Philippines rep's tearful testimony makes compelling case for climate action

At the opening of the UN climate talks in Warsaw yesterday representatives of countries from around the globe packed into the conference hall to hear the lead climate negotiator for the Philippines, Yeb Sano, describe the ‘unthinkable, horrific and unprecedented devastation left in the wake of Typoon Haiyan - the strongest typhoon in modern recorded history’. In an emotional appeal Yeb told of his agonising wait for word from his relatives, his relief that his brother has survived the onslaught and the traumatic experiences his brother had lived through over the past few days ‘hungry and weary, he gathered bodies of the dead with his own hands.”

It was by far the most moving intervention I have heard in all the years I have followed the highs and lows of the climate change negotiations. With these poignant and powerful words, everyone in the huge conference hall, which is so often devoid of atmosphere, was brought face to face with the reality of what climate change means for some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable communities across the world and yes tears were shed by many.

More extreme weather

While it is impossible to say whether any one storm, flood or heat wave results from climate change, scientists are clear that extreme weather events, such as Typhoon Haiyan, will become more likely as the world warms.

There can be no more compelling reason to reduce emissions and help poor countries prepare for and adapt to extreme and erratic weather than the case put by Yeb Sano. However, it is by no means certain that country officials sitting around the negotiating tables in Warsaw are ready to act with the urgency demanded.

People in devastated areas of the Philippines need food, water, medical attention and shelter right now and Oxfam is working hard to deliver clean water and sanitation to families in some of the worst affected areas. But poor communities in the Philippines, Bangladesh, Mozambique, Guatemala and around the world also need help to ensure that they can prepare for and adapt to increasingly extreme and erratic weather.

Stop this madness

Governments can show that they were truly listening to Yeb Sano’s words and are ready to take urgent climate action by agreeing here in Warsaw an international mechanism on loss and damage that addresses the impacts of climate change which it is not possible to adapt to – such as loss of life or nation. 

Developed countries must also spell out how they plan to deliver the $100 billion a year by 2020 for climate finance- promised four years ago in Copenhagen and clearly commit money right here, right now to help poor countries cope with the impacts of climate change.

Poor countries on the climate front line need to know this money will be available, that it won’t be diverted from existing aid budgets or given as loans which they will struggle to pay back. While there is no getting away from the fact that this is a significant chunk of money it’s a drop in the ocean compared to the huge sums - up to $90 billion a year – rich countries spent on fossil fuel subsidies between 2005 and 2011.

As Yeb Sano said, ‘What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness… we can stop this madness, right here in Warsaw.”


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