Yeb Sano, the climate negotiator for the Philippines spoke to the global climate conference in Warsaw, and tearfully declared he will now go on hunger strike until real resolution is reached. In the wake of the worst storm ever recorded, the people of the Philippines are in acute desperation. Mr. Sano’s brave and powerful speech was categorical in blaming climate change for the catastrophe, “The climate crisis is madness,” he declared.
Yeb Sano told the conference delegates of how he had spent many hours trying to find his brother after the storm had pummeled its way through his community. He eventually came across him in a crew of volunteers. They were moving the bodies of the dead to allow relief workers to get through. He also told them that his brother has not now eaten for days. Thus, in solidarity with his starving countrymen, and with no disrespect to the host nation, he intended to go on hunger strike “until a meaningful outcome is in sight.”
The COP, or Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC is in its 19th session. It began on November 11 and will run until November 22nd. Delegates from over 190 countries have gathered in Warsaw, Poland to attend. On the agenda is climate change, and what can be done to tackle it. A key mechanism of the COP is the GCF, or Global Climate Fund, specifically designed to move money from the developed to the developing nations. The COP began with an acknowledgement that real change has to occur by 2015.
Yeb Sano’s emotional speech and stand may persuade them that progress is too slow and that a climate change agreement is needed now, not in two years time. The tragedy of Typhoon Haiyan can hardly be ignored. Yeb Sano spoke for those who no longer had a voice. He said, “I speak for my delegation” but, more than that “I speak for the countless people who will no longer be able to speak for themselves after perishing from the storm.” He also spoke for those who had been orphaned, those racing against time to try to save remaining survivors and “alleviate the suffering of the people affected by the disaster.”
Yeb’s call was for action, now, to prevent a future where ”super typhoons are a way of life” and he implored the conference. “We can stop this madness. Right here is Warsaw.” Ending his address with another reference to his brave brother, he pledged “I will voluntarily refrain from eating food during this COP.” He finished by saying “Together, our movement can rise to this challenge, and bring hope to him and his family and generations of our most vulnerable world citizens.”
Along with the climate negotiator’s hunger strike to show solidarity with those suffering in the Philippines, Yeb Sano has started a campaign on the Avaaz petitioning website.
The COP19 is not expected to achieve a great deal. The next target for an international treaty that is legally binding is in 2015 in Paris. Even then, were treaties signed, they would not begin to be implemented until 2020. Despite increased evidence and anxiety from the scientists, industrialized countries seem crippled by their own economic situations. Extreme events like Typhoon Haiyan add credence to the assertion that climate scientists have been right in their predictions.
Scientists are in agreement that climate change is accountable for storms like Haiyan. Professor Will Steffer of the Australian National University is a member of the Climate Council. He explained how warmer sea surface temperatures affect cyclones. Once they have formed, they gain their energy from surface waters. Data corroborates that the sea temperatures on the eastern seaboard of the Philippines were almost 1 degree above normal as Haiyan was forming. Once the storm had passed over, the waters rapidly cooled, further proof that the storm had sucked up all the energy.
Sea surface temperature is not the only factor. Another important influence is the difference between those temperatures and those right at the top of the storm, in the troposphere. These are much more difficult to gather. However, it is known, by means of weather balloons and other recorders, that the upper troposphere is also warming along with the rest of the world.
A shift towards ever more powerful storms in future was predicted back in 2010 by Dr John McBride and others, and published in Nature Geoscience. Their modelling concluded “substantial increases in the frequency of the most intense cyclones” with the attendant risks of rains and flooding.
It is often the storm surge in the typhoon that does the most damage. With already raised sea levels, Professor Steffen has also warned that the risk for “severe inundation” from such tsunami like events is also increasing.
Although developing countries like the Philippines have borne the brunt of many of the worst natural disasters in recent years, western nations are also beginning to see real climate change. Superstorm Sandy, the floods in Colorado and Alberta, England’s increasingly heavy rainfalls, and the intense 2013 heatwaves and bushfires in Australia are just a few examples.
Yeb Sano has seized this opportunity to bring the plight of the Philippines as a result of climate change to the world stage in Warsaw. His hunger strike, in solidarity with his brother back home and all those who are suffering may do more to make an impact on the climate negotiations than ever before.
By Kate Henderson