Yolanda: the Messenger

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It seems these days that whenever Mother Nature wants to send an urgent message to humankind, it sends it via the Philippines.  This year the messenger was Yolanda, a.k.a. Haiyan.

For the second year in a row, the world’s strongest typhoon, Yolanda, barreled through the Philippines, following on the footsteps steps of Pablo, a.k.a Bopha, in 2012.  And for the third year in a row, a destructive storm deviated from the usual path taken by typhoons, striking communities that had not learned to live with these fearsome weather events because they were seldom hit by them in the past.  Sendong in December 2011 and Bopha last year sliced Mindanao horizontally, while Yolanda drove through the Visayas, also in a horizontal direction.

That it was climate change that was creating super typhoons that were taking weird directions was a message that Nature was sending not just to Filipinos but to the whole world, whose attention was transfixed on the televised digital images of a massive angry cyclone bearing down, then sweeping across the central Philippines on its way to the Asian mainland. The message that Nature was sending via Yolanda–which packed winds stronger than super storm Sandy, which hit New Jersey and New York last October, and Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005–was especially meant for the governments of the world that are assembling in Warsaw for the annual global climate change negotiations (COP 19) scheduled to begin Monday, November 11.  Is it coincidence, ask some people who are not exactly religious, that both Pablo and Yolanda arrived at around time of the global climate negotiations?  Pablo smashed into Mindanao during the last stages of the Conference of Parties 18  (COP 18) in Doha last year.

COP 19: Another Deadlock?

It is doubtful, however, that the governments assembling in Warsaw will rise to the occasion.  For a time earlier this year, it appeared that Hurricane Sandy would bring climate change to the forefront of US President Barrack Obama’s agenda.  It did not, and, while trumpeting that he was directing federal agencies to take steps to force power plants to cut carbon emissions and encourage movement towards clean energy sources, Obama will not send a delegation that will change the US policy of non-adherence to the Kyoto Protocol, which Washington signed but never ratified.    Though 70 per cent of Americans now believe in climate change, Obama does not have the courage to challenge the fanatical “climate skeptics” that fill the ranks of the Tea Party and the US business establishment on this front.

It is also unlikely that the China, now the world’s biggest carbon emitter, will agree to mandatory limits on its greenhouse gas emissions, armed with the rationale that it is those that have contributed most to the cumulative volume of greenhouse gases like the US that must be subjected to mandatory emissions cuts.  And as China goes, so will Brazil, India, and a host of the other more industrially advanced developing countries that are the most influential voices in the “Group of 77 and China” coalition.  What the governments of these countries seem to be saying is that the carbon-intensive industrial development plans they are pursuing are not up for negotiation.

Dangerous Gap

According to the Durban Platform agreed upon in 2011, governments are supposed to submit carbon emissions reduction plans by 2015, which will then be implemented beginning in 2020.  To climate scientists, this leaves a dangerous gap of seven years where no mandatory moves of emissions reduction can be expected from the US and many other carbon-intensive countries.  It is increasingly clear that every year now counts if the world is to avoid a rise in global mean temperature beyond 2 degrees Celsius, the accepted benchmark beyond which the global climate is expected to go really haywire.

Countries like the Philippines and many other island-states are in the frontlines of climate change.  Every year of massive and frequent disastrous climate events like Yolanda and Pablo reminds them of the injustice of the situation.  They are among those that have contributed least to climate change, yet they are its main victims.  Their interest lies not only in accessing funds for “adaptation.” (A Green Climate Fund that would funnel, beginning in 2020, $100 billion a year from rich countries to poor countries to help them adjust to climate change has been set up, but contributions so far have been small and slow in coming.)   With typhoons and hurricanes now being on the cutting edge of extreme weather events, these frontline countries must push all major greenhouse gas emitters to agree to subject themselves to radical emissions cuts immediately, and not wait till 2020 to undertake this.

Unorthodox Tactics

During the Doha negotiations last year, one of the leaders of the Philippine delegation cried when he pointed to the ravages inflicted on Mindanao by Pablo.  It was a moment of truth for the climate talks.  This year, our delegation must convert tears into anger and denounce the big climate polluters for their continued intransigence against taking the steps needed to save the world from the destruction that their carbon-intensive economies have unleashed on us all.  Perhaps, the best role our delegation can play is by adopting unorthodox tactics, like disrupting the negotiations procedurally to prevent the conference from falling into the familiar alignment of the rich North versus the Group of 77 and China, a configuration that guarantees a political deadlock even as the world hurtles towards the four degree plus world that the World Bank has warned will be a certainty without a massive global effort to prevent it.

Walden Bello represents Akbayan (Citizens’ Action Party) in the House of Representatives.

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Short URL: http://opinion.inquirer.net/?p=65115

  • pepito gwaps

    Its like Yolanda is saying I need to make a reset ..

  • cyberfarer

    Have your government issue indictments for crimes against humanity against those who fund and profit from promoting climate change denial within governments.

  • Edgar Lores

    As with so many matters under heaven, from the pork barrel scam to climate change, the greatest offenders are not the greatest sufferers.

    The evidence for climate change has been writ large for everyone to see, from super typhoons to wildfire conflagrations, yet there continue to be climate change agnostics and even atheists. These disbelievers argue that the medium is not the message because the medium (whether typhoons, wildfire or arctic melting) has always been with us. They deny that the frequency, the magnitude, and the intensity of these natural phenomena are anthropogenic.

    One can only shake one’s head, and paraphrase the anti-war song, “Where have all of mankind gone? When will they ever learn?”

  • FireEngine

    Climate change, pfffft!

    I will not join your CULT, Walden.

    • TrueTwit

      Shame on you for rejecting proven science and condemning your fellow citizens to more tragedy!

      The seas are warmer here year by year, this is a measured fact! Go and swim in them and find out for yourself. Does this seem like winter to you? The typhoons should be over by now.

      Typhoons are powered by warm seas and as the seas get warmer the typhoons become both more powerful and frequent. Global warming is impacting the whole world, but not always in the same way. New York was flooded a few months ago as was Europe. All these things did not used to happen.

      Climate change deniers are perhaps the most dangerous people on the planet, for their rejection of it leads to more deaths than any other non medical threat on earth. I’ll debate the point anywhere with you, put up or shut up.

      • FireEngine

        Such DRAMA! No one is condemning anyone here, thou dost leap to conclusions quite easily! There may be some global warming but there is no direct correlation to man’s activities. This year in fact, there were fewer storms than the previous year. How could this be explained scientifically? Temperatures have plateaued in recent years, some say because of decreased economic activity (sure), how can this be explained? Contrary to your claims, there ALWAYS have been storms along the eastern seaboard of the US and flooding in Europe.

        Look, just because you saw Al Gore’s pitiful hard sell, hidden agenda documentary doesn’t make you an expert on anything.

        And telling people who disagree with you to shut up? That’s very grown up. And, no thanks, no debate with you.

      • TrueTwit

        I’m sorry for any offense, but the statements you have made are untrue. I am a European and lived there for 45 years and in all that time there was nothing like the storms there have been lately and you tell me when New York subways were last flooded. As for less Typhoons, just where have you been living? But it is the increased intensity that is the major concern.

        Over 99% of scientists are convinced of global warming and if you measure the depth of Ice on the Arctic plateau it has thinned alarmingly. Global warming is a fact as is the increase in sea temperature here and the only disputable element is the proportion of responsibility from largely emerging market power hungry sources against cyclical natural causes.

        I’m not ideological and don’t care what Al Gore thinks and I didn’t say shut up, but put up or shut up. You have the right to state what you believe whether you care about the tragic deaths of your fellow citizens or not, but because of your, deny the facts, hidden agenda, what you publicly state, makes your views dangerous and as for drama, I rather think the people of Leyte are the ones that know about that,

      • FireEngine

        No offense taken. I understand that we are ALL affected by what we see our fellow men are enduring in Leyte and in other parts because of the storm. This saddens me as much as it does you. Look, we may disagree about what causes such storms and that is perfectly fine. I respect your point of view and I am cool with that. Again, as I said, nothing personal, but I will not debate. Peace.

  • Rovingmoron

    Is this a sign that Doomsday is near at hand? Was the disaster in Leyte comparable to the Great Flood in the Holy Bible? Hope not!

  • arao_liwanag


  • popoy and basha

    Another urgent message is for the Philippine government officials to STOP corrupting public funds and strengthen infrastructures, educate people, build experts and scientists, and pull the people out from poverty. We had let corruption and incompetence from our politicians last this long that our country cannot keep up anymore with fighting natural disasters. Corruption everywhere have crippled our nation, and I am saying this for all past and present administrations.

  • valsore

    That the typhoons were caused by man-made climate change is a hearsay. If you keep on writing like this, you will lose your credibility.

  • valsore

    May I hear more of the exploits of the Israeli medical team? Thanks.

  • Herwig Mayer

    I don’t know why writers abuse the tragedy of a great number of people for unfounded messages to the general public. Unfortunate fact is that more particles in the air will weaken typhoons. We need to improve the environment and stop the pollution but please get the cause effect relations in order and don’t use scientifically not proven phenomena out of the debate.
    The first question is why was the public misinformed or not sufficiently informed. The storm forces were not the killer but the storm surge, but the who knew what it was. The second question is why was there no preparation although it should be – and i am almost sure it is – known to the officials that flooding by storm surges and Tsunami waves could inundate wast areas of the land in Leyte and other areas of the Philippines and landslides can hit you from the other side. Maps are available. These show where it would be relatively safe to settle and what defense measures need to be put up to make life saver in others.
    Start acting now, stop writing about things not proven or quoted out of context.

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