Elle Guison

Published: March 18, 2024

Marinel Ubaldo was just 16 when climate change’s devastating impact struck her home. Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), one of the most powerful cyclones ever recorded, tore through her hometown, Matarinao, in Eastern Samar.

Over a decade since Haiyan upended the lives of millions and humanized an issue largely clouded by complex science, Ubaldo remains a relentless advocate for climate justice.

Ubaldo, a registered social worker, educates youth and local communities on adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change. She is also one of the most prominent Filipino voices calling on governments and big businesses to take urgent and ambitious action to combat the crisis.

Ubaldo is currently an advisory board member of environmental watchdog Global Witness and a member of Climate Tracker Asia’s board of directors. She previously held positions with Living Laudato Si’ Philippines and UN COY Glasgow.

In 2022, she began a two-year master’s degree in Environmental Management, Environmental Economics, and Policy at Duke University in the United States. Now that she’s in the last semester of her studies, Climate Tracker Asia asked her how her climate advocacy has evolved.

As a prominent figure representing Yolanda survivors, how do you continue to advocate for climate justice among vulnerable communities?

MARINEL: My journey in advocating for climate justice is rooted in raising awareness and fostering a deep sense of community and inclusivity. The process starts with making people aware of the urgency of climate issues and moves towards developing actionable plans. These plans must be inclusive and hold individuals and institutions accountable.

For me, the essence of our fight for climate justice is centered around love, care, and community. It’s about integrating diverse perspectives to create effective and inclusive solutions. This approach is crucial; without focusing on inclusivity and empowering community voices, our efforts may not have a lasting impact.

What are the main challenges you’ve faced in bringing attention to climate issues?

MARINEL: One of the main challenges in bringing attention to climate issues is the general reactivity of people. Despite the increasing visibility of climate change, there remains a tendency towards temporary, band-aid solutions rather than proactive and sustainable actions.

We have to understand that talking about the solutions doesn’t solve the problem; talking about it is just the first step. Getting people on board and moving them towards proactive engagement is still a significant hurdle. It’s a matter of shifting mindsets from reactive to proactive, from short-term fixes to long-term, sustainable solutions.

 

How has your education at Duke University influenced your approach to climate activism?

MARINEL: My education at Duke University has significantly influenced my approach to climate activism by providing me with valuable tools and a supportive network. While Duke has enriched my activism, it’s also clear that, like any institution, it has areas that need improvement.

My time at Duke has been a blend of acquiring skills and learnings; it has taught me how deep this problem is, and how further we have to go for solutions to happen. Duke also helped me recognize the importance of continual growth and learning within educational systems and collaborating with other systems in society.

How do you plan to translate your learnings from Duke University to climate activism?

MARINEL: I plan to translate my learnings from Duke University into my climate activism by integrating the technical and organizational skills I’ve developed. My education has broadened my expertise in data analysis, project management, research, among others. All of which are critical in addressing climate issues more efficiently on the ground.

My initial aim of going back to school is to improve my credibility in the work that I’m doing. I feel that this blend of skills and knowledge is pivotal in adding not just expertise but also integration of my lived experience in rooms where strategies are being discussed and where decisions are being made for the climate.

What is the importance of education in inspiring other youth, particularly those affected by climate-related disasters?

MARINEL: Education is vital for empowering the youth with a deeper understanding of the causes of climate change, as well as the ways we can adapt and mitigate its effects. Education also enlightens us about various complex yet important systems, enabling us to navigate and address the multifaceted challenges of climate change more effectively.

As climate activists, we understand that our role isn’t just about demonstrations; it’s also about ensuring that our advocacy translates into policies. The transition from active protests to policy influence is crucial, and education is key in empowering the next generation to continue this vital work with knowledge and passion.

Greta Thunberg often emphasizes the importance of holding leaders accountable for their actions on climate change. How do you see your role in echoing this message?

MARINEL: Echoing Greta Thunberg’s message on the importance of holding leaders accountable, I believe in the necessity of accountability while also keeping doors open for collaboration. Our goal is to partner with governments and communities to develop creative solutions that benefit both the planet and its people. Holding leaders accountable doesn’t mean shutting down dialogue; rather, it’s about fostering constructive partnerships for sustainable change.

Read more stories of other remarkable Filipina women in climate action here.