Typhoon Haiyan: A boy who was wounded by flying debris stands amid the ruins of his family’s house in Tacloban, Philippines. Photograph: Erik De Castro/Reuters
The Philippines government has firmly connected the super typhoon Haiyan with climate change, and urged governments meeting in Poland on Monday to take emergency action to resolve the deadlocked climate talks.
“We cannot sit and stay helpless staring at this international climate stalemate. It is now time to take action. We need an emergency climate pathway,” said Yeb Sano, head of the government’s delegation to the UN climate talks, in an article for the Guardian, in which he challenged climate sceptics to “get off their ivory towers” to see the impacts of climate change firsthand.
Sano, whose family comes from the devastated town of Tacloban where the typhoon Haiyan made landfall on Friday, said that countries such as the Philippines did not have time to wait for an international climate deal, which countries have agreed to reach in Paris in 2015.
“What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness,” he told delagates from 190 countries, as UN climate negotiations get underway for a fortnight today in Warsaw. “The climate crisis is madness. We can stop this madness. Right here in Warsaw. Typhoons such as Haiyan and its impacts represent a sobering reminder to the international community that we cannot afford to procrastinate on climate action..
“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.”.
Sano dared anyone who doubted man-made climate change to visit his country: “To anyone who continues to deny the reality that is climate change, I dare them to go to the islands of the Pacific, the islands of the Caribbean and the islands of the Indian ocean and see the impacts of rising sea levels; to the mountainous regions of the Himalayas and the Andes to see communities confronting glacial floods, to the Arctic where communities grapple with the fast dwindling polar ice caps, to the large deltas of the Mekong, the Ganges, the Amazon, and the Nile where lives and livelihoods are drowned, to the hills of Central America that confronts similar monstrous hurricanes, to the vast savannas of Africa where climate change has likewise become a matter of life and death as food and water becomes scarce.
“Not to forget the massive hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico and the eastern seaboard of North America. And if that is not enough, they may want to pay a visit to the Philippines right now.”
He said that even the most ambitious carbon emissions reductions by developed countries would not be enough to avert catastrophe. “Developed country emissions reductions targets are dangerously low and must be raised immediately, but even if they were in line with the demand of reducing 40-50% below 1990 levels, we would still have locked-in climate change and would still need to address the issue of loss and damage.”
He was agonising over the fate of his relatives, and while his brother had survived, he had spent the last two days gathering the bodies of the dead “with his own two hands.”
The UN climate chief said on Monday that typhoon Haiyan served as a backdrop of “sobering reality” to the fortnight-long negotiations, which are being held in a football stadium in Warsaw.
“We must stay focused, exert maximum effort for the full time and produce a positive result, because what happens in this stadium is not a game,” Christiana Figueres, executive director of the UN framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC) told delegates. “There are not two sides, but the whole of humanity. There are no winners and losers, we all either win or lose in the future we make for ourselves.”
She said that officials in Warsaw must continue to lay the groundwork for a climate deal in Paris in 2015, and explain details of financing to help poorer countries adapt to climate change.
Figueres was followed by the head of the UN’s climate science panel who quoted Albert Einstein – “Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them” – in a presentation to the Warsaw meeting. He said that global warming was unequivocal and that human activities were “extremely likely” to be causing temperature rises.
Rajendra Pachauri, who is chairman of the intergovernmental panel on climate change, also reiterated other findings of the panel’s landmark report published in September, including warnings that continued climate change will lead to the rapid shrinking of Arctic sea ice and rising sea levels by the end of the century.
Separately, youth climate campaigners at the summit criticised Figueres for agreeing to give a speech at a coal conference that is taking place on the sidelines of the UN talks. Sierra Student Coalition delegate Ashok Chandwaney said: “The secretary’s decision to engage with the coal industry ignores the reality that by attending their summit as a keynote speaker, she is legitimising their presence and succumbing to their far-reaching influence on the UNFCCC process.”