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“We are all connected”

Marinel Sumook Ubaldo, 25, is a climate justice, gender equality, and human rights activist from the Philippines. In 2015, as a youth ambassador, she addressed the UN delegates who signed the Paris Agreement. A registered social worker who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in environmental management at Duke University, Marinel has founded or worked for a number of environmental organizations, including Living Laudato Si’ Philippines. She is an EarthOrg ambassador and part of UN Women’s 30 by 2030 Network. 

Last year, Marinel participated in COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland with the Christian Climate Observers Program (CCOP), of which the CRCNA’s Climate Witness Project is a partner. CCOP is a non-denominational Christian presence advocating for God’s creation. Marinel and the CCOP Program will be at the COP27 UN climate summit in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt from Nov. 6-18, 2022.

Marinel recently spoke with Do Justice contributor Nate Rauh-Bieri about climate justice, the upcoming climate conference, how North American Christians can advocate, and how her faith, hope, joy, and love influence her approach to making change.  

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. 

NRB: Marinel, you and I met last year when we were both observers at the UN Climate Conference, COP26. You have a lot of experience with these conferences. You not only organized the first youth climate strike in the Philippines, you also addressed world leaders at COP21 in Paris. The Paris Agreement was a huge triumph of advocacy by small island states, who pressed world leaders to reach a stronger agreement. How do you see the Paris Agreement and the UN COP process influencing the struggle for climate justice now?

MU: As a climate activist, I have a lot of doubt about that, especially because we felt that we had a really good and historic outcome during COP21 in Paris. The Paris Agreement kind of shaped how we are addressing the climate crisis now. There's a lot of resources being put into climate negotiations and into these conferences. 

But how are we making sure that the pledges from each COP are not just piling up, but are actually being put into action?

COPs are important for the world leaders to come together to address the issue of climate change and how they could move forward. That is also one way to really shake, push, or poke those in power that, “hey, you're not doing anything. This is already the 27th year, right? Maybe we should not just do talking, but also action.” 

COPs are very, very important. But we’ve had the Paris Agreement for how many years? Since 2015. Like seven years now. Yet we're not even near the targets. We have increased our global temperature. 

NRB: I heard it said that the COP is one place that less powerful countries—countries that have been historically colonized—can hold the rich countries and historical colonizers to account; if we didn't have the COP, we'd probably have to invent it. But still, that doesn't mean that the process is quick or ambitious enough. You are going to COP27. What are you looking for there? Especially with Loss and Damage?

MU: Loss and Damage is certainly my biggest priority because they have delayed that in COP26. But they said they will really put action on Loss and Damage by COP27. So that was a promise. And I am looking forward to how they would not just donate, but actually institutionalize funding for loss and damage. 

I mean, they could have done it like a decade ago, not waiting for many people to die before acting on it. But they did not. They still waited for more reasons to give funding for loss and damage. Up until now, those commitments, those donations, those pledges are yet to be seen. So I am looking forward to how Egypt would make sure that they will make a historic move of institutionalizing the funding for Loss and Damage. We need it now more than ever.

Sadly enough, there are places who have reached hard limit adaptation already. They cannot do anything about the climate crisis. What they could do is just to migrate to other places. And there will be more places who would reach the hard limit adaptation. Even the Philippines: I don't know if we are still part of the map in 2050. So that is so urgent. 

I know it will not be easy, especially because during COP26 they were saying, they don't want to call it a payment because the first world countries don't want to acknowledge that they have a carbon debt. They don't want to invest in Loss and Damage. 

[Besides Loss and Damage] we have received news that the Egyptian government is detaining climate activists and political activists, so there will be very high security at COP27 because they are not that friendly to activists. So I wonder how they will actually put in place a system that would enable safe participation of youth during COP27. 

One more thing. It would be really good to remove Coca-Cola as one of the sponsors. We don't want COP27 to be a joke. And putting Coca-Cola as one of the main sponsors is making it a joke. It's just making me mad, how they’re taking that money from Coca-Cola knowing that Coca-Cola is contributing so much to the whole problem. It would really make a big change if people would sign that petition

NRB: On historic debt: you're from the Philippines. I’m from the US. The Philippines contributes like 0.4% of climate pollution; the US, historically a quarter of all climate pollution. And yet, the Philippines is one of the places most affected by climate impacts, if not the most affected. At COP last year you called upon me and others from Global North countries, historically high-polluting countries, to international solidarity, to recognize that we share one atmosphere; that what we do doesn't just affect us, it affects all of us. What do you want people of goodwill from wealthy countries to know and to do with that knowledge?

MU: Climate change is not just being felt in developing countries like the Philippines. A lot of developed countries are already suffering from the effects of climate change. 

And we have seen it. Hurricane Ian just ravaged Florida. Drought is happening even in first world countries. There were wildfires in Australia. The temperature was so hot in Europe. There was even a drought and there was flash flooding.

We are all connected and whatever we do, it comes back to us. We cannot just say, “oh, there are other climate activists. There are people who are actually doing the work to save the planet.” No, we cannot exclude ourselves. Because it should be all our work. It is everybody's future. It is everybody's problem. We have to be all in this together. 

We all need to do extra work. Whatever we do to the planet, it comes back to us, because we are all connected. What is happening on the other side of the world could happen to us, and even if we say that we are not yet directly affected, our common commodities, our basic necessities are being threatened by the climate crisis. Why do we have wars now? Because people are fighting over a finite resource. And that is maybe the saddest part of being a young person is the thought that maybe we'll never be able to reach our dreams in this lifetime. 

NRB: You became a climate leader at a young age, for reasons that should never have happened. You shouldn't have to be a climate leader. But you are, and we all need to be. What advice do you, as an experienced activist, have for those of us who know that we need to increase our commitments? 

MU: If people truly want to help, it is by working with your own government first. It is so easy to give money, whenever there are disasters, to developing countries, to all these victims. But what would really be helpful to those bearing the brunt of the climate crisis, is when you go talk with your leaders to make sure they are willing to help them transition into more climate resilience societies. Because as you said earlier, the Philippines is emitting a drop in the ocean. Yet we are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis. 

My advice is always, research what you can do at your own level, talk with your leaders, write to your leaders, make letters, petitions, ordinances. So for me it is knowing how to lobby, how to work with your government, with your leaders before actually thinking of “how we can support you on the other side of the world?” 

And if you have the luxury of options as to what companies to support, support local, those who are just starting up businesses, those who are more sustainable, those who actually give back to the community. 

NRB: You’re living in the US as a student right now. There's an election here in a couple of weeks. And a lot of people don't necessarily think, “oh, when I vote, I need to think about the climate.” What do you think the role of voting is? 

MU: That is actually one of the powers of people: the power to vote. Our right to suffrage is actually what makes us more powerful because we can elect people in office; we can also vote them down from office. We have the power as people, as a collective, to do that. 

You have to practice your right to suffrage because that is one way that you could help the planet, if you will vote for someone who is an ally to the planet, who knows how to help people, who is not just thinking about himself or herself, but also what's best for her or his constituency. 

Working with the government is one way to really make an impactful action because the government has the power, they have the money, and they have the resources to make change happen.

Aside from pushing them to do something by being on the streets, it is also very important that we lobby with them, we make that connection so that they will realize that by tackling the climate crisis, they are not just saving themselves, they're also saving the community and the people they are serving. 

It is a win-win for everybody if we address the climate crisis locally and internationally. 

NRB: You've been an activist for a long time. It is spiritually difficult work. What role does your faith play in your ability to do this work? 

MU: My principles and morals and my values formed during my time in the church. At a very young age I was always part of the church family in our town and it made me. Even up until now, when things are just so heavy, I would go to a church and think about, what are the things that I could change and what are the things that I can improve on? 

God doesn't want us to suffer more. He was an activist himself. He wants us to enjoy the environment. He doesn't want us to exploit that. Because it is not our home; we are just borrowing this from the next generation, so we don't have any right to deplete the resources that the earth has. How [is the next generation] going to survive in a world that is just full of disasters and they don't have the opportunities to actually live their lives? 

My faith has really had a really big role in how I am doing my activism now because, you know, God wasn't selfish. He was always thinking about his neighbors, he was always thinking about what's good for humanity and where when you are in the movement, you're always thinking about, “all for the next generation, or “for the future,” or “for the people, for the masses.” It's not for yourself because climate activism is not for us. It's really not for personal gains. It's really the passion for it. If your heart is into it, that's what really matters, knowing what is right and wrong. And for me, what is right, right now, is to fight for the future, to fight for our planet.

NRB: Anything else that you would like people to know?

MU: In climate activism, we don't need labels. We don't need to be labeled as climate activists to do something. Just know who you are and what you are waking up for when you wake up in the morning.

What are the things that you look forward to? Because anything and everyone is being threatened by the climate crisis. And so if you love something, if you love someone, you would really make sure to fight for that person or that thing that you love. Right? 

That is the same with the climate crisis. If we will not fight now, we will be losing a lot of people. We'll be losing the things that make us happy. The things that bring us joy. And we don't want that. We don't want to see our loved ones dying because of climate disasters. We don't want to see more wars. We don't want to see more conflict.

So we have to be all in this together. We have to fight for our common home. Collectively, whatever your religion is, whatever background you're coming from, whatever race you are, we have to be all at this together. Because the climate crisis doesn't say, “hey, I'll just be in the Philippines or in Africa.” So we have to keep fighting collectively. It is our responsibility, all of us, to tackle the climate crisis. 

NRB: Thank you, Marinel, for your time. Thank you for your leadership. I and readers will be praying for you, and more importantly, praying with you with our feet—with our actions—leading up to COP27 and beyond. 

MU: Thank you. 

Ways You Can Support: 
  1. Follow Marinel’s advocacy via Instagram and Twitter.

  2. Subscribe for daily CCOP newsletters from Christian climate observers, including Marinel, while they are COP27.

  3. Sign the petition to remove Coca-Cola as a sponsor of COP27. 

  4. Sign the petition for activists’ safety at COP27.

  5. 5 suggestions on other ways we can be helpful in this climate era.

Photo from 2021 CCOP program. Marinel is the third from the right on the first row.

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