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For the second year in a row, UN climate change negotiations take place in the wake of a typhoon striking the Philippines. Last year at the COP18 in Doha, the Filipino climate commissioner, Naderev (otherwise known as Yeb) Saño, “violated diplomatic protocol” by openly crying as he pleaded the international community to push to reach an agreement after typhoon Bopha striking his native soil. And history repeated itself as he took centre stage at the opening plenary in Warsaw only days after the powerful typhoon Haiyan claimed an estimated 10,000 fatalities.
In an extremely emotional display Saño once again urged the parties to “come down from their ivory towers and away from the comfort of their armchairs” and move towards a concrete, tangible agreement instead of just “moving the goalposts” as he allegorically categorised the last years’ stalemate speaking from the centre of the Polish national stadium.
The Philippines isn’t by any means the only country facing an increase in occurrences and magnitude of natural disasters, though. Australian bush fires; the impact of rising sea levels in the Caribbean, the Pacific and the Indian Ocean; glacial floods in the Himalayas and the Andes; dwindling sea ice capes of the Arctic; floods in the deltas of the Mekong, the Ganges, the Amazon and the Nile; hurricanes ravaging Central America and the Gulf of Mexico; and scarce food and water supplies in the savannahs of Africa are all examples the negative impact of anthropogenic climate change.
This claim is scientifically backed by the Red Cross, which reports that man-made climate change is having destructive effects:
“The intensity, frequency and magnitude of current hazards are likely to increase under changing climatic conditions. This will change risk patterns and increase the frequency of extreme climate events."
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) recognises that climate disasters are complex and caused by various things, not just climate change. However, they do provide a kind of recipe for abating the ferociousness of certain weather phenomena:
“In order to counteract these trends, climate change adaptation and mitigation activities need to go hand-in-hand with long-term investment in development. Efforts must also focus on strategies for effective early warning systems.”
In the Philippines, they have already adapted a vast warning system in collaboration with other countries in the region like Japan and Vietnam. The latter has also suffered casualties when the recent super-typhoon induced landfall.
Recent studies show that it’s not just simple hunches when Filipinos claim that their annual cyclone season have been more vigorous this year than usually. WMO maintains that the western North Pacific basin has had a very active tropical cyclone season. The total number of named tropical cyclones so far in this year is 30, higher than the annual average of 25.6 (1981 – 2010 base period).
Back in Warsaw Saño insistently, and with eyes flooded by tears, repeated his renowned cardinal questions from Doha: “If not us then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?” He carried on to vow that he’d be fasting during this COP until a meaningful outcome is in sight. That is, until concrete pledges have been made to ensure mobilisation of resources for the Green Climate Fund (GCF).
But despite an abundance of sympathy and condolences from several other delegations, few seem optimistic on the prospects of these talks making any radical agreements this year.
Saño’s voice almost gave out from pure passion and sentiment but his message nonetheless rang out with unmistakable clarity: "We refuse to accept that running away from storms, evacuating our families, suffering the devastation and misery, counting our dead, become a way of life."
Whether his urging of the delegations to live up to their moral obligation, as he put it, to prove the critics of the “carbon-intensive gathering of useless frequent flyers” wrong will have an affect or if Saño will go hungry, we’ll have to wait and see.