The specter of super typhoon Yolanda is felt as far away as Warsaw, Poland, where world leaders are currently meeting for a new round of pledges and commitments to end dangerous climate change.
Naderev Saño, lead negotiator of the Philippine delegation, opened the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s 19th Conference of Parties (COP) with a call for global solidarity to curb greenhouse gas emissions and to help vulnerable countries withstand the impacts of extreme weather.
Saño, who hails from Leyte—one of the worst hit places by Yolanda—noted in his opening speech that his brother back home has not eaten for three days and has been helping in the recovery operations. In light of all the suffering from the massive cyclone, Sano said and that will go on “voluntary fasting” during the conference until a “meaningful outcome is in sight.”
Solidarity with storm-hit countrymen
“In solidarity with Filipinos who are now scrounging for food back home, and with my brother who has not had food for the last three days, with all due respect Mr. President, I will now commence a voluntary fasting and I will refuse to eat food here during this COP, until a meaningful outcome is in sight,” he said.
Super typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan), one of the world’s strongest typhoons on record, pummeled central Philippines last Friday, washing away towns and villages. The death toll is estimated to be as high as 10,000. Officials feared a sharp increase in the number of dead and missing in the next days.
Saño lamented that, twenty years since the climate negotiations started, the world has yet to find a concerted solution that will stop mankind’s harmful interference with the global climate. Previous climate change talks have ended in diluted compromises and commitments that have yet to be fulfilled.
Climate crisis: Stop the madness
“What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness. Mr. President, we can stop this madness. Right here in Warsaw,” Saño said.
“It is the 19th COP, Mr. President, but we might as well stop counting, because my country refuses to accept that a COP30 or a COP40 will be needed to solve climate change. And because it seems that despite the significant gains we have had since the UNFCCC was born, 20 years hence we continue to fail in fulfilling the ultimate objective of the Convention,” he added.
“Now, we find ourselves in a situation where we have to ask ourselves – can we ever attain the objective set out in Article 2 – which is to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system? By failing to meet the objective the Convention, we may have ratified the doom of vulnerable countries,” he said.
Saño urged developed countries to do more to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to global warming. The COP should also assure the developing world of funding for adaptation projects and mobilization of the Green Climate Fund to help vulnerable countries and communities become more resilient.
The COP parties should also address the loss and damage from dangerous climate impacts by poor countries like the Philippines, who have to bear the brunt of extreme weather. According to Saño, about 5% of the Philippines’ gross domestic product is cut yearly by dangerous climate change.
A world in crisis
The dangerous effects of climate change are not only happening in the Philippines. Rising sea level is being felt in the Carribean and the Pacific islands. The Himalayas’s glaciers are melting and drought is becoming more severe in parts of Africa.
“We must stop calling events like these as natural disasters. It is not natural when people continue to struggle to eradicate poverty and pursue development and gets battered by the onslaught of a monster. It is not natural when science already tells us that global warming will induce more intense storms. It is not natural when the human species has already profoundly changed the climate,” he said.
Krishna Kumar Kanikicharla, a senior author for the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said the overall number of tropical cyclones may decline this century but such weather systems may get stronger. "Wind speed and the precipitation is likely to increase," he added.
The IPCC says that global warming, caused by a build-up of greenhouse gases from human activities, has caused a 20 cm (8 inch) average rise in sea levels over the past century that can aggravate storm surges. Warm air can also hold more moisture that can bring more downpours.
Many nations said the typhoon matched trends towards extreme weather and was an example to spur action in Warsaw, which is meant to lay down the outlines of a global deal in 2015 that will enter into force from 2020.
"This points us to the need for urgent action," Christiana Figueres, the U.N. climate chief, said of the devastation.
Separately, the IPCC said it was correcting some numbers for historical carbon emissions in a report to guide governments in switching to renewable energies, issued in September.
The numbers were revised up for cumulative emissions since 1750 and down for emissions since the late 19th century after the authors spotted inconsistencies.
"I don't see it as a significant change," IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri told Reuters. The panel had hoped to avoid corrections after an embarrassing error that exaggerated the rate of melt of Himalayan glaciers in its last report in 2007.
The United States said it was on track to reach a goal set by President Barack Obama to cut U.S. emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.
"With the new measures that we have in place, we have a good chance of achieving it and we are working very hard to do so," U.S. delegation chief Trigg Talley told a news conference.
The European Union also reaffirmed its goal of a 20 percent cut below 1990 levels by 2020, with an option of a 30 percent cut if other nations stepped up ambition.
Outside the conference hall, Polish riot police used rubber bullets to break up groups of masked far-right youths who threw firecrackers and set fire to parked cars during a nationalist march, unconnected with the talks, nearby.
GMA News Online
With Reuters / K Luis / TJD, GMA News
November 11, 2013