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"Man Has Slapped Nature in the Face": Pope Francis Urges Climate Action in Philippines Visit

January 16, 2015
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Just weeks after Pope Francis announced he would urge 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide to take action on climate change, he is visiting the Philippines and meeting with survivors of several typhoons that devastated the country. The Philippines is Asia’s largest Catholic nation, and 80 percent of its 100 million residents are Catholic. On Saturday, the pope heads to Tacloban to have lunch with survivors of Typhoon Haiyan — known as "Typhoon Yolanda" in the Philippines. We go to Manila to speak with Naderev "Yeb" Saño, the country’s climate change commissioner. Until recently he was the country’s lead climate negotiator at the United Nations climate conferences, where he drew links between climate change and the deadly typhoons the country has faced. He is leading a group of eco-volunteer bikers for the papal convoy — they are monitoring the papal route’s cleanliness and ensuring the implementation of the church’s zero-waste policy.


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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Just weeks after Pope Francis announced he would urge 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide to take action on climate change, he is visiting the Philippines and meeting with survivors of several typhoons that devastated the country. The Philippines is Asia’s largest Catholic nation, with 80 percent of its 100 million residents following the Catholic faith. The pope celebrated mass today in Manila’s cathedral after being greeted Thursday by hundreds of thousands of cheering supporters who braved hours of sweltering heat to glimpse his motorcade. On Saturday, he heads to Tacloban to have lunch with survivors of Typhoon Haiyan, known as Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines. The pope commended the resilience of those who lived though the devastating storm.

POPE FRANCIS: This visit is meant to express my closeness to our brothers and sisters who endured suffering, loss and devastation caused by Typhoon Yolanda. With many people throughout the world, I have admired the heroic strength, faith and resilience demonstrated by so many Filipinos in the face of the natural disaster and so many others.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In 2013, the powerful typhoon left more than 7,300 dead and missing. It leveled entire villages in the central Philippines, including Leyte province, which the pope will visit Saturday to console survivors. Last month, Pope Francis announced his upcoming encyclical on the environment—the first-ever comprehensive Vatican teachings on climate change. Speaking to reporters on his flight from Sri Lanka to Manila, he said he believes human beings are primarily responsible for climate change.

POPE FRANCIS: [translated] I don’t know if climate change is all man’s fault, but the majority is. For the most part, it is man who continuously slaps down nature. We have, in a sense, lorded it over nature, over Sister Earth, over Mother Earth. I think man has gone too far. Thank God today there are voices that are speaking about this.

AMY GOODMAN: In a minute we’ll go to Manila, the capital of the Philippines, to speak with Naderev Saño, also known as Yeb Saño, the country’s climate change commissioner. Until recently, he was the country’s lead climate negotiator at the U.N. climate conferences, where he drew links between climate change and the deadly typhoons the Philippines has faced. This is a clip of his address in 2013 at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Warsaw, Poland, where he spoke about Typhoon Haiyan, which was happening at the time, one of the strongest storms ever recorded.

NADEREV "YEB" SAÑO: Typhoons such as Haiyan and its impacts represent a sobering reminder to the international community that we cannot afford to delay climate action. Warsaw must deliver on enhancing ambition and should muster the political will to address climate change and build that important bridge towards Peru and Paris. It might be said that it must be poetic justice that the Typhoon Haiyan was so big that its diameter spanned the distance between Warsaw and Paris.

Mr. President, in Doha we asked: "If not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?" But here in Warsaw, we may very well ask these same forthright questions. What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness. Mr. President, we can stop this madness right here in Warsaw.

AMY GOODMAN: Philippines climate change commissioner, Yeb Saño, speaking in 2013 at the U.N. climate summit in Warsaw. He joins us now from Manila in the Philippines, currently leading a group of eco-volunteer bikers for the papal convoy. They’re monitoring the papal route’s cleanliness and ensuring the implementation of the church’s zero-waste policy.

Yeb Saño, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you talk about the significance of the pope issuing soon the first encyclical ever on climate change and visiting the Philippines, the country hardest hit by global warming in the world?

NADEREV "YEB" SAÑO: Hello, Amy. Hello, Juan. Happy to be back on your program.

Yes, the encyclical from a pope is considered as a very important document, probably second in rank only to the Apostolic Constitution. And that means a lot in terms of settling any theological debate about this issue. The Vatican, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, has affirmed the reality of climate change and has declared that it is a big, serious threat to humanity and to the entire world, especially for the poorest people on Earth. So, our eager anticipation for Pope Francis’s encyclical on climate change is just—cannot be contained. We anticipate that with much gladness, because it has—it shows us that there is hope in confronting climate change. We have been negotiating this issue at the political level for more than 20 years, and we look to Pope Francis to untangle this stalemate, because this issue is beyond merely a political issue. It is a moral—a profound moral issue that affects the whole world. And if the pope, who has been very outspoken in the past few years regarding climate change and the environment, then this can be the game changer for the international process. This gives us a lot of hope, indeed.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Yeb Saño, the announcement of the pope that he would have this encyclical out before the meeting of world leaders in Paris on the environment later this year?

NADEREV "YEB" SAÑO: Sorry, I didn’t get that. Can you say that again, Juan?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I said the announcement by the pope that he would have his encyclical out before the gathering of world leaders in Paris later this year to deal with a climate—an accord on climate change, the significance of that?

NADEREV "YEB" SAÑO: Yes, that means the pope and the church recognizes the importance of 2015 as, again, an important milestone for the whole world. We cannot afford to ignore that deadline again. This is merely a deadline we postponed in 2009 in Copenhagen. And so, the world cannot afford another delay, because any delay in action, any delay in confronting the climate change crisis, is a form of injustice, especially to the world’s poor. And then Pope Francis is a pope for the poor, and climate change affects the poor the most. It’s a no-brainer. The pope will do everything in his power and within his influence to convince everyone that climate change must be tackled head-on.

AMY GOODMAN: Yeb, ahead of last year’s U.N. climate summit in Lima, Peru, Pope Francis wrote a letter to organizers noting that climate change will, quote, "affect all of humanity, especially the poorest and future generations. What’s more," he said, "it represents a serious ethical and moral responsibility." That brings us to your absence from Lima, Peru. You rocked the summits in Doha and then in Warsaw, saying famously, "If not now, when? If not us, who?" at the time, each year, your country, the Philippines, devastated by these typhoons. What happened in Lima, Peru? Was the speculation accurate that the Philippines removed you, not to be the chief negotiator, because you had become so vocal and had been addressing the most powerful countries, the countries that admitted more carbon than any in the world, more fossil fuel emissions, like the United States?

NADEREV "YEB" SAÑO: Yeah, that was the speculation at that time. Today, it remains unclear for me why that happened, why I was not in Lima. But perhaps it is right that I may be overly vocal about the issues of climate justice and how we must hold accountable those who are hugely responsible for this man-made problem.

AMY GOODMAN: Will you be in Paris for the summit there? Will you be representing your country?

NADEREV "YEB" SAÑO: That remains to be seen, Amy. But I remain as commissioner for climate change. And I think I will be in Paris, regardless of what capacity that would be, because I believe that Paris is such an important moment in our history, and we cannot let it pass without a successful outcome. And so, it behooves me, as a citizen of this world, as a Catholic at that, being exhorted by my own pope, to be there and fight for the future of humanity.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeb Saño, I’d like to ask you about the Vatican’s zero-waste policy and what you’ve done differently with this visit of the pope that perhaps has not been done in previous visits in other countries?

NADEREV "YEB" SAÑO: Basically, we were recruited by the church as a group of environmentalist bikers and coming from different organizations, including government, and we were just happy to humbly serve in that capacity. We’re just keeping the streets clean, telling people to keep this visit trash-free, because the pope is an advocate for the environment, and he has so many times reminded us about the care for creation and about the dangers of unbridled consumerism. And so, we are merely executing these exhortations coming from the pope. And it will be a shame if the visit of a pope considered to be a defender of Mother Earth would see—the whole world would see Manila and the places that he would visit be littered with trash. So, at the very least, we should prevent that and educate people about the pope’s advocacy on the environment.

AMY GOODMAN: As you speak to a global audience right now, Yeb Saño, what is your message, and particularly to people here in the United States?

NADEREV "YEB" SAÑO: My message would be that climate change is a moral issue. It is an issue which demands all of us not to use merely our minds, but to use our hearts, because climate change affects real lives, real livelihoods. It affects the poorest people on Earth. And therefore, it behooves us to confront it. It is a moral responsibility. And I agree with the pope that it is a moral responsibility. It’s not just about recognizing that it should be confronted, but that it is a moral responsibility to act on climate change.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I’d like to ask you also about Tacloban, where the pope is visiting. It was hardest hit by Typhoon Haiyan. How is the population there recovering?

NADEREV "YEB" SAÑO: It’s a mixed set of outcomes so far. We know that many organizations, including the government, has done a lot to help people get back on their feet and pick up the pieces, but it is easier said than done. It is a complex undertaking. And we know that disasters is not just a factor, it’s not just a function of hazards; it is a—it also involves a lot of underlying fundamental things that even the pope points to, which is the economic system that pervades the whole world, an economic system that increases disaster risk, increases climate risk and destroys the environment. And that is something that we are merely scratching the surface on. We have to confront all of those realities in order for us to truly be able to build back better and earnestly get people back on their feet.

We see a lot of good stories there in Tacloban, in Leyte and in other affected areas by the supertyphoon almost a couple of years ago, but a lot of things still need to be done in order to really build communities that are truly resilient and that can stand on their feet for many years to come. It is about confronting poverty and confronting unemployment and many other baseline development issues. So, we see a lot of encouraging signs, but we cannot stop the work that we have started to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Yeb Saño, the pope will celebrate a public mass in Manila that government officials say could draw—this is on the weekend—more than five million people. In 2013, during his first Christmas mass as pope, Francis called for peace and protection of the environment, and preached outreach to atheists, and called for protection of the environment from greed and rapacity.

POPE FRANCIS: [translated] Lord of heaven and earth, look upon our planet, frequently exploited by human greed and rapacity. Help and protect all the victims of natural disasters, especially the beloved people of the Philippines gravely affected by the recent typhoon.

AMY GOODMAN: Yeb Saño, as we wrap up, the pope makes connections between climate change and capitalism. If you could comment on that and then the specific issue of loss and damage? It has become a kind of buzzword at U.N. summits, but what it actually means on the ground. Begin with the issue of climate change and capitalism.

NADEREV "YEB" SAÑO: Yes, the pope has been proven to be a leader who defends the poor, defends the marginalized, and does not hesitate and finds a lot of courage to put his finger on the reality that we confront as a planet. And he does not hesitate to point to capitalism, unbridled consumerism and an economic system centered on the god of money—I’m using his exact words here—that relies on the plunder of nature to fulfill and satisfy the kind of consumption that is inherent in such an economic system. So, I am encouraged to hear the leader of 1.2 billion Catholics say that, because it is in fact the case. And unless we come to terms with such realization, we cannot confront and solve climate change.

As to the issue of loss and damage, this is, of course, related to the notion of historical responsibility and accountability. And we know that climate change, and I truly believe that climate change, is a result of a global economic order that has destroyed the planet, that drives the gap between the rich and the poor wider, and that destroys the social moral fabric, as well. And we—when we talk about losses and damages, this is not a natural occurrence; this is something that we must hold certain people, certain governments accountable for, and even corporations.

AMY GOODMAN: Yeb Saño, we want to thank you for being with us, Naderev "Yeb" Saño is the Philippines’ climate change commissioner, speaking to us from Manila, the capital of the Philippines, where on Sunday the pope is expected to hold a mass that perhaps five million people will attend, the Philippines the hardest hit country by global warming in the world.

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we’re going to Nigeria to talk about Boko Haram. But before that, more on the pope. Stay with us.


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