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Philippines’ Former Climate Negotiator Yeb Saño’s 900-Mile Pilgrimage to Paris Summit Ends with Fast

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Yeb Saño, the former lead climate negotiator for the Philippines, has just walked more than 900 miles from Rome to Paris as part of a People’s Pilgrimage for climate action. He was the top Philippines climate negotiator in 2013 when Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest cyclones in recorded history, devastated the Philippines, killing thousands of people. The devastation coincided with the 2013 United Nations climate change summit in Warsaw, Poland, where Saño made headlines with an emotional plea for action on climate change. The following year, as yet another deadly storm battered the Philippines, Saño was unexpectedly absent from the U.N. climate summit in Lima, Peru. He had been pulled from the delegation at the last minute, leading to speculation he had been targeted for his outspokenness amid pressure from wealthier countries like the United States. This year, Saño is back at the United Nations climate summit—not as a negotiator, but as an activist fasting for the climate along with thousands of other people around the world.

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

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to another former climate negotiator who’s taken his fight for climate justice to the streets. Yeb Saño, the former lead climate negotiator for the Philippines, has just walked more than 900 miles from Rome to Paris as part of a People’s Pilgrimage for climate action. Saño was the top Philippines climate negotiator in 2013 when Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest cyclones in recorded history, devastated the Philippines, killing thousands of people. The devastation coincided with the 2013 United Nations climate summit in Warsaw, Poland, where Yeb Saño made headlines with an emotional plea for action on climate change.

NADEREVYEB” 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: That’s Yeb Saño speaking as the lead climate negotiator for the Philippines in 2013 at the U.N. climate summit in Warsaw. The following year, as yet another deadly storm battered the Philippines, Yeb Saño was unexpectedly absent from the U.N. climate summit in Lima, Peru, shocking many. He had been pulled from the delegation at the last minute, leading to speculation he had been targeted for his outspokenness amidst pressure from wealthier countries, like the United States. At the time, he tweeted out, “They can silence my mouth. But they cannot silence my soul.”

Well, this year, in 2015, Yeb Saño is back at the U.N. climate summit, but not as the chief negotiator or any of the negotiators for the Philippines, but as an activist. Today, he’s fasting for the climate along with thousands of others around the world. Just before our broadcast, Yeb and about 20 other people gathered around a table set with empty plates to symbolize their fast for climate justice. Yeb Saño has just finished his nearly 60-day pilgrimage across Europe, walking with his brother, A.G. Saño, who survived the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan in the hard-hit city of Tacloban.

We’ll hear from A.G. later in the show, but right now, Yeb Saño, it’s great to have you with us and to see you again, in a slightly different capacity, wearing very different clothes from the suits I’m used to seeing you in to a T-shirt. What does your T-shirt say?

NADEREVYEB” SAÑO: Well, my T-shirt right now says, “I fast for the climate,” as we, in fact, fast today. It’s the first of the month and the culmination of 365 days since the fasters started fasting in Lima one year ago.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk about this change? Talk about what happened in Lima, why we didn’t see you there.

NADEREVYEB” SAÑO: Well, quite frankly, until today, until this very day, I have not received any information. Nobody has talked to me about why I was taken out of the delegation in Lima. And so, that is something I remain speculative of until today.

AMY GOODMAN: But you were planning to go to the airport and get on a plane to Lima?

NADEREVYEB” SAÑO: That’s right. I had a plane ticket. And I needed a piece of paper signed. Being a government employee, I needed a paper signed for me to get on the plane before I leave.

AMY GOODMAN: So you just went on a 60-day pilgrimage from Italy to Paris, from shaking hands with the pope. Can you talk about the significance of what the pope has said about climate change, how it has inspired you, and why you’re doing this work on the streets now?

NADEREVYEB” SAÑO: The pope has been very outspoken on the climate issue, and I think he’s been more courageous than many of us. And he has, in a very straightforward way, pinpointed the problem of climate change and linked it to social justice and economic injustice. So, that is truly inspiring for us. And we wanted to carry his message, literally, from Rome to Paris, and that’s why we embarked on this special journey of over 900 miles for 60 days walking through Italy, Switzerland and France until we reached here in Paris.

AMY GOODMAN: And what is the message you’re bringing?

NADEREVYEB” SAÑO: The message, primarily, is that the message is the messenger. And we wanted to tell the whole world that by walking, we become instruments of climate justice, as well as we connect with people and communities along the way. As we have also gained inspiration from Pope Francis, he has also been a classic case of the messenger being the message. And so, that is also important in this journey. But what we want to tell the world leaders here in Paris, that, please, don’t disappoint the world. The whole world is watching. And this is the last chance we are giving them. If Paris fails, I think people should take it as a signal that the world leaders will continue to fail.

AMY GOODMAN: What would success look like, Yeb Saño, you, who have been on the inside, been at the core of the negotiations, now on the outside?

NADEREVYEB” SAÑO: Well, we’re speaking about the most serious threat that humanity has ever faced. And we deserve no less than an agreement that would avert the climate crisis. There is some parameters around that, that talks about temperature thresholds like 2 degrees or even 1.5 degrees or the carbon budget, if we talk about figures and numbers. But what all of that translates into is a massive transformation of the global economy. We cannot continue to rely on the global—current global economic order, if we are to make the world safer against climate change.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, when you spoke in Warsaw so powerfully, at the time, did you know if your brother was dead or alive, as Haiyan hit the Philippines?

NADEREVYEB” SAÑO: When I was delivering that speech, I already had word from my family that A.G. had sent out a Facebook message that he was alive already, at that time, and that was comforting for me. That gave me a lot of strength.

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Filipino Climate Artist on COP21: If World Leaders Really Cared, Agreement Would Not Take 20 Years

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