“No Action Is ‘Too Small’”: COP28 Youth Delegate Javea Estavillo On Climate Change In The Philippines

Photo by Jerick Sanchez

At 17 years old, Javea Estavillo proves that it doesn’t matter what age you begin to make a difference. During the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference, Estavillo sparked discussion on climate financing with her speech.

If there’s one word to describe Javea Estavillo, it would be “dreamer.” A high-achieving student, athlete, and advocate, Estavillo has many dreams for the future, especially for climate action. At the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28), she represented the Philippines as a youth delegate and spoke to global leaders about the pressing issues of climate change. With such passion for her advocacy and climate activism, it’s easy to forget that Estavillo is only 18 years old and still yet to achieve greater things.

At The British School Manila, Estavillo has established herself as an active student leader, participating in a wide variety of activities and organizations: she’s a Head Student, president of the Red Cross Youth Council, co-president of the Financial and Economics Guild, varsity basketball captain, and a member of the Service and Sustainability Council. She was also a Climate Loss and Financing Intern at the Manila Observatory, where she began to learn more about climate financing.

Aside from being a climate activist, Estavillo is also a high-achieving student and athlete. Photo by Jerick Sanchez

“Dean Tony La Viña, who leads the Manila Observatory, tasked me with quantifying the economic loss and damage to Siargao due to Typhoon Odette,” Estavillo says. “I had to sit there with a calculator for hours in front of hundreds of pages, calculating the final number for the loss and damage. And the final number that I came up with was staggeringly high, but what hit me was how low the aid was.”

“That was two years ago, and I still don’t see what we need,” she continues. “That number stuck with me and made me realize that the lack of climate financing isn’t just a concept. It’s so glaring that something needed to be done.” It was this realization that sparked the urgency Estavillo felt towards the issue, especially when she witnessed first-hand the destruction while doing a project in Siargao.

According to Estavillo, climate justice and climate financing are all about accountability. “It can be considered as sort of their reparations for the developed countries, who are the most responsible for climate change because they cause the most emissions,” she says. “It’s sort of their reparations for developing countries because, despite the developed countries being the ones causing the most climate change, it’s the developing countries that face its biggest consequences.”

Estavillo is also passionate about sustainable fashion, expressing her love for thrifting and launching her own clothing brand. Photo by Jerick Sanchez
Estavillo credits her parents for encouraging her to gain awareness of global issues such as climate change. Photo by Jerick Sanchez

During her COP28 speech, Estavillo spoke about the threat of climate change to the Philippines and called on UN member countries to “make climate financing a reality before it’s too late.” She cited that between 2011 and 2021, the Philippine Development Plan estimated the country’s loss and damage from tropical cycles to be at 673.30 billion Philippine pesos.

Estavillo stresses the importance of climate financing in the Philippines. “We are one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change. Some reports would say we’re number one, so we are really in need of these financial support systems. And that’s why climate financing is such an important issue to talk about as Filipinos because this is what’s going to determine how we can address, respond, and adapt to climate change as it worsens in the future.”

Javea Estavillo is the youngest youth delegate from the Philippines. Courtesy of Atty. Macel Fernandez-Estavillo

Taking action

Aside from advocating for climate issues, Estavillo takes action through her sustainable clothing brand called “Flour Power,” where she explores the concept of circularity through reusing materials. “We make the clothes from flour sacks that would otherwise be discarded by the biggest companies in the Philippines, like San Miguel and URC (Universal Robina Corporation),” she says. Style-wise, Flour Power’s designs are made for the “Cool Girl in Manila,” and Estavillo describes the clothes as “almost beachy but can be upscaled towards the city vibe.”

While taking action through sustainable fashion, she also goes above and beyond to help the seamstresses. “I realized through speaking with them that their eyes are damaged by their work. So, we bought them lighting and eye care equipment, such as prescription glasses,” she says.

Javea Estavillo at the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28). Courtesy of Atty. Macel Fernandez-Estavillo

For her, storytelling and creativity play an important role in creating change. “No matter how you do storytelling, whether it be through looking at economic numbers, telling stories of climate change, interviewing people most affected by climate disasters, or even documenting the effects of natural disasters, your storytelling is what will make people realize that things need to be changed,” she says.

Estavillo is bursting with ideas for what she wants to do in the future: “I would like to come back to COP not as a youth delegate, but as a proper delegate. But before [COP], I was thinking of working in agencies such as the UN to oversee specific cases with regards to climate change, but also in private companies because they are the frontier for innovation and solutions for climate change. Another thing that I want to do is work on projects at the grassroots level. I think it would enrich me in terms of not only experience but connecting to those who are most affected.” With all these things in mind, the next step for Estavillo is to further her education. This coming fall season, she will begin to study economics and climate financing at Stanford University with the dream of becoming an environmental lawyer.

In the future, Estavillo aspires to be an environmental lawyer. Photo by Jerick Sanchez

When it comes to climate action, Estavillo believes that no action is “too small.” “Even if you help one person for one minute, you’re already beginning to make a difference,” she says. With youthful optimism, she clings to hope and advises everyone to do the same. “I think everyone should try their best to have hope. The more pressure we can put on governments and the bigger players, the more difference we can make in a shorter amount of time,” she says. “It’s the most important thing for me, and that’s what I’m trying to do because the best way to help is to keep at it.”

Photographs by Jerick Sanchez. Styling by Andrea Ang. Makeup Artist: Ann Parba of MAC Cosmetics. Hairstylist: Noel Muncada of Toni&Guy Philippines. Producer: Bianca Zaragoza. Sr. Multimedia Artist: Gabbi Constantino. Photography Assistants: Ralph Suba and Roniel Sañez. Makeup Assistant: Sharmaine Manalo.

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