Philippines storm disaster underscores need for bold climate action - negotiators

Philippines storm disaster underscores need for bold climate action - negotiators
Thomson Reuters AlertNet
Warsaw, Poland

Philippines storm disaster underscores need for bold climate action - negotiators

Bold action to tackle the threat of climate-related disasters must figure prominently at U.N. climate talks, which opened in Warsaw on Monday, as the consequences are hitting developing nations like the Philippines the hardest, the country’s lead climate negotiator said.

For Naderev “Yeb” Saño of the Philippines’ Climate Change Commission, the conference comes at a critical time – right after the Philippines was battered on Friday by super typhoon Haiyan, killing an estimated 10,000 people and displacing more than 600,000.

“Typhoons such as Haiyan and its impacts represent a sobering reminder to the international community that we cannot afford to procrastinate on climate action. The climate change talks in Warsaw must deliver on enhancing ambition and should muster the political will to address climate change,” Saño told Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.

The annual Conference of the Parties (COP 19) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) runs in Warsaw, Poland, from Nov. 11-22.

“Developed countries must show they are meeting their commitments to fulfill the objective of the climate convention in order to avert the kind of future where super typhoons will become a way of life for Filipinos,” said a distraught Saño, who broke down in tears at last year’s climate talks in Doha when his country was hit by a strong typhoon that led to more than 1,000 deaths.

“Even in the midst of this tragedy and national difficulty, the Philippines stands steadfast in Warsaw and will be the voice for climate justice,” Saño added.

The Philippines is no stranger to typhoons or natural disasters. But extreme weather events have become more frequent and devastating in the last decade – a trend in line with the effects of global warming predicted by climate scientists.

Typhoon Haiyan, the 24th storm to hit the country this year, is the most powerful typhoon in Philippines history.

“As a country prone to disasters, we are always living between two disasters. The further we are from the last one, the nearer we are to the next. We must break this curse,” Saño said.

“This is only possible if the global community pursues an emergency climate pathway that prevents warming from going beyond the dangerous 2 degrees Celsius threshold above pre-industrial levels,” he emphasised.


The Philippines Red Cross said in its latest report that more than 4 million people across 36 provinces have been affected by Haiyan (or Yolanda as the typhoon is known locally) on the eastern islands of Leyte and Samar.

The Philippines’ Climate Change Secretary, Mary Ann Lucille Sering, who is also head of the country’s delegation at Warsaw, said climate change impacts in vulnerable countries are growing in scale and frequency, confronting them with severe damage and even permanent losses.

“The Philippines should now consciously consider these impacts in all government planning as a pro-active approach to development. The message is clear: loss and damage can be reduced or avoided if we take to heart all these reports and plan accordingly,” Sering told Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Climate change adaptation and disaster risk management should not be just beautiful language in the plans, but should be translated into action.”

The Philippines delegation will make this clear at the Warsaw climate talks, she added.

“I have no illusion that a tragedy like that the Philippines is going through could spur immediate action in this process,” Saño said. “However, I am hoping fervently that this horrific disaster will result in the establishment of a loss and damage mechanism, in its full ideal (form) – meaning a provision on compensation for climate change losses and damages.”

Negotiators agreed at last year’s talks in Doha to establish institutional arrangements to deal with loss and damage related to climate change in Warsaw, but the issue of compensation is controversial, with donor nations opposed to its inclusion.


Meanwhile, in the Philippines, aid workers said the immediate priority is to provide clean water, sanitation and a roof over people’s heads.

“These disasters compound the burden of the Philippines’ poorest people,” said Marie Madamba-Nuñez, spokesperson for Oxfam in the Philippines. “Small-scale farmers and those relying on fishing to make a living will be hardest hit. Their fields and their boats and (fishing) tackle will be badly damaged, and they will need help, not only today but in the months to come.”

Looking further ahead, “economic solutions to root out poverty and inequality must be paired with minimising the risk to poor communities of the vagaries of weather and climate change,” she said.

Aksyon Klima Pilipinas, a coalition of more than 40 civil society groups, said that while governments have set 2015 as a deadline for agreeing a new global climate deal, climate change is already bringing more extreme weather.

“Yolanda – which is reportedly stronger than last year’s super typhoon Pablo – is an example of the stronger typhoons we can expect to see as global warming continues to fuel more extreme weather,” said Voltaire Alferez, Aksyon Klima’s national coordinator.

The Warsaw conference should therefore produce real gains, particularly in the form of more climate funding and less greenhouse gas emissions, the network added in a statement.

It is pushing for developed countries to fill the fledgling U.N. Green Climate Fund, which is meant to channel a substantial part of the $100 billion rich countries have promised to mobilise each year by 2020 for adaptation and mitigation efforts in developing countries. The fund remains virtually empty for the fourth climate conference in a row.


Amalie Obusan, Greenpeace’s Southeast Asia regional climate and energy campaigner, said the Philippines will become ever more vulnerable to climate change impacts.

“We therefore urge the Aquino government to take the issue of climate change seriously by eliminating the country’s dependence on fossil fuels, which leads to more carbon emissions that contribute to climate change,” Obusan said in a statement.

The need for urgent action to address climate change and assistance to cope with its negative impacts is especially important and urgent for countries like the Philippines, she said.

“The climate negotiations in Warsaw, Poland, are an important step in delivering a fair, ambitious, binding global climate deal by 2015,” she said, adding that the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) should also take concrete measures and provide resources to address climate change, especially in the most vulnerable countries like the Philippines.

Campaigners urged national governments to act too. Aksyon Klima expressed disappointment with what it sees as the Philippine government’s conflicting international and domestic climate policies.

“The Philippines is known as a progressive voice in the U.N. negotiations, and yet we can’t even put our own climate fund together, nor start the shift from coal to renewable energy,” Alferez lamented.

The People’s Survival Fund (PSF), which is intended to fund locally-driven climate adaptation activities, is entitled by law to receive annual government spending of at least 1 billion pesos (around $23 million), but for the past two years it has been allocated only 500 million pesos in un-programmed funds. This means it will likely get nothing in 2014 unless the government finds savings elsewhere.

“We challenge the Aquino administration to be more proactive in helping local governments and communities protect themselves from storm surges, heavy rains, floods, and more,” Alferez said.

“(Philippine President Benigno) Aquino and his cohorts have also repeatedly defended their coal-centric policy while underestimating the country’s capacity and readiness for renewable energy,” he said. “If the proposed coal-fired power plants are approved, we are signing up for more emissions and more of this kind of extreme weather.”

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