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“Stop This Madness”: Filipino Climate Chief Yeb Saño Begins Hunger Fast to Protest Global Inaction

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On the opening day of the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Poland, the chief climate negotiator from the Philippines gave an emotional appeal to the world to address the climate crisis following Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest storms ever recorded. Estimates say the storm has killed at least 10,000 people. “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 … I will now commence a voluntary fasting for the climate,” said Yeb Saño. A year ago, Saño gave another speech to the U.N. climate summit in Doha following the devastating Typhoon Bopha that killed some 1,100. “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,” Saño said yesterday. “What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness. We can stop this madness. Right here in Warsaw.”

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StoryDec 07, 2012“If Not Now, Then When?”: Filipino Negotiator Pleads for Climate Deal After Typhoon Kills 500
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The United Nations launched an appeal for $300 million to help the people of the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest storms ever recorded in history. Filipino officials now fear over 10,000 people may have died in the city of Tacloban alone. The city of 220,000 was devastated when the sea level rose 13 feet. Surrvivors describe seeing a tsunami-like wall of seawater. Local residents say they’ve lost everything.

TACLOBAN RESIDENT: We’re still surviving, even though it’s pretty hard in here. Everything is gone—our houses, everything. There’s nothing to eat. There’s nothing to drink. No hot—yeah, everything. Yes, because there’s nothing here. We need to go somewhere where we can eat, where we can stay, where we can have some shelter, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Rotting bodies now lay uncollected along the roads in Tacloban. Alfred Romualdez is the city mayor.

MAYOR ALFRED ROMUALDEZ: [translated] We’re having difficulties finding the corpses, because you can’t easily see them since they’re all under debris. If there’s a bad smell emanating, that’s the only way we can find the corpses.

AMY GOODMAN: The United Nations Climate Change Conference began Monday in the Polish capital of Warsaw. For the second year in a row, the conference coincided with a massive typhoon hitting the Philippines. Last year, Yeb Saño, then a member of the Filipino delegation, made international headlines when he addressed the summit after Typhoon Bopha killed over 1,100 people.

NADEREVYEB” SAÑO: The outcome of our work is not about what our political masters want. It is about what is demanded of us by seven billion people. I appeal to all: Please, no more delays, no more excuses. Please, let Doha be remembered as the place where we found the political will to turn things around, and let 2012 be remembered as the year the world found the courage to do so, to find the courage to take responsibility for the future we want.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Yeb Saño speaking last year at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Doha. Well, on Monday in Warsaw, Saño gave another moving address during the opening of the climate talks. He’s now head of the Filipino climate change delegation.

NADEREVYEB” SAÑO: Mr. President, it was barely 11 months ago in Doha when my delegation made an appeal, an appeal to the world to open our eyes to the stark realities that we face, as then we confronted a catastrophic storm that resulted in the costliest disaster in Philippine 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 hellstorm called Supertyphoon Haiyan. It was so strong that if there was a Category 6, it would have fallen squarely in that box. And up to this hour, Mr. President, we remain uncertain as to the full extent of the damage and devastation, as information trickles in agonizingly slow manner because power lines and communication lines have been cut off and may take a while before they are restored.

The initial assessment showed that Haiyan left a wake of massive destruction that is unprecedented, unthinkable and horrific. According to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center, Haiyan was estimated to have attained sustained winds of 315 kilometers per hour—that’s equivalent to 195 miles per hour—and gusts up to 370 kilometers per hour, making it the strongest typhoon in modern recorded history. And despite the massive efforts that my country had exerted in preparing for the onset 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.

Mr. President, the picture in the aftermath is ever slowly coming into clearer focus. The devastation is colossal. And as if this is not enough, another storm is brewing again in the warm waters of the western Pacific. I shudder at the thought of another typhoon hitting the same places where people have not yet even managed to begin standing up.

To anyone outside who continues to deny and ignore the reality that is climate change, I dare them—I dare them to get off their ivory towers and away from the comfort of their armchairs. I dare them to go to the islands of the Pacific, the Caribbean, 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 sea ice sheets; the large deltas of the Mekong, the Ganges, the Amazon, the Nile, where lives and livelihoods are drowned; to the hills of Central America, that confront 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 monstrous storms in the Gulf of Mexico and the Eastern Seaboard of North America, as well as the fires that have raged Down Under. And if that is not enough, they may want to see what has happened to the Philippines now.

Mr. President, I need not elaborate on the science, as Dr. Pachauri has done that already for us. But it tells us simply that climate change will mean increased potential for more intense tropical storms. And this will have profound implications on many of our communities, especially those who struggle against the twin challenges of the development crisis and the climate crisis. And 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. We cannot sit and stay helpless staring at this international climate stalemate. It is now time to raise ambition and take action. We need an emergency climate pathway.

Mr. President, I speak for my delegation, but I—I speak—speak for the countless people who will no longer be able to speak for themselves after perishing from the storm. I speak also for those who have been orphaned by the storm. I speak for those of—the people now racing against time to save survivors and alleviate the suffering of the people affected. We can take drastic action now to ensure that we prevent a future where supertyphoons become a way of life, because we refuse, as a nation, to accept a future where supertyphoons like Haiyan become a way of life. We refuse to accept that running away from storms, evacuating our families, suffering the devastation and misery, counting our dead become a way of life. We simply refuse to.

Now, Mr. President, if you will allow me, I wish to speak on a more personal note. Supertyphoon Haiyan, perhaps unknown to many here, made landfall in my own family’s hometown. And the devastation is staggering. I struggle to find words even for the images that we see on the news coverage. And I struggle to find words to describe how I feel about the losses. Up to this hour, I agonize, waiting for word to the fate of my very own relatives. What gives me renewed strength and great relief is that my own brother has communicated to us, and he had survived the onslaught. In the last two days, he has been gathering bodies of the dead with his own two hands. He is very hungry and weary, as food supplies find it difficult to arrive in that hardest-hit area.

Mr. President, these last two days, there are moments when I feel that I should rally behind climate advocates who peacefully confront those historically responsible for the current state of our climate, these selfless people who fight coal, expose themselves to freezing temperatures or block oil pipelines. In fact, we are seeing increasing frustration, and thus more increased civil disobedience. The next two weeks, these people and many around the world who serve as our conscience will again remind us of this enormous responsibility. To the youth here who constantly remind us that their future is in peril, to the climate heroes who risk their life, reputation and personal liberties to stop drilling in polar regions and to those communities standing up to unsustainable and climate-disrupting sources of energy, we stand with them. We cannot solve problems at the same level of awareness that created them, as Dr. Pachauri alluded to Einstein earlier. We cannot solve climate change when we seek to spew more emissions.

Mr. President—and I express this with all sincerity, in solidarity with my countrymen who are struggling to find food back home and with my brother who has not had food for the last three days, with all due respect, Mr. President, and I mean no disrespect for your kind hospitality, I will now commence a voluntary fasting for the climate. This means I will voluntarily refrain from eating food during this COP, until a meaningful outcome is in sight; until concrete pledges have been made to ensure mobilization of resources for the Green Climate Fund—we cannot afford a fourth COP with an empty GCF; 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 we have so upheld.

Mr. President, this process under the UNFCCC has been called many, many names. It has been called a farce. It has been called an annual carbon-intensive gathering of useless frequent flyers. It has been called many names. And this hurts. But we can prove them wrong. The UNFCCC can also be called the project to save the planet. It has also been called “saving tomorrow today” a couple of years ago. And today, we say, “I care.”

We can fix this. We can stop this madness, right now, right here, in the middle of this football field, and stop moving the goalposts. Mr. President, Your Excellency, Honorable Minister, my delegation calls on you, most respectfully, to lead us and let Poland and Warsaw be remembered forever as the place where we truly cared to stop this madness. If this is our imperative here in Warsaw, you can rely on my delegation. Now can humanity rise to this occasion? Mr. President, I still believe we can. Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Filipino chief climate negotiator Yeb Saño, who ended his speech by weeping in his chair. He was speaking Monday at the opening of the U.N. climate change summit in Warsaw. Special thanks to the International Institute for Sustainable Development for the video. After Yeb Saño spoke, several other climate activists attending the talks announced they would join the Philippines chief climate negotiator Saño in a hunger fast. Meanwhile, three young climate activists were thrown out of the climate talks Monday, just after Saño’s talk, when they unfurled a banner expressing solidarity with the people of the Philippines.

Tune in next week when Democracy Now! broadcasts live from the COP19, the U.N. climate change summit in Warsaw, and go to our website at for all of our climate change coverage. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

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