By Imelda Abano
LIMA, Peru (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Members of civil society groups staged a "fast for the climate" as the United Nations climate talks in Lima kicked off this week.
But the very person who inspired people around the world to fast for the climate on every first day of the month, has been reportedly dropped from the Philippine climate change delegation.
Climate Change Commissioner Naderev Sano - or Yeb, as he is better known - became a pivotal figure at the U.N. talks last year in Warsaw, held just days after Typhoon Haiyan devastated his Philippines hometown of Tacloban.
Speaking as a negotiator for the Philippines last year, Sano pled with delegates to find a way to "take drastic action now" to cut climate-changing emissions and stop worsening extreme weather, and announced he would fast through the two-week conference in solidarity with those at home.
"We refuse, as a nation, to accept a future where super typhoons like Haiyan become a fact of life," he said, breaking down in tears. "We refuse to accept that running away from storms, evacuating our families, suffering the devastation and misery, having to count our dead, becomes a way of life."
Since then, Sano has become a prominent voice seeking climate justice, or help for nations that have done the least to contribute to climate change but are suffering the brunt of the problems.
But as U.N. climate negotiations kicked off Monday in Lima, he was still sitting in Manila, waiting for approval to join the Philippines delegation in Peru.
"I am patiently awaiting further instructions regarding my participation in the crucial climate change negotiations in Lima," Sano told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from his office in the Philippines capital.
Despite repeated efforts to contact her, the Philippines Climate Change Secretary, Mary Ann Lucille Sering, had no comment on the apparent decision to keep Sano at home.
Sano's absence from the talks produced a flood of social media comment in Lima, with civil society groups saying his absence amounted to an enormous loss for the gathering.
"Yeb is a model conscience for the world, showing us that so little is being done, particularly by the developed world, in terms of ambitious emissions reduction targets, finance on the table or technology transfer," Meena Rahman of the Third World Network, a non-governmental development organisation, said at the talks.
"He would have been a powerful voice. He led the charge on how any agreement has to be just, fair, and equitable, and on showing that developing countries are facing the consequences of climate change now," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
PRESSURE TO DROP HIM?
"We have heard that there are external pressures to drop him from the delegation because of his strong stance in the negotiations," she said.
Voltaire Alferez, the national coordinator of Aksyon Klima, a Philippines non-governmental organisation, said the Philippines negotiating team needs all its skills and talents to advance the interests of the country at the talks.
"We are at a loss as to why Commissioner Sano is not present here in Lima," he said. "His absence here in Lims is greatly felt."
He said "it would be up to the national government to explain why he is not here today."
Gerry Arances, national coordinator for the Philippine Climate Justice Movement, said he wondered if the "power that have stalled the climate talks and resisted a more ambitious outcome have had a hand in this."
"We need all the strong voices we can muster to force a radical and ambitious draft climate deal in Lima, leading towards Paris - and Commissioner Yeb is one of the best in recent years. We need him in the delegation," he said.
Sano, who was appointed a Philippines climate change commissioner in 2010, said he wanted to be at the negotiating table for his country and for developing nations this year.
He said the negotiations have to focus strongly on three things: producing a draft text for a 2015 agreement to be agreed in Paris next year; boosting confidence in the negotiations through more pledges for the fledgling Green Climate Fund, and putting in motion arrangements for a "loss and damage" mechanism to help poorer countries cope with financial and other costs of more extreme weather.
In a video message played Monday to civil society groups participating in a solidarity fast, he said he was inspired by the fact that millions of people embrace the call for climate action and climate justice.
"We fast because extraordinary circumstances demand extraordinary action. The fast is our expression of our hope for a better world and our faith in humanity," Sano said.
"Lima stands as an important moment towards Paris and what we achieve in Lima must be no less than the crystalization of action and ambition compelled by our thirst and hunger for a meaningful successful outcome," he said, noting that "our unity of spirit is our collective force for a better world."
Recently, Sano, with a group of climate activists, made a 40-day walk from Manila to Tacloban City to commemorate the first anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan.
The walk, he said, "is an urgent call for world leaders to take serious, ambitious, concrete, and adequate action on climate change."
World leaders, he said, must also "walk the talk. The time for talk is over. It is time to take action," Sano told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. (Reporting by Imelda Abano; editing by Laurie Goering)
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