Searching for the missing, in Tacloban and in Warsaw

by Purple Chrystyl S. Romero | Philippines Climate Change Commission
Tuesday, 19 November 2013 16:41 GMT

A girl looks on in the typhoon-devastated waterfront shanty town of the eastern Samar town of Guiuan, in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan, on November 19, 2013. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Like efforts to find lost families in the Philippines, the search for solutions to climate change at the UN climate talks has been far from easy

The youngest was 2 years old, the eldest, 7. Martin Gillespie’s children, along with his Filipina wife, living in the Tacloban in the Philippines, were unaccounted for almost a week after super typhoon Haiyan ravaged the Philippines.

Gillespie, a retired New York police department detective, had never met me. But when Nadine Hoffman of the International Women’s Media Foundation asked me and other friends from the Philippines to help look for his family, we did what we could.

Journalist friends promised to inquire about his family’s whereabouts as soon as their news organisations deployed them to the hurricane zone. Others passed along the contacts of organisations that had sent volunteers to Tacloban. I sought the assistance of a media outlet I used to work for in gathering information.

Finally, a week after the storm, we received news that Gillespie’s family was found safe.  When I got the email, I was at the national football stadium in Warsaw, more than 10,000 miles away from home.

I left the country a day after Haiyan - one of the strongest storms ever recorded – hit the Philippines, to participate in the UN climate talks along with other Filipino delegates.

The word that Gillespie’s family had been found safe came at the end of the first week of the climate negotiations, aimed in part at finding ways to effectively and sustainably help those most vulnerable to climate change. 


Like looking for families and friends trapped in darkness and desolation in areas ravaged by Haiyan, the search for a solution to climate change has been far from easy.

The goal of the talks is to shape a legally-binding agreement by 2015, which would mandate that both developed nations and emerging economic powerhouses like China and India reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Such an agreement also is supposed to guarantee financial and technical support to countries that would suffer the most from the adverse effects of climate change. 

Parties from developing and developed countries continued to be firm in their positions on both fronts in Warsaw, despite the backdrop of the tragedy that is Haiyan. Industrialised countries point out that some developing countries have emerged as major emitters themselves, and hence need to increase their role in decreasing the world’s carbon footprint.

Developing countries recognise their role in mitigating climate change, but insist that developed countries must take the lead because they have the capability to do so in terms of technology and resources and because they produced most of the climate-changing emissions now in the atmosphere.

As the talks echoed a familiar storyline – that of lack of progress – Australia and Japan announced they would take a step backward from curbing climate change. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott introduced a bill repealing his country’s carbon tax, while Japan scaled back on its carbon cut goals by setting a 3.8 percent emission reduction target by 2020 from 2005 levels – in effect a promise to increase emissions from 1990 levels.

The battle for more money to help poorer nations develop cleaner energy systems and adapt to climate change, and to deal with losses and damage from climate impacts, surges on. Expectations for breakthroughs are far from high, but the message is to keep working and give hope a chance.  

The Philippines wants parties at the talks to identify clear sources of money for the Green Climate Fund, a financial mechanism to support efforts to curb emissions and adapt to climate change in developing countries. To raise the promised $100 billion a year by 2020, developed countries have highlighted the importance of funds from the private sector, but developing countries say public finance should still be the main source of money for the Green Climate Fund.

It is worth noting that discussions on finance have centered on money for action after 2020, when negotiators hope a new global climate deal will take effect. But a growing number of disasters, even before Haiyan, show that communities and countries need to build their resilience against climate change now.


Haiyan is in a category of its own, its strength unprecedented. How do you prepare for one of the world’s strongest storms? What Haiyan showed is that while countries do as much as they can to adapt to the impacts of climate change, extreme weather events will still cause losses of lives and properties, at staggering costs.  

This is why it is important for the world to keep its word and deliver what it vowed to do last year at the UN climate talks in Doha – that, is, create a working loss and damage mechanism to help countries deal with growing losses from extreme weather and other climate-related problems. Philippine lead negotiator Naderev Sano, who is has been on a more than week-long fast to push for action on climate threats at the meeting, aims to see the loss and damage mechanism established at these talks.

There are some reason for optimism. This week, high-level ministerial meetings will be conducted on climate finance – the first time in the history of talks – and on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action. These meetings are opportunities to build political momentum for robust action and real pledges on climate funds, and to raise the ambition on emission cuts.

These could be paths where changes in the climate change talks are found and created.  It is a difficult mission to ignite changes here. At most, one can only see signs of it, a glimmer of action here and there, an unexpected fire of will, such as the one displayed by Sano and the others who have also joined the fast in an effort to jolt the process. But the reasons to continue building global resolve against climate change are far from wanting.

Purple Chrystyl S. Romero is a communications specialist on climate change at the Ateneo School of Government and an adviser to the Climate Change Commission in the Philippines.