Comic Cover
Finding my path
The story of Jasmin Irisha
Climate and Environment Consultant, UNICEF Malaysia
Script: Foong Li Mei & Tuan Nini
Illustration: Tuan Nini
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When Tok* could not identify a plant at first glance, he would walk up to it, caress the leaves, touch the stems, and eventually recognize the plant, like seeing an old friend.

I watched him do this throughout my childhood, during our weekend trips to the Forest Research Institute Malaysia, or FRIM—where he worked as a forester.

*An affectionate term in the Malay language for ‘grandfather’.

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At FRIM, we'd have a picnic, play badminton, visit the waterfalls, or just walk around and pick up biji saga merah (Adenanthera seeds)… I think the seed for my environmental passion was planted then.
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A lot of environmentalists are fighting for their causes because they are directly impacted by floods, typhoons and hurricanes.

But personally, my interest in environmental advocacy came from a place of appreciation. For me, nature keeps me rooted and is an enjoyable escape. I live close to the city, with access to basic needs like housing, food and education. I am aware of this privilege—my home is a safe shelter where I get to live comfortably, not a home that is on the verge of being destroyed by climate disasters.
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When I finished secondary school, I was not sure what career to pursue. I wanted to study International Relations, as I was intrigued by the world of diplomacy and power play. But Dad wanted me to follow in his footsteps and take up engineering, for wider job prospects.

Finally, I thought, “What about environmental science?” I have always loved nature. Surprisingly, Dad was cool with this obscure discipline, perhaps because it had the word ‘science’ in it!
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Environmental science is humongous, spanning marine, air, biodiversity and so on. I needed to find a niche. I explored different areas, like interning in an environmental consultancy firm and volunteering on a renewable energy project at an indigenous village.

Clarity came when I graduated. I became actively involved in the Malaysian Youth Delegation (MYD), and was one of the delegates who attended the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP*) in 2016 and 2017.

*Short for the Conference of the Parties, where country leaders along with negotiators, government representatives, businesses and citizens gather to accelerate and assess strategies for addressing climate change.

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There, I saw the lack of representation from Southeast Asia. We see all these older white men at the decision-making tables. I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be great to have more people who are like me attending this?”

At COP, young people have to compete for the limited platforms to formally engage huge corporations and world leaders and speak their minds. They make their voices heard by organizing rallies, strikes or walkouts, thus bringing their message to the attention of the public and decision makers.
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It is evident that young people from the Global South are severely underrepresented at COP. The Global South consists of regions that are the hardest hit by climate change, including Asia, Latin America and Africa.

This is basically what climate justice means. Climate impacts do not affect all countries equally. Developed and rich nations may have the economic and technological means to delay the effects of climate change. But for poor and developing nations, global warming threatens social and economic stability. Climate disasters threaten the access to safe drinking water, supply and agriculture; not to mention risking our homes and heightening risks of infectious diseases.
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That is why youth voices from the Global South need to be heard at a conference where climate change policies are made—so that the decisions align with the needs and realities of those facing the brunt of the climate crisis and who also have to live with its effects for longer.

My experience at COP showed me where I want to build my career—at the United Nations, in the intersection of climate change science and policy.
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In 2019, I pursued a master’s degree in Climate and Society at Columbia University in New York. I was at the epicentre of the pandemic when COVID-19 hit in March 2020, and decided to return home to Malaysia. I completed my graduate internship with UNDP Malaysia, then joined UNICEF Malaysia as its first climate and environment consultant.
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At UNICEF Malaysia, I contributed towards setting up the climate and environment portfolio.

I co-led the development of various studies, like the Change for Climate report that found some startling results—92% of Malaysian youths think that climate change is a crisis. That report continues to drive much of the narrative of UNICEF’s climate change work. I also conduct capacity building programmes to prepare local youth delegates attending COP.
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In Malaysia, young people are already actively speaking their mind on how the climate crisis affects them, and are amazing at mobilizing the youth movement.

What we need to do is to provide them a platform to help amplify their messages and give them a space to not only speak up, but to also share their knowledge as major stakeholders of the climate crisis.
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