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On Day 9 of Fast, Filipino Climate Chief Yeb Saño Demands Rich Nations Pay Up for Global Pollution

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At the U.N. climate summit in Warsaw, Poland, the lead negotiator for the Philippines, Naderev “Yeb” Saño, joins us minutes after he and climate activists delivered a petition signed by some 590,000 people from around the world demanding urgent and bolder action to tackle climate change. Last week’s massive typhoon in the Philippines has cast a cloud over the summit. The official death toll from the typhoon has risen to more than 4,000, but the actual number is believed to be significantly higher. Saño has just entered the ninth day of a hunger fast to demand an ambitious climate deal. “I will continue to fast until we see a meaningful outcome here in Warsaw,” Saño says. “We mean specific reference to certain items on the agenda here including, which is something very obvious for the Philippines, an international mechanism for losses and damages as a result of climate change.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: We are broadcasting from Warsaw, Poland, at the U.N. climate summit, known as COP 19. Officially, it’s the 19th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC. The high-level segment of the talks is beginning today with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon set to address the summit.

The talks are occurring as global carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels have reached a record high. According to the Global Carbon Project, the amount of greenhouse gas emissions rose 2.2 percent last year. Since 1990, when the Kyoto Protocol was signed, carbon dioxide emissions have soared 61 percent.

Last week’s massive typhoon in the Philippines has cast a cloud over the summit. The official death toll from the typhoon has risen to over 4,000, but the actual number is believed to be significantly higher, with many villages and towns not even able to be reached at this point.

Our first guest today is the chief Filipino climate negotiator, Yeb Saño. He has just entered the ninth day of a fast to demand an ambitious climate deal. Much of the world was first introduced to Yeb Saño last year. While he was attending the climate talks in Doha, another massive storm, Typhoon Bopha, struck the Philippines. It ended up killing over 1,100 people. He gave an emotional speech to the delegates last year in Doha.

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’s Yeb Saño speaking last year in Doha. Well, when the U.N. climate summit began this year, last Monday, Yeb Saño found himself in a similar position, but this time an even larger typhoon was devastating his home country while he was here attending yet another climate change conference, now as chief climate negotiator for the Philippines. This is part of what Yeb Saño said last week here in Warsaw.

NADEREVYEB” SAÑO: 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.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Yeb Saño, the chief Filipino climate negotiator, speaking last Monday here in Warsaw. Just before this broadcast today, Yeb Saño joined climate activists in delivering a petition signed by over 590,000 people from around the world demanding world leaders take urgent and bolder action to tackle climate change.

NADEREVYEB” SAÑO: We stand here knowing that hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, around the world are standing with us in this difficult time for our country, but also in this difficult time for the planet, for the climate. We are deeply moved and deeply touched with this expression of solidarity from hundreds of thousands of people, and we are here to deliver their voices into this process, into this National Stadium here in Warsaw. And we hope that it can create the kind of impact that people around the world, billions and billions, are desiring. And this is a call to, once and for all, take ambitious steps to address climate change, which is now affecting lives, livelihoods. We are very glad and heartened to see this kind of solidarity being expressed by civil society, especially by many young people here. And I cannot thank them enough for what they have done in supporting the call for action here in the climate negotiations. We stand with them, as well, as they stand with us. Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Yeb Saño, now joining us on Democracy Now!, the Philippines climate change commissioner who is the head of the Philippines climate delegation here in Warsaw, Poland.

It’s good to have you with us. You are in the ninth day of—well, until I saw your news conference a few minutes ago, I would have said your “hunger fast,” but you’re choosing not to call it that.

NADEREVYEB” SAÑO: Yes. Hello, Amy, and I am glad to be here on Democracy Now! Yes, I have never used the word “hunger” in all of this, since we commenced this voluntary fast. First and foremost, it is of course in solidarity with the Filipinos right now who are struggling to find food in the wake of Supertyphoon Haiyan, and also meant as a means to rally support for climate action here in Warsaw.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what you’re hoping to accomplish with this fast.

NADEREVYEB” SAÑO: Fasting has always been, for me, a personal spiritual journey. And this is a purely voluntary act. I never imagined that it could gather so much support and solidarity around the world, as it has now. But what I intend to achieve—really, I don’t really like to predicate the outcome of this meeting with a purely personal act of conscience, but if it creates a political impact here—and we have stated in the opening of this meeting that we will continue to fast until we see a meaningful outcome here in Warsaw. And we made specific reference to certain items on the agenda here, including, which is something that’s very obvious for the Philippines, an international mechanism for losses and damages as a result of climate change.

AMY GOODMAN: In our third segment, we’re going to be speaking with the Indian reporter who got a hold of the confidential documents that came out of Secretary of State John Kerry’s office, talking to the climate team from the United States, warning the climate team that loss and damage, this idea, this U.N. term, could lead to “blame and liability.” Can you talk about what “loss and damage” means, what you are demanding here?

NADEREVYEB” SAÑO: Yes. Climate change, as we know, is wreaking havoc in many parts of the world, and we see this manifest in many kinds of impacts. Now, we talk about adaptation, which is the means for people, countries and communities to be able to cope or adjust to a changing climate. When people in natural ecosystems no longer are able to adapt adequately, then you incur losses and damages, as what we see when sea levels rise, when storms become more intense, when you have—when you have massive droughts. These are the things that happen, and we can no longer cope. And that’s why we need to establish this mechanism with this, what we can call a third wave of climate change, because we now see losses.

Now, this mechanism, as we discuss it here in the climate negotiations, aims to provide developing countries that are already incurring losses and damages a means to assess these losses. We need a new knowledge to tell us how these losses can be calculated, how they are associated with climate change. We have no mechanism in place for us to assess that. And this is what we’re asking for here. And I would say—and what I would tell our developed country partners is, why not?

AMY GOODMAN: What is at stake for the developed countries? What would loss and damage mean? And why do you relate the typhoons, that have hit the Philippines with increasing severity, to the policies of the developed world?

NADEREVYEB” SAÑO: It’s not as black and white as we can see, but developed countries probably fear a discussion on liabilities. But that is always a difficult discussion because we probably virtually have no way of assigning liability from specific losses to certain countries. That is always difficult. Even in the context of providing financial support, that has always been a difficult thing to address here, because there is no way of knowing how the burden will be shared among countries that have spewed greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. So that is probably the fear of developed countries when it comes to a discussion of compensation.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re usually based in New York. We’re here in Warsaw at the U.N. climate summit for the week. But the U.S. is historically the largest emitter of greenhouse gases. What do you think the responsibility of the U.S. is?

NADEREVYEB” SAÑO: The U.S., accounting for at least one-fourth of cumulative emissions, has a huge responsibility, a moral responsibility, to tackle climate change, not just to address it domestically, but also to be able to provide support for developing countries, for us to adapt, and also for us to, in earnest, contribute towards addressing this problem with our own mitigation actions.

AMY GOODMAN: I’d like to ask you about your own family, Yeb. This is not theoretical for you. You’re in Warsaw, in Poland, while your country is being devastated by this typhoon. First, do you have the overall figures at this point for the number of people who are dead, that we know of at this point? And then talk about your own family.

NADEREVYEB” SAÑO: OK. The only way that I receive information on the situation on the ground is through our National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. That’s the official government body working on our disasters. And right now what we have received is around 4,000 people confirmed dead. And we base body count based on recovered bodies, so that means it can rise significantly as more people are accounted for.

As for my own family, we have received good news that my brother—as we have related earlier, my brother had survived the ordeal, but he spent four days gathering bodies of the dead, together with other people who decided that—other survivors who decided that it was something they had to do to avoid an epidemic. Now he has been reunited with my parents and other family members and relatives who are based in the hardest-hit areas. We are making plans to temporarily house them in Manila.

AMY GOODMAN: Say that again.

NADEREVYEB” SAÑO: We have many relatives in Tacloban City that have been affected, also in neighboring towns. And family members who have been accounted for are—we are planning to ship them to Manila so that they can have temporary residence.

AMY GOODMAN: So you saw that your brother was alive by looking at the media?

NADEREVYEB” SAÑO: It was such a great relief for us, because he was seen in a video footage from a news coverage on the day immediately in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, so that provided us with great relief, because many people had to agonize for many days not knowing what happened to their loved ones. But as of now, we’re still waiting for word for many of my father’s relatives.

AMY GOODMAN: Your brother is named AG?


AMY GOODMAN: And he was helping the firemen and the relief workers to bury bodies or to take the bodies, put them in body bags?

NADEREVYEB” SAÑO: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you spoken to him since?

NADEREVYEB” SAÑO: Yes, I spoke with him the moment he landed in Manila. And—

AMY GOODMAN: How is he psychologically?

NADEREVYEB” SAÑO: He seems—he seems—he sounds healthy. He sounds strong. And—but he has mentioned that he is experiencing a lot of flashbacks. He just can’t remove the faces of the dead in his mind. And according to a friend who is an expert on psychosocial trauma, these are clear manifestations of trauma.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Naderev “Yeb” Saño, Philippines chief climate change negotiator here in Warsaw, Poland. When we come back, want to talk about the speech he gave on the floor of the plenary and the young people who gathered with him afterwards to escort him out of the session, why they’ve been banned from the conference by Christiana Figueres, the head of the U.N. climate summit. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: You’ve been listening to the song “Masdan Mo Ang Kapaligiran” by Asin, means “Observe the Environment.” This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting from Warsaw, Poland, the only global radio-TV news hour to be here devoting our entire week to the climate change summit. Our guest is Naderev “Yeb” Saño, the chief Filipino climate change negotiator here at this summit. That song that we just played, what’s the significance of it, Yeb?

NADEREVYEB” SAÑO: This is a very moving song. It’s something that has been played for ages, even before I was born. It tells us about the story of the environment, and it compels us to look at what has happened to Mother Nature, and speaks about the folly of man in how we have destroyed our environment.

AMY GOODMAN: Just a moment ago, while I was reading the headlines of global news, right behind us here in the National Stadium, which was built for football or soccer just two years ago, a group of scores of young people were chanting, among other things, ”WTF,” which means, to the surprise of many, “Where’s the finance?” What does that mean exactly? That’s a bit of U.N. lingo.

NADEREVYEB” SAÑO: Yes. Ministers are actually meeting here in Warsaw. And for the first time in 19 years, we had mandated—”mandated” meaning officially countries decided that ministers would sit down to discuss climate finance. So this is a mandated part of the agenda here in Warsaw. And as such, this COP has always been heralded as a COP that would tackle finance. Unfortunately, more than halfway through this conference, what we see is actually moving away from enhanced targets on finance.

And when we say “finance”—I like to be able to explain this to people who are not familiar with this process. We have already reached a point where the climate system cannot be solved by developed countries alone, by rich countries alone, and we need developing countries to pitch in. But for that to happen, especially in the context of countries like the Philippines, we need support, that comes in the form of finance as well as technology, for instance, to pursue renewable energy and energy efficiency in our own economies. But the finance is not forthcoming. And finance is a commitment enshrined in the climate change convention. That is a commitment, but that has not been forthcoming for the past 20 years.

AMY GOODMAN: In the United States, people might be saying, you know, “That’s fine for you to get renewable energy, but why do you expect us in the United States to pay for it? We have our own problems. We have our own crashing economy.”

NADEREVYEB” SAÑO: Yes, that is the argument that we have always heard. But the 192 parties that are parties to the climate convention have signed this convention with clear-cut commitments, and a part of the commitment is in the context of climate justice, in the context of historical responsibility. And I think historical responsibility can never be erased by the status of economies today. That will continue to be at the core of what we discuss here in this conference.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean by “climate justice”?

NADEREVYEB” SAÑO: Climate justice is a matter of being accountable for your actions. And climate change is a problem that has been created mostly, immensely, but countries that are now industrialized, those who we now call rich countries. And countries like ours that are struggling to develop must be given that ample space to pursue our development in a way that our food security is not compromised and that we are able to fulfill and pursue human, sustained development. And for that to happen, we need to allocate the global commons so that we are able to pursue that.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to chief Filipino climate negotiator Yeb Saño, who, by the way, is in the ninth day of a hunger fast, though he doesn’t use the word “hunger,” in solidarity with the Filipinos right now who are suffering real hunger in the Philippines as a result of Typhoon Haiyan. Can you explain something: In the Philippines you call the typhoon Yolanda?

NADEREVYEB” SAÑO: Yes, we have a local list of naming just to keep tabs, because the Philippines happens to have the most number of storms in the whole world, so we have to keep tabs on it. And it’s in an alphabetical list without the letter X. So Yolanda, which starts with the letter Y, is the 25th storm for this year.

AMY GOODMAN: Why not the letter X?

NADEREVYEB” SAÑO: I still don’t know the reason for that, but X doesn’t happen—doesn’t happen to be in the original Filipino alphabet.

AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, we interviewed Gerry Arances of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice. He praised the efforts of the Philippine government here at the U.N. climate summit, certainly praised you, Yeb Saño, but criticized the Philippine government’s response to the typhoon.

GERRY ARANCES: More than 90 percent of the Filipinos are disgusted of the current government. Criticisms from the media, criticisms from personalities from the entertainment industry, from all walks of life, are there. But at the same time, all these people are actively doing the real work, going to the far-flung areas to—for people and communities who have been affected to reach and to—for relief to be able to reach them. And groups like my organization have been running relief operations, because it’s sorely lacking. That is why we are also criticizing the government. While the current government is so progressive inside the UNFCCC, inside the COP, and we are one with them, we think that what the government is doing inside my country is really—it’s not at par with what is needed.

AMY GOODMAN: That is Gerry Arances, who is the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice representative. He spoke before thousands of people on Saturday at the climate justice rally here outside the National Stadium. Do you share that criticism of your own government? Of course, you represent the government.

NADEREVYEB” SAÑO: I respect everything that has been said out there in the media and, as well, publicly by many people. And it’s a crazy period for my country. I would think that this is not the time to point fingers. I do not necessarily share the same sentiment. I am not in a position, really, to judge how the operations are going. I am not on the ground. I am not there. And the best—my best vantage point is through—through the news. And I think that would be—it would be unfair for me to pass judgment on the way my country has responded to this disaster.

However, I think there is really a lot of things that need to be done. There needs to be a paradigm shift in the way we look at disasters. It has always been seen as a function of hazards. If there is a strong wind, strong storm coming in, then there’s always an anticipation of a disaster. But that doesn’t have to be. A country like ours that’s very familiar with disasters, we’re always living in between two disasters. The farther—the farther we are far from the last one, the nearer we are to the next one. But we can break that vicious cycle by—first, by acknowledging the disasters is an equation of risk. And risk means moving people away from harm and developing land-use plans and policies, as well as development planning that incorporates climate risk. And this is something that we’re already starting to do. But as many observers have put it, a storm as strong, as tough, as intense as Haiyan, probably most governments would not have had the wherewithal to have put in place the necessary preparations. We have seen what happened to Katrina, to Sandy, and this is a very rich nation, the United States, and they had to confront similar challenges.

AMY GOODMAN: There is talk everywhere of holding the world to a limit of global warming of two degrees Celsius, about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. What does a two-degree Celsius increase look like for the Philippines?

NADEREVYEB” SAÑO: A two-degree Celsius, for the Philippines, at least indicatively, means a three-degree Celsius warming by the end of this century, that that also it means a lot of changes in precipitation patterns. And we will see more rain when we don’t need it and less rain when we need it for our crops. This is based on analysis that we have done for the Philippines. We also anticipate a lot more intense tropical cyclones, in terms of future projections.

AMY GOODMAN: The United States pushes that direction, but there are many others who push 1.5 degrees, saying even that is catastrophic. What is the view of the Philippines, in your view, Commissioner Saño?

NADEREVYEB” SAÑO: We strongly support a call for limiting warming to as low as possible. And if it has to be at 1.5 degrees, then we are fully supportive of that, and we have been supportive of that in the past. However, Amy, I fear that 1.5 degrees is no longer a realistic target, nor is two degrees. Now, a lot of experts are saying that we’re in for a four-degrees warmer world, and that is unimaginable.

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