Mitzi Jonelle Tan – Leading the youth climate movement in Philippines

Mitzi Jonelle Tan is a full-time climate justice activist based in Metro Manila, Philippines. She is the convenor and international spokesperson of Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines (YACAP), the Fridays For Future (FFF) of the Philippines. She is also an organizer with FFF International and FFF MAPA (Most Affected Peoples and Areas) making sure that voices from the Global South especially are heard, amplified, and given space. She decided to fully commit her life to activism in 2017 after integrating with the Lumad indigenous leaders of her country which pushed her to realize that collective action and system change is what we need for a just and green society. She is committed to fight alongside the most marginalized towards a system that prioritizes people and planet, not profit.

Can you tell us more about how your passion for climate activism was sparked?

Growing up I saw the impacts of the climate crisis on my country and the communities around me — but because of inadequate climate education, I didn’t understand that what was happening around me was what I was learning about in school and that there was something we could do about it. It was only in 2017 when I was able to talk to different environmental defenders — Indigenous Peoples, small farmers, and small fisherfolk, that I realized the need to fight back in solidarity with the most marginalized.

Do you think Greta Thunberg is a global voice or a local voice for climate change?

Greta is an activist part of the global youth movement of Fridays for Future. Through the collective action of Fridays for Future, the youth have brought the issue of the climate crisis both to the global scene but also the local scene.

What can we do to increase local activism for climate change and lend it a global voice?

I think it’s important to learn about the different campaigns and struggles in different countries, especially overexploited countries in the Global South so that we can amplify them and see how they connect with our own campaigns and struggles. International solidarity is the key to climate justice.

What is the current work you are doing to highlight climate change and create awareness?

With Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines, the Fridays for Future of our country, we go to vulnerable communities and create climate modules contextualized to their experiences and context. We also bring students to communities of environmental defenders so the students can learn from the greatest stories of resistance.

What’s your opinion on climate change being taught at universities? Do you think climate change is taught or participated in?

Climate change and climate justice need to be integrated into our educational systems. It’s important, especially that when it is taught, it is empowering, contextualized to people’s experiences today, holds fossil fuel industries and multinational companies accountable, and recognizes how it is rooted in the capitalist, colonialist, imperialist profit-oriented system that we have today. Climate justice is something that needs to be taught but also lived.

Climate change activism is now the new hippie culture. Do you think this helps to spread the cause more?

Climate activism has become a bit more mainstream compared to other types of activism, but that also means it’s more easily co-opted and watered down. I think it’s good that more people are starting to care about climate justice, but we need to elevate the discussions so that it doesn’t stop at individual lifestyle change and becomes truly revolutionary.

What do you see yourself doing in the future in the climate change space?

I see myself continuously doing the work I do, alongside the most marginalized and alongside the hundreds of thousands of young people across the globe fighting for our lives.

Anything else you would like to share?

The key to activism is finding a collective to fight alongside! Join the youth movement if you haven’t yet!

Vidhi Bubna
Vidhi Bubna
Vidhi Bubna is a freelance journalist from Mumbai who covers international relations, defence, diplomacy and social issues. Her current focus is on India-China relations.