Cover Photo: UN Climate Change/Facebook

The youth are making their voices heard at the climate summit in Glasgow, which has been widely regarded as ‘the last best chance the world has to avoid climate crisis’

In the last few years, youth activists including Greta Thunberg, Ghislain Irakoze, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, Mayumi Sato and Alexandria Villaseñor have reinvigorated the global movement to protect the environment from the devastating effects of climate change. Amplifying their voices on social media platforms and carrying out weekly school strikes, they have mobilised a whole generation to demand urgent and meaningful action from world leaders.

“Young people are on the frontlines of the struggle to build a better future for all,” observes UN Secretary-General António Gutteres. “The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the dire need for the kind of transformational change they seek—and young people must be full partners in that effort.”

See also: Young Climate Activist Lance Lau on His Mission to Save The Planet

Ahead of the climate summit, young people from around the world participated in the Conference of Youth (COY16) and released a comprehensive Global Youth Statement to "urge world leaders at COP26 to once and for all provide the necessary policy framework to win our fight keep global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels."

Their efforts and determination have definitely made an impact as COP26 kicked off with impassioned speeches from world leaders who have adopted similar rhetoric as youth climate activists today. Notably, Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley has earned praise for her serious stance on climate change, describing it as a "death sentence" for many countries, especially island nations in the Caribbean.

If our existence is to mean anything, then we must act in the interest of all of our people who are dependent on us. And if we don't, we will allow the path of greed and selfishness to sow the seeds of our common destruction.
Mia Mottley, Prime Minster of Barbados

On November 5, the organisers of this global conference continue to push for youth and public empowerment and will dedicate the day to "elevate the voice of young people and demonstrate the critical role of empowerment and education in climate action".

In that spirit, Tatler checks in with three young Malaysians attending COP26 to hear what they have to say about the future of climate action in Malaysia and the rest of the world.

Abe Lim

Abe Lim is the founder and CEO of Purpose Plastics, a company that repurposes plastic waste into covetable home décor products and furniture. Since it was founded early this year, it has saved over 12,400kg of plastic from Malaysian landfills.

Currently reading law in the UK, she was one of the Malaysian representatives at COY16 and is attending COP26 as a youth observer. "Most of the preparation process involves drafting policies and creating demands to government and policy makers," she says. "Knowing how to read and write law definitely helps. Policies help everyone understand both what is expected of them and how the policy will be applied across a community, organisation or department, which in turn can help promote a sense of fairness."


When did you become interested in the environment?

During the pandemic lockdowns, the government shut all industries including recycling companies which they did not see as essential. Rubbish bins were piling up, including my own. I started observing the amount of single-use plastic I have been using, from plastic take-out boxes and cutlery to plastic grocery bags.

I discovered that these were the most common types of plastic waste found in landfills and learned that every stage of a plastic's life has an impact on our climate and emits an extreme amount of greenhouse gases! Plastic production to carbon dioxide released is around a 1:5 ratio. That means for the 150 million tonnes of single-use plastic produced in 2018, 750 million tonnes of carbon dioxide was released into the atmosphere.

Going deeper, I found that Malaysia recycled only 24 per cent of key plastic resins in 2019 and is not on track to meet the JPSPN (National Solid Waste Management Department) recycling target of 40 per cent by 2025. There and then, I decided that I was going to do something about it—and that’s how Purpose Plastics was born.

Fifty per cent of Purpose Plastic workforce comprises refugees. Why was it important to include the refugee community in your mission?

I first volunteered with the UNHCR when I was 18 as a facilitator of a youth camp consisting of refugee children that had just arrived in Malaysia. Since then, I have had a deep bond with most of them who have now all grown up.

Speaking to them, I heard harrowing stories of how they have fled war, violence, conflict and persecution only to be met with structural inadequacies, exploitation and cultural clashes. I wanted to create an opportunity for them to live a better life.  

See also: Refugees in Malaysia: 5 Moving Tales From Activist Heidy Quah

Why is it important to have youth representation in conversations about the environment?

Climate change directly affects our generation. If youths are disenfranchised and disengaged from these conversations, the world will continue to barrel towards a climate crisis, leaving our generation to deal with the repercussions long after our current leaders are dead.

We have to acknowledge that climate change is a political choice. This is not just about the environment, it's also about the community, it's also about jobs, it's also about justice. 

You mentioned that you have been conducting research about Malaysia’s climate policies in preparation for COY16 and COP26. How do you think Malaysia is dealing with climate change?  

We are definitely making progress. Our prime minister pledged to go carbon neutral by 2050 in the 12th Malaysia plan, which is a great step. The government plans on establishing a carbon emissions trading scheme and they aim to prepare actors in the economy for the implementation of carbon control mechanisms through international trade such as the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism by the European Union in 2023. These are very exciting plans and I hope that the government will see them through.

However, there is still a lack of basic awareness on recycling and waste separation in the general public, but that can be easily remedied. The housing ministry could place more recycling bins around for it to be accessible for everyone to recycle. They could also work with private and public companies on creating solutions, such as recycling incentives. A great system will lead to better awareness and action!

See also: President of The Free Tree Society Baida Hercus On The Climate Activist That Inspires Her

Julian Theseira

Dialling in ahead of COP26 from Prague, Czech Republic, Julian Theseira is a climate activist pursuing a masters in European politics on an Erasmus Mundus scholarship from the European Union. He currently serves as the co-leader of Malaysia Youth Delegation (MYD), an organisation dedicated to raising awareness about climate change in Malaysia and making their voice heard in institutional conversations about international and local climate policies.

Attending as part of the Climate Action Network (CAN), he will be observing the formal sessions and tracking the negotiation processes at COP26. “I'm following negotiations around the upcoming Global Stocktake of the Paris Agreement which will assess the implementation of the agreement and progress towards achieving its goals to ensure accountability,” he explains.  

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Julian Theseira
Above Julian Theseira

How did you become involved in MYD?

When I was pursuing a Master’s degree in History abroad, I was only just getting involved in the movement. I met people who attended international conferences like COP as part of youth delegations to discuss climate policies. When I moved back to Malaysia in 2019, I decided that it was something that I wanted to do.

Have you found any differences between the youth delegations from different countries?

In Malaysia, there are no youth representatives or organisation officially attached to the country’s delegation at local and international conferences. There can be some contact and engagement, such as public consultations. In other countries, there is a formal structure to make sure that there is collaboration happening there.

See also: 5 Environment and Sustainability Advocates To Know From The Gen.T List

How do you feel about attending your first COP?

I’m excited and a little nervous because the discussion topics can be quite complex and technical in nature. However I can rely on my previous exposure to and experiences with the United Nations system that I obtained through past stints with the Permanent Mission of the Sovereign Order of Malta and the United Nations Office for Project Services(UNOPS), which gave me some insight on how these multilateral discussions can go.

What are the desired outcomes from COP26?

One of the most important things is climate finance (funding from private or public sources to pay for adaptation and mitigation measures), especially in the Global South. In particular, finance pledges from developed countries need to be followed through as the Global South require financing to transition their energy systems and economic systems towards low-carbon alternatives.

Why is it important to have youth representation in conversations about the environment? 

We're already living in a climate crisis. Future generations will face more serious consequences of climate change, so the youths have a direct stake in the issues at hand.

See also: Chef Nikolaj Lenz on Why He Started A Sustainable Restaurant

How can young people get more involved in protecting the environment?

Mobilise your community. It can be starting an environmental club in your school or university.

In the long term, individual actions are not going to be enough. Undi18 will be coming into effect soon; the youth voice will be more important than ever. We need to recognise and understand our power as young people to make a change. Start asking MPs about their positions on climate and hold them accountable to protecting the environment.

Farhana Shukor

Another member of MYD, 28-year-old Farhana Shukor is currently at Glasgow after successfully organising a Conference of Youth in Malaysia, a local version of the event first organised to help to young people understand and experience United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) processes and policies, better preparing them for their future participation at COP.

“Along with educational sessions with the deputy minister of environment and water in Malaysia, the deputy British high commissioner and representatives from esteemed organisations, including WWF Malaysia, Rimba and ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, we organised a youth assembly on public health and climate change, in which participants produce a report to be reviewed by these experts by the end of the event,” she says.

Attending COP26 with the Loss and Damage Youth Coalition (LDYC) is a full circle moment for Farhana, whose own journey started after watching a segment on her high school’s daily talk show about horticulture in America and how the industry has been affected by climate change.

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Farhana Shukor
Above Farhana Shukor

What is 'loss and damages'?

'Loss and damages' is not a well-known topic. We basically track the negative economic and non-economic impacts of extreme weather events and slow-onset phenomena, such as sea level rise and ocean acidification, that cannot be avoided through mitigation and adaptation.

It’s all about reducing the severity of these ‘locked in’ or inevitable loss and damages. And in the context of climate negotiations, our work allows countries which are already experiencing loss and damages to demand climate justice and action from the global community.

See also: Founders of Sustainable Activewear Brand Terrae On The Importance of Mindful Shopping

What are the desired outcomes from COP26?

One of the things that I hope will be achieved this year is increased collaboration between the Global North and Global South because that would improve the flow of information and enhance innovation.

I also would like to see more collaboration within the Global South itself, especially since we face similar climate risks, such as torrential rain and flooding.

See also: Is Digital Technology a Solution or Problem to Climate Change?

What advice do you have for young people looking to get involved in the climate movement?

Embrace your curiosity. It may seem overwhelming but the more you learn and continue to learn, it becomes less intimidating. And don’t forget that there are so many organisations—big and small—in Malaysia, each doing their bit to protect the environment so you will definitely find the right one for you.

See also: Dr Renard Siew On Why He Became An Environmental Activist


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