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In Wake of Super Typhoon Haiyan, Youth Climate Justice Leaders Call for Climate Reparations at UN Summit

Filipino lead negotiator Yeb Saño.

Part of the Series

The 19th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, known as COP19, opened somberly Monday with a tearful speech by Philippine Climate Change Commissioner Yeb Saño in which he connected the weekend’s record-setting Super Typhoon Haiyan to the ongoing, escalating climate crisis and pleaded for meaningful change from the Warsaw summit.

He has vowed a hunger strike unless bold action is taken to address global climate change.

“The science has given us a picture that has become much more in focus,” Saño said. “The [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)] report on climate change and extreme events underscored the risks associated with changes in the patterns as well as frequency of extreme weather events. Science tells us that simply, climate change will mean more intense tropical storms. As the Earth warms up, that would include the oceans. The energy that is stored in the waters off the Philippines will increase the intensity of typhoons, and the trend we now see is that more destructive storms will be the new norm.

“What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness,” he continued. “The climate crisis is madness.”

The IPCC released the report Saño referred to in September, indicating with increasing certainty that humans are causing the warming of the planet through carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. The report raised projections for expected sea level rise and warned of ice-free summers in the Arctic Ocean in just a few decades if meaningful action isn’t taken to curb emissions.

Haiyan made landfall in the Philippines on Friday, devastating the country, and leaving more than 10,000 people dead and hundreds of thousands displaced, according to local authorities. The winds from the storm were estimated to be 314 kilometers per hour or more when Haiyan made landfall on the Philippine island of Samar. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, if that speed can be confirmed, Typhoon Haiyan will prove to be the strongest storm on record and certainly related to warming ocean waters caused by global climate change.

But in the aftermath of the tsunami-like storm surges across the island nation, Filipino climate justice activists and allies are calling on more developed nations, which they say are more responsible for the catastrophic effects of climate change, to pay for the damages and recovery of the Philippines and other less developed countries suffering the consequences but having contributed less to the overall warming of the atmosphere.

Shenna Sanchez is a young Filipina climate justice activist and project assistant for the Federation of Young European Greens. She is attending the Warsaw summit and has launched a hunger strike in solidarity with Saño alongside many allies doing the same. She told Truthout that she is waiting in agony to hear word of whether her family and friends back home on Sibuyan Island, close to the hard-hit Cebu, are unscathed.

Sanchez told Truthout in an email that previous negotiations had failed to address mitigation and adaptation strategies, and their failure to do so is to blame for the climate-induced disasters wrecking the global South. “Disasters are not purely ‘natural,’ humans are responsible for it. Lack of action has not only cost socioeconomic losses but hundreds of thousands of lives. I look forward to parties discussing and implementing steps related to loss and damages as well as through mitigation measures of developed countries,” she said.

“We demand ‘new’ funds for the Global Climate Fund. Furthermore, fossil fuel subsidies should be cut and added to the budget of the [Green Climate Fund] to expand and strengthen it. The [European Union] should at least pay 25 percent of the budget,” she said.

The Philippine delegation at previous climate summits had called for the swift action to deal with climate change given the fact that the country disproportionately suffers from its impact. During last year’s COP18, when Typhoon Bopha tore through the Philippines, albeit with less destruction, Philippine delegates raised the urgent need for a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol with higher pledges. The negotiators also plead for immediate as well as long-term climate finance and contributions to a fund that would support the country’s adaptation.

“Turning a blind eye and deaf ear is a manifestation of the lack of political will in the COP19 among some parties. In addition, [climate] science might have not been clearly translated into concrete policy proposals due to self-vested interests of some groups coupled with corporate lobbying,” Sanchez said.

Standing in solidarity with Sanchez, Saño and the thousands now dead and suffering across the Philippines are allies like French climate justice activist Clemence Hutin, who unveiled a banner in support of Saño during his plenary speech showing the numbers of causalities from Super Typhoon Haiyan as well as from a typhoon that hit the Philippines last year. Another banner asked climate negotiators how many more super typhoons it would take for action on climate change.

Hutin told Truthout that as Saño exited the plenary room, he greeted the activists’ with their banners just outside the large room and hugged one of them. But after the commissioner left, the three youth climate justice activists were kicked out by U.N. security.

“It is absolutely astounding to see what the definition of civil society is for the UNF triple C because it seems that there is so much space for corporations to express themselves. The plenary is stamped by ArcelorMittal, which is one of the dirtiest companies which is actively lobbying against effective action on climate change,” Hutin told Truthout. “And other side you have a handful of youth just standing outside of the plenary, speaking with Yeb Saño, who is an ally, and just expressing basic solidarity … and we get kicked out immediately.”

Climate negotiators are continuing to work on a plan for a climate deal that is expected to be reached at Paris in 2015 and would provide the framework for the financing expected to help poorer countries adapt to climate change. But countries like the Philippines may not have that long to wait, as Saño pleaded with commissioners Monday.

The U.N. climate talks have been characterized by political gridlock since they began in 1992, with the major divide being disputes between rich and poor countries over who should make extensive cuts in carbon emissions and who should pay for damages from extreme weather and adaptations that will allow vulnerable nations to withstand that extreme weather as it becomes more common in the coming years.

For a country like the Philippines, climate reparations may be a necessity as the nation has remained impoverished, ranking 165th in gross domestic product per capita, the main reason for its relatively weak infrastructure despite the frequency of storms, with the nation averaging about 20 tropical cyclones every year.

The country’s poverty remains a legacy left from a history from Spanish colonization through the Spanish-American War period to the Philippine-American War to Japanese occupation. In more recent history, the Filipino economy stagnated under the rule of dictator Ferdinand Marcos and has struggled to recover under the economic management of international banking institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

“Foreign occupation and intervention have stunted the genuine development of the Philippines which could have taken the form of national industrialization and sovereignty over its natural resources. Once a nation is limited and coerced to have full control of its affairs in favor of the outflow of resources and profit towards its colonizer, backward development is [in]evitable,” Sanchez told Truthout. “Neo-colonization is still evident in the form of conditionalities imposed to the Philippines through privatization, deregulation and liberalization even of its social welfare services,” she said.

But overall, Sanchez remains skeptical that the negotiations can produce an equitable framework, despite the appeals to developed countries’ conscience in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan.

“We have over and over appealed to the conscience and heart of the negotiators while having to endure the blows of climate change impacts without concrete support from those who block the process. However, through the continuous control and influence of corporate lobbyists inside COP19, I might have to wait in vain and rest my case,” she said.

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