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Filipino Activist Joins Greta Thunberg Calling on World Leaders to Do More for the Climate

  •   7 min reads
Filipino Activist Joins Greta Thunberg Calling on World Leaders to Do More for the Climate
Mitzi Jonelle Tan Instagram page

We speak to Mitzi Tan, a climate activist based in the Philippines, who will join Greta Thunberg of Sweden and Vanessa Nakate of Uganda in speaking at a major march and rally in Glasgow on Saturday. Among their demands are reparations from the Global North to the Global South to help rebuild the lives of those most impacted by the climate crisis. Tan has recently protested outside the offices of Standard Chartered Bank in London, which funds the most fossil fuel companies based in the Philippines, which she says contributes directly to their yearly typhoons that cause insurmountable destruction. “At this point, none of us have a choice. We all have to join the struggle of the most marginalized,” says Tan.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

Climate justice activists are preparing for a major march and rally in Glasgow Saturday, calling on world leaders to do more to address the climate emergency. Speakers will include some of the most prominent youth climate activists, including Greta Thunberg of Sweden, Vanessa Nakate of Uganda and our next guest, Mitzi Tan of the Philippines. Last Friday, she rallied outside the offices of Standard Chartered Bank in London to protest financial institutions funding fossil fuel extraction.

MITZI JONELLE TAN: The Philippines is one of the most climate vulnerable countries in the world to the climate crisis, and Standard Chartered Bank is fueling most of that destruction in our country. They are the biggest international bank that is funding the most fossil fuel companies in my country, the Philippines, which is ravaged by typhoons year after year. They’ve brought destruction to our doorstep, so we’re here at their doorstep to demand for justice and to demand them to defund the climate chaos.

AMY GOODMAN: Mitzi Jonnelle Tan joins us now in Glasgow, international spokesperson of Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines and organizer of Fridays for Future and Fridays for Future Most Affected Peoples and Areas — the Philippines, one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to the climate crisis.

What demands are you making here, Mitzi, of the world leaders?

MITZI JONELLE TAN: I think my demands are the same as everyone’s demands, really. It’s clear and simple. We have to stop funding our destruction. We have to stop picking the fossil fuel industry over people’s lives. And we need to have those drastic carbon dioxide emission cuts, with actual plans and steps how to get there. And we need reparations from the Global North to the Global South so that the Global South can adapt and manage the loss and damages that we’ve already experienced.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Mitzi, could you provide a little more detail about how Standard Chartered Bank is playing such a key role in the Philippines in fossil fuel development?

MITZI JONELLE TAN: So, Standard Chartered Bank is the international bank that has the largest investments in fossil fuel companies in the Philippines. And these fossil fuel companies are not only putting up these coal-fired power plants, but they’re also displacing people’s lives, threatening people’s livelihoods. Some campaigners who have campaigned against some coal-fired power plants by this company have had hired goons go to their homes and have received death threats. So you’re really seeing how Standard Chartered Bank, although their slogan is “Here for good,” isn’t actually here for good, because these are the people and the companies that they’re supporting, ones that are literally killing people in the Philippines today.

And we’re also seeing how Standard Chartered Bank today is trying to pose itself as a leader in climate finance and wants to push the idea of carbon offsetting, when really that’s just an excuse so that Global North countries and multinational companies can keep emitting and destroying our planet.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And several years ago, you were studying mathematics at the University of the Philippines, as I understand it, when you met members of the Lumad Indigenous group in the Philippines. Could you talk about their battle in terms of extractive industries, and how that shaped your view of the fight for climate justice?

MITZI JONELLE TAN: The reason why I became a climate activist was because of that interaction with the Lumad Indigenous peoples. He was telling us about how they are being harassed and displaced and killed and militarized. And then, ever so simply, he shrugged and chuckled and said, “That’s why we have no choice but to fight back.” And that short phrase changed my life and my worldview, because I realized that I had this privilege to, quote-unquote, “choose” to be an activist.

But really, at this point, none of us have a choice. We all have to join the struggle of the most marginalized and of the environmental defenders, for our planet, for our common liberation. And when we realize this, when we realize that we’re not doing this alone, it’s also something that really helps shape how you approach the climate justice movement, because then you remember that it always has to be a collective effort. It always has to be a community effort. And that’s really what we’re doing here. We’re building a world together.

AMY GOODMAN: Mitzi Tan, many have called this COP, the COP26, the whitest and the most privileged COP to date, because of issues of access for activists in the Global South when it comes to vaccines, visas, travel finances. Can you talk about how that has shaped the discussion, and also your forming of MAPA, the Most Affected Peoples and Areas group, within Fridays for Future, the priorities of your group?

MITZI JONELLE TAN: So, it’s not just this U.N. climate summit that’s white and Global North-centric. It’s always been, every single U.N. climate summit, because if you had the people most marginalized at these tables, if you had the people who are most impacted at these tables deciding, we wouldn’t be in the climate crisis that we are in today. And at this U.N. climate summit, again we’re seeing that even if there are some young people here, we’re still not being listened to, because if we were actually being listened to, then we would be seeing action. But again, we’re just hearing empty words and empty promises.

And that’s why MAPA, which is Most Affected Peoples and Areas, is here to really make sure that the voices of the most affected people and areas are amplified and centered, because that’s how we impress upon people that the climate crisis is already here. It’s not a problem of a future; it’s a problem of today. It’s happening today.

And we have to remember that the system that we have, that’s so obsessed, really, with profit and using colonialism and imperialism and capitalism to exploit people’s lives, especially people of color, that is the system that we have that has brought us to the climate crisis. And exactly that is what MAPA is trying to change. We’re trying to make sure that we have a world where no one is left behind.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to ask you — the U.S., of course, is the world’s largest historical emitter of climate pollution. How do you — what’s your message to President Biden, because, obviously, he keeps talking about climate change as an existential crisis, but, in terms of actual delivery of reform by the United States, is so lacking?

MITZI JONELLE TAN: Joe Biden, you said that you were a climate president, but you have done nothing but disappoint us. If you really cared, if you really thought that the climate crisis is an existential problem, then we would be seeing drastic emission cuts, not at this rate that you’re doing now, because all the pledges even aren’t even enough at this point, considering what the U.S. has already done.

And then you remember everything else the U.S. is doing, with its military, which is one of the biggest — the world’s biggest polluters, and of emissions also, with the destruction of our environment, with the multinational companies that’s destroying forests and displacing Indigenous peoples in our countries.

There’s a lot of things that the U.S. needs to start doing. And one of them is the drastic carbon dioxide emission cuts. The second one would be to really ramp up the climate reparations, not in the form of loans, but in the form of grants, to countries in the Global South, and then even more. The U.S. has so much to do, and hasn’t even started.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, your Twitter handle includes the hashtag #UprootTheSystem. What does uprooting the system mean to you, Mitzi?

MITZI JONELLE TAN: That’s actually a narrative of Fridays for Future in our climate strikes, the past last — there’s the ones in September, in October, and the one that’s coming up on November 5th at the youth climate strike here at Glasgow. “Uproot the system” means that we are looking at the roots of the climate crisis. How did we even get here? Because it’s not just an environmental problem. It’s not just a problem about carbon dioxide emissions. At its core, it’s a systemic problem that impacts people. It’s a system that has caused not just the climate crisis but also all the other socioeconomic crises, like racism and ableism and sexism and class inequality. And all of these socioeconomic crises, they amplify the climate crisis and are amplified by the climate crisis.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you, Mitzi —

MITZI JONELLE TAN: So the only way to solve the climate crisis is to uproot the system.

AMY GOODMAN: Mitzi Tan, thank you so much for being with us, spokesperson of Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, in Glasgow and the U.S.

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