Filipino Climate Negotiator Issues Challenges to World

Against the backdrop of Typhoon Haiyan the Philippines' lead climate negotiator calls for urgent action on climate change.

November 16, 2013 | Web First
Carol Thiessen | Canadian Foodgrains Bank

“We refuse to accept that running away from storms, evacuating our families, suffering the devastation and misery, counting our dead, becomes a way of life. We simply refuse to.”

So spoke the Philippines’ lead climate negotiator Naderev Yeb Saño at the opening of this year’s United Nations climate change conference in Warsaw, Poland.

Saño’s poignant call for urgent action on climate change was set against the backdrop—or for far too many people, the devastating reality—of the super Typhoon Haiyan, which has displaced some 660,000 people and left over 2000 dead in his country.

Indeed, Saño’s home community was in the path of the storm, and he was anxious about his own loved ones. He heard shortly before his opening statement that his brother had survived although he had not eaten in two days.

“In solidarity with my countrymen who are now struggling for food back home, and with my brother who has not had food for the last three days . . . I will now commence a voluntary fasting for the climate. This means I will voluntarily refrain from eating food during this [conference] until a meaningful outcome is in sight.”

And with that Saño turned a normally sedate opening ceremony into something electrifying. Inside, people cheered. Outside, people gathered quietly in front of monitors to listen to his speech.

Activists immediately began striking their own voluntary fasts. And the stakes, for what was to be an uneventful conference, were suddenly raised.

Saño called for more climate finance to help prevent and protect people from such disasters in the future. He committed the Philippines to a clean energy future, but called on developed countries to financially support these efforts. And he urged all countries to do much more to confront climate change.

Tragically, it was just a year ago during the last UN climate change conference that the Philippines was also brutally battered by a catastrophic storm that resulted in the costliest disaster in Philippine history.

This year’s Typhoon Haiyan may be even worse; it is being called one of the strong typhoons on record.

Speaking in a temporary meeting space in the middle of Warsaw’s large soccer stadium, Saño repeated his famous words from the close of last year’s climate conference: “If not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?”

He continued this year: “We can fix this. We can stop this madness. Right now. Right here, in the middle of this football field and we must stop moving the goal posts.”
This year, let’s hope someone listens. The people of the Philippines deserve all our support.

Carol Thiessen is a senior policy advisor at the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. She attended this year’s UN climate change conference in Warsaw, Poland, and wrote this as a blog post on the Foodgrains Bank blog, Seeds.

--posted Nov. 16, 2013

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