Climate change and compassion: the missing link?

by Imelda V. Abano | @iabano | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 3 March 2015 10:27 GMT

French President Francois Hollande inspects the net of fishermen on a visit to Guiuan, which was devastated by Typhoon Haiyan, central Philippines, Feb. 27, 2015. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

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On the French leader's recent visit to the Philippines, the talk was all about climate change as a moral issue

As world leaders and government negotiators roll up their sleeves for a stronger push towards a new global climate deal in December this year, there is increasing talk of climate change as a moral issue.

Paris will host around 195 nations to hammer out a deal to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. In the run-up, French President Francois Hollande - who visited the typhoon-prone islands of the Philippines last week - is looking for ways to grab the attention of nations and spur them to tackle climate change.

His mission in the Philippines was to visit some of the thousands of victims in areas most devastated by Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 to highlight the suffering of the people most impacted by climate change, and warn the world of the catastrophic consequences climate change could bring to other nations in future.

The tone of events during his visit begged the question: Is compassion the missing element in combating climate change?

“We will need the commitment of everyone - businesses, local authorities, parliaments and especially spiritual leaders around the world to commit together with us. It’s a matter of humanity no matter (what) your beliefs, your convictions - it is therefore good that religious leaders join the fight against climate change,” Hollande told a climate change forum in Manila.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world's 300 million Orthodox Christians who was also on the French delegation’s “climate tour” to the Philippines, laid out the growing despair over our warming planet.

Climate change, he said, paints a bleak picture of chaos, suffering, hunger and death. It is time to ask world leaders to look at climate change with compassion and consider the human element that is sometimes overlooked, he added.

Climate change is a “moral crisis” and a “moral challenge”, he said. Tackling it is directly related to the ethical issues of alleviating poverty and advocating human rights, he added.

Bartholomew recalled “the haunting photographs” of Haiyan’s destruction. “The most painful is the individual feelings of loss and terror,” he noted.

Over 6,000 people died in Tacloban City and nearby towns in Eastern Samar. Millions of people were displaced and damage to infrastructure amounted to billions of pesos.

“With the voices of those who suffered from Typhoon Yolanda echoing in our ears, we must call for change and justice in Paris. This is our ethical and honourable obligation. This is our hope and promise to the entire world,” Bartholomew told the Manila forum.


Even the United Nations climate chief, Christiana Figueres, who accompanied the French president, remarked that “passion and compassion may lead us all the way to Paris”.

Countries increasingly understand that tackling climate change “is about their own green economy, about their own sustainability and their own health”, she said. “And as countries, cities, provinces understand that, then we can all come together and that is actually the driving force of Paris.”

After the French delegation’s visit to the devastated town of Guiuan in Eastern Samar where Haiyan first made landfall, President Hollande said he was more convinced that compassion is what’s needed to motivate people to take effective action on climate change.

At the Warsaw climate talks in 2013, Philippine Climate Change Commissioner Naderev Sano made headlines with an emotional appeal to climate negotiators to show solidarity with the typhoon-hit Filipino people.

Since then, he has continued to argue that all countries and all people share a common goal of finding solutions to the climate crisis. His regular fasts and a 40-day climate walk to Tacloban last year have resonated among individuals, civil society groups, political leaders and even celebrities.

French actress and environmental activist Melanie Laurent, who was with Hollande last week, said she was very much impressed with Sano’s call for climate action.

“We have to find a way where nature and human beings are truly respected,” she said. “Our planet is beautiful - the only one where we can live and the only one that we can protect. We have to value our planet together.”

Philippine Climate Change Commission Secretary Mary Ann Lucille Sering said addressing climate change meant moving towards a compassionate and wise response that underlines care for the environment and humanity.

“We are already on the forefront of climate change. It is already costing lives and the poorest countries suffer the most,” Sering said. We must now “balance the need and compassionate impulse to reduce the risk of climate disruption impacts”, she added.

Despite all the warm words in the Philippines last week, however, it won’t become clear until the Paris summit in December whether they have really hit home with world leaders.

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