Recent COPs have been partially remembered by the extreme weather events occurring just prior or during the conference. But who could imagine that the Philippines would be struck twice within the year? Last year, after Typhoon Bopha killed more than 1000 people, their lead negotiator Naderev Saño was remembered for asking “If not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?” This week, Typhoon Haiyan has likely killed over 10,000 people, measuring 8.1 on the 8.0 Dvorak scale, and the questions persist.
Granted the privilege of being the first country to be recognized for opening statements, Naderev Saño, of the Philippines, once again captured the hearts of the delegates in the first session. In a 15 minute statement, he thanked Poland for their hospitality and the white flowers they were bestowed to honor their loss. He was the first to thank the young people for their activism. He recognized the resiliency of the people of the Philippines. But he also acknowledged that Typhoon Haiyan must be a “painful awakening” to the reality of climate change. He challenged climate change deniers to “leave their ivory towers and armchairs” and to visit “the islands of the Caribbean and Indian Ocean … the Arctic … the Amazon and the hills of Central America. … And if that is not enough, then go to the Philippines now.”
Naderev Saño once again called for action: “We have entered a new era. We need emergency climate action now. I speak on behalf of those who have perished and those who are orphaned … we cannot allow super-typhoons to become a way of life. … It is now the 19th COP; we need to stop this madness.” He also said the time has arrived to consider loss and damage. The most powerful moment was, however, when he related his personal story. His family is from one of the hardest hit areas. He still doesn’t know the fate of his relatives. His brother is alive, and for the past three days has had no food, as he collects with his own hands the bodies of his neighbors. Naderev Saño ended by pledging to fast throughout COP 19 until he sees substantial progress made towards reaching a climate agreement. The immediate response from youth was the chanting of “We Stand With You … We Stand With You.”
China had the only possible response – a point of order asking for 3 minutes of silence. Agreed.