the forest, clean water, plants, and animals. When asked about the importance of biodiversity and their relationship with it, they responded:

  • Protecting forest biodiversity is important so we can have clean water and clean air. Without this, there will be nothing left and even money won’t be able to help us. We need to be thankful for what we have. Our biodiversity is a treasure that no one else has.
  • We as the youth should take care of biodiversity as it provides us food. We need to continue protecting our forest, rivers, and agricultural land. If we don’t take care of our environment, it will negatively affect us as a community since this is where we get our food.
  • The web of life that connects all our biological diversity provides us with food and protects us from typhoons while giving us a deep sense of being alive. It is important that we continue learning about biodiversity from our natural resources management (NRM) subject so we can increase our knowledge, draw wisdom from our culture, and encourage other youth to do tree planting that forms a community of plants and other activities that can help our biodiversity.

As the afternoon activity came to a close, the youth watched several videos of Cultivating Hope in Community that featured their elder sisters and brothers speaking about climate action, biodiversity, organic farming, and forest and water management in Bendum.

To conclude the activity, a youth shared his learnings from the discussion:

“I learned from our discussion today and from the short video clips that we watched that we must continue to stand up for our rights in protecting our biodiversity, and how we need to find answers, and act to help our environment. This includes our ongoing engagement with the local government to ensure that our needs are being responded to, and the ongoing integrity of our Ancestral Domain Sustainable Development and Protection Plan (ADSDPP).”

Though the APC youth were not heard in Sharm El-Sheikh, they give voice to their hopes for climate justice with others around the world. They continue to contribute to forest regeneration efforts of over 50 hectares even as corporate agriculture compete with traditionally diverse food systems that undermine the cultural land use practices.

Local actions and indigenous youth voices are critical in the global advocacy for system change.

These local actions are key in the global advocacy, and the indigenous youth continue to take up these new responsibilities to respond to the signs of the times, learn about the COP process, climate justice and sustainable biodiversity, and communicate this to a growing generation of hope.

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