Gaea Cabico

Published: January 2, 2023

believe my life changed for the better in 2020—or the year I became a Climate Tracker fellow for the first time. I was fairly new to climate and environment reporting at the time, having only started in 2019.

I learned a lot about climate change and climate reporting from passionate mentors and editors from different parts of the world. I was pushed to step out of my comfort zone when I explored other means of reporting that isn’t writing. The fellowship, although short, made me a better climate journalist and opened opportunities for me.

I participated in more Climate Tracker programs in the years that followed, allowing me to tell stories of communities keeping their forests intact, of a solar power project offering students in an unelectrified village a chance to catch up, and of fishers resisting gas projects that will affect the waters that feed them.

In 2022, I was given the  chance to be a part of Climate Tracker Asia’s team, and guide advocates and journalists—both the young and the young at heart—to  create better climate and energy stories.

I took the opportunity to become a mentor, and I saw it as a way to compensate the team who has been instrumental in my career, but also to help people tell stories about climate change and how their local communities work to address this enormous problem.

Here are some of the highlights of this fulfilling, and sometimes challenging, year.

Focus on young storytellers

This year, Climate Tracker Asia received 618 applications for our various programs, and mentored 96 individuals from the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Pakistan, Hong Kong, India, Singapore, and Malaysia.

Our team worked not only with professional journalists, but also with young climate advocates. Most (44) of our fellows were aged 18 to 24, followed by folks aged 25 to 34 (29).

While the young advocates are creative and have so much energy, many lack the skills and resources they need to shape powerful stories about their communities. That’s why we created the  Climate Workshop for Young Advocates and Communications Workshop for Young Advocates fellowships just for them.

Fellows from Eastern Visayas pose for a photo with Climate Tracker mentors Biena Magbitang and Gaea Cabico, ABS-CBN journalist Sharon Evite, and Oxfam Pilipinas communications officer Geraldine Grace Honggang on September 4, 2022.

We held a series of online sessions as well as in-person training on news gathering, interviews, pitching and outlining  stories, and producing multimedia content with young advocates in Tacloban City and Bacolod City. We also conducted sessions on the basics of climate change, climate change reporting, and social media storytelling.

Since some of our fellows were from areas with unstable internet and most of them are students, we developed modules that would allow them to learn on their own schedule. We gave them video lessons and other learning materials and they completed them within a certain timeframe.

Holding in-person workshops such as the one we did for Communications Workshop for Young Advocates fellowship proved to be really helpful because it allowed fellows to further develop their stories through hands-on training and consultations.

Ronan Renz Napoto, who leads a local climate group called Balud, said his experience with Climate Tracker helped him highlight grassroots stories.

“More often than not, we only think of the grand stories to share. I never realized that we have powerful narratives hidden in the smallest details that we encounter each day,” Napoto said.

As climate change is already a heavy subject, especially for people who have survived climate disasters, we ensured that we provided the fellows a safe space to process their thoughts and outputs.

Mentoring isn’t a walk in the park. There were a lot of times when we had to handhold fellows and adjust timelines. It’s totally understandable though as it is part of the learning process. We held quick chats or consultations to address their concerns.

“Do not be afraid of writing bad stories. There will always be times that you feel that you cannot communicate what is in your mind or what you feel. So stay open to criticisms and everyday is a learning opportunity for us,” said fellow Lance Fuentes, a climate and mental health advocate from Bacolod.

From campus papers to international headlines

As Climate Tracker Asia is dominated by women, we try to advance stories for women and by women. Nearly 60% of our fellows this year were women. We were honored to work with journalists from Magdalene, a women-focused publication based in Indonesia.

We also mentored campus journalists who wanted to learn more about climate journalism, which is not usually taught in schools in the Philippines. They wrote about the concerns of students who want to land green jobs after graduation, and published the stories in their university publications such as the University of Santo Tomas, The Flame, and De La Salle University’s The La Sallian.

Our stories appeared in leading local media outlets such as ABS-CBN News, CNN Philippines, in the Philippines, The Jakarta Post in Indonesia, Malay Mail in Malaysia, and The Straits Times in Singapore.

It is a huge honor to see the stories you helped to shape go on to be published by regional and international media. These include reports of Ushar Daniele about efforts to preserve climate-resilient seagrass in Malaysia (South China Morning Post), and COP27 stories of Stuti Mishra (The Independent).

But I also want to acknowledge the roles played by community papers.

Locals will always have a better understanding of what is happening in their communities and they must be supported. This report written by our fellow Lance drove conversations about the introduction of electric jeepneys in his city of Bacolod, and its effects on drivers of traditional jeepneys.

We also partnered with Samar Weekly Express, which published stories of our fellows from Eastern Visayas on how communities protect their marine ecosystems.

It’s an honor to have spent months guiding storytellers and learning from them. As we close 2022, we hope that advocates and journalists who were part of our programs got something valuable out of them—just like I did when I finished the three-month fellowship two years ago.

As we head to a new year, we hope to work with more storytellers, not only in the Philippines but also in other parts of Asia, and capacitate them to do better climate reporting and pursue stories that matter.