Philippines Delegate Refuses To Eat Until Action On Climate Change 'Madness'
(CNN) -- A Philippine conference delegate has vowed to refuse food until concrete action is taken to slow climate change, blaming it for the "unprecedented, unthinkable and horrific" devastation of Super Typhoon Haiyan.
Addressing other delegates at the first day of the United Nations' 19th Conference of the Parties in Warsaw, Poland, Philippine climate change commissioner Naderev Sano said impact of the "hell-storm" had been "colossal."
"Despite the massive efforts that my country had exerted in preparing for the onslaught of this storm, it was just a force too powerful, and even as a nation familiar with storms, Haiyan was nothing we have ever experienced before," he said.
Sano said he had endured an agonizing wait for news from his hometown in one of the areas hit by the storm before finally communicating with his brother. "In the last two days, he has been gathering bodies of the dead with his own two hands. He is hungry and weary as food supplies find it difficult to arrive in the hardest-hit areas."
Sano continued: "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, with all due respect, Mr. President, and without meaning to disrespect your kind hospitality, I will now commence a voluntary fasting for the climate."
While the idea of long-term climate change -- driven largely by the use of fossil fuels, which release heat-trapping carbon emissions into the atmosphere -- is a controversial notion politically, it's accepted as fact by most researchers. Scientists say they can't pin any particular storm on the process, but that the warming of the air and oceans "loads the dice" in favor of more extreme weather.
An October study in the scientific journal Nature noted that more than 5 billion people live in areas that would be affected by climate change by 2050, and the countries that will first see its effects are the ones least capable of responding.
A June report by the World Bank noted that the Philippines is already seeing the effects of a warming climate, ranking 16 of its provinces among the most vulnerable regions in southeast Asia.
"From 1990 to 2006, the country experienced record weather-related disasters, including the strongest typhoon, the most destructive typhoons, the deadliest storm and the typhoon with the highest 24-hour rainfall on record," the report states. "These events are projected to intensify, requiring the Philippines to improve its climate resilience and develop its adaptive capacity to alleviate the risk of catastrophic economic and humanitarian impacts."
Sano said he will refrain from eating during the 12-day conference "until a meaningful outcome is in sight." He called for "concrete pledges" to the Green Climate Fund -- a U.N. fund aimed at helping developing nations to reduce their climate change emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change -- and said he will continue to fast "until the promise of the operationalization of a loss and damage mechanism has been fulfilled; until there is assurance on finance for adaptation; until we see real ambition on climate action in accordance with the principles of the convention."
The Conference of the Parties consists of all states that are parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change treaty. It meets annually to review the parties' progress in limiting global temperature increases blamed for climate change.
Sano said that at the last COP, less than a year ago, he had appealed to the world to open its eyes as the Philippines had confronted another catastrophic storm, Typhoon Bopha, then the costliest in its history.
"Less than a year hence, we cannot imagine that a disaster much bigger would come. With an apparent cruel twist of fate, my country is being tested by this hell-storm called Super Typhoon Haiyan," he said. "The initial assessment shows that Haiyan left a wake of massive devastation that is unprecedented, unthinkable and horrific."
Sano challenged climate change skeptics to "get off their ivory towers and away from the comfort of their armchairs" to see the communities battling flooding, hurricanes and fires. "And if that is not enough, they may want to see what has happened to Philippines now," he said.
Sano said he spoke on behalf of his delegation as well as "the countless people who will no longer be able to speak for themselves after perishing from the storm. I also speak for those who have been orphaned by this tragedy. I also speak for the people now racing against time to save survivors and alleviate the suffering of the people affected."
What the Philippines is experiencing as a result of climate change is "madness," Sano said.
The country refused to accept that "running away from storms, evacuating our families, suffering the devastation and misery, counting our dead, (will) become a way of life," he said.
Haiyan ploughed into the Philippines on Friday, with reported top sustained winds of 314 kph (195 mph). Officials have counted more than 1,700 bodies so far but fear the storm may have taken as many as 10,000 lives. The United Nations says at least 800,000 people have been displaced, while the Philippine government says more than 2 million are in need of food aid.
Sano's protest prompted Twitter users to begin using the hashtag #fastfortheclimate in support.
The Climate Action Network -- a body of 850 Non-Governmental Organizations -- later announced that members of "civil society" were joining Sano in fasting, in a move it said is "unprecedented within the history of the climate movement."
CAN spokeswoman Ria Voorhaar said the protest is spreading "far and wide," with at least 100 people in Warsaw for the COP conference also fasting.
"A lot of climate-focused youth groups have jumped on it immediately to show solidarity," she said.
Voorhaar said she understands delegates from some African countries are also considering joining the action.
"The delegates here, they work 18-20 hours a day so it's a big commitment to do that and represent your country," she said.
In terms of the progress it would take for hunger strikers to end their protest, Voorhaar told CNN:
"It's concrete action to reduce emissions as quickly as possible prior to 2020. If we do that we can stay on a safe climate pathway," she said. "Then there is the loss and damage mechanism that needs to be agreed here and put into action -- and then we need a way forward on climate finance."
By Susannah Cullinane
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