Stop this madness

'In the middle of this football field, we must stop moving the goal posts. To anyone outside who continues to deny and ignore the reality that is climate change, I dare them to get off their ivory towers and away from the comfort of their armchairs,’ says Philippines negotiator Yeb Sano as the country braves the Super Typhoon Haiyan.

Delivered by: Naderev Yeb Saño
Commissioner, Climate Change Commission
Head of Delegation

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
19th Conference of the Parties
Warsaw, Poland
Opening Plenary

1. Mr. President, I have the honor to speak on behalf of the resilient people of the Republic of the Philippines.

2. At the onset, allow me to fully associate my delegation with the statement made by the distinguished Ambassador of the Republic of Fiji, on behalf of G77 and China.

3. We join others in congratulating you upon your election as the President of COP19.

4. Mr. President, the people of the Philippines, and our delegation here for the United Nations Climate Change Convention’s 19th Conference of the Parties here in Warsaw, from the bottom of our hearts, thank you for your expression of sympathy and solidarity to my country in the face of this national difficulty. The white flowers that you have bestowed upon my delegation that symbolize Poland’s sympathy with the Philippines is deeply and profoundly cherished. So, thank you, again and we are sincerely grateful for this most heartwarming gesture.

5. In the midst of this tragedy, one which you have correctly referred to as a painful awakening, the delegation of the Philippines finds comfort in the warm hospitality of Poland, for welcoming us to this very beautiful and charming city of Warsaw, with your people offering us warm smiles everywhere we go, from hotel staff to people on the streets, to the stewards and personnel around this amazing National Stadium. So, thank you again to the people and government of Poland.

6. The arrangements you, together with the Secretariat, have made for this COP is most excellent and we highly appreciate the tremendous effort you have put into the preparations for this important gathering.

7. We also thank all of you, friends and colleagues gathered in this hall and from all corners of the world as you stand beside us in this difficult time. We thank all countries and governments who have extended your solidarity and for offering assistance to the Philippines. We thank the youth present here and the billions of young people around the world who stand steadfast behind the Philippines and who are carefully watching us shape their future. I thank civil society, both those who are working on the ground as we race against time in the hardest hit areas of the typhoon, and those who are here in Warsaw prodding us to have a sense of urgency. We thank the media as well for helping all of us communicate the realities. We are deeply moved by this manifestation of human solidarity. And we likewise stand in solidarity with all countries confronting the adverse impacts of climate change. This outpouring of support proves to us that as a human race, we can unite and we can all rise above adversity; that as a species, we care.

8. Mr. President, It was barely 11 months ago in Doha when my delegation appealed to the world… to open our eyes to the stark reality 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 Super Typhoon Haiyan. It was so strong that if there was a Category 6, it would have fallen squarely in that box. Up to this hour, we remain uncertain as to the full extent of the devastation, as information trickles in in an agonizingly slow manner because electricity lines and communication lines have been cut off and may take a while before these are restored. The initial assessment show that Haiyan left a wake of massive devastation that is unprecedented, unthinkable and horrific. According to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center, Haiyan was estimated to have attained (one-minute) sustained winds of 315 km/h (195 mph) and gusts up to 378 km/h (235 mph) making it the strongest typhoon in modern recorded history.

9. Despite the massive efforts that my country had exerted in preparing for the onslaught 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.

10. The picture in the aftermath is ever so 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.

11. To anyone outside who continues to deny and ignore the reality that is climate change, 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 islands of the Caribbean and the islands of 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, to the large deltas of the Mekong, the Ganges, the Amazon, and the Nile where lives and livelihoods are drowned, to the hills of Central America that confronts 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 monster storms in the gulf of mexico and the eastern seaboard of North America, as well as the fires that razed down under. And if that is not enough, they may want to see what has happened to Philippines now.

12. Mr. President, The science has given us a picture that has become much more in focus. Dr. Pachauri has elaborated on it. Science tells us that simply, climate change will mean increased potential for more intense tropical storms. As the Earth warms up, that would include the oceans. The energy that is stored in the waters off the oceans will increase the intensity of typhoons and the trend we now see is that more destructive storms will be the new norm.

13. This will have profound implications on many of our communities, especially who struggle against the twin challenges of the development crisis and the climate change crisis. 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 may be said that it must be poetic justice that typhoon Haiyan was so big that it spanned the distance from Warsaw to Paris.

14. Mr. President, in Doha, we asked “If not us then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?” (borrowed from Philippine student leader Ditto Sarmiento during Martial Law). But here in Warsaw, we may very well ask these same forthright questions.

15. What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness.

16. Mr. President, we can stop this madness. Right here in Warsaw.

17. It is the 19th COP, Mr. President, but we might as well stop counting, because my country refuses to accept that a COP30 or a COP40 will be needed to solve climate change. And because it seems that despite the significant gains we have had since the UNFCCC was born, 20 years hence we continue to fall short in fulfilling the ultimate objective of the Convention.  Now, we find ourselves in a situation where we have to ask ourselves – can we ever attain the objective set out in Article 2 – which is to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system? By failing to meet the objective the Convention, we may have ratified the doom of vulnerable countries.

18. [And if we have failed to meet the objective of the Convention, we have to confront the issue of loss and damage. Loss and damage from climate change is a reality today across the world. Developed country emissions reductions targets are dangerously low and must be raised immediately, but even if they were in line with the demand of reducing 40-50% below 1990 levels, we would still have locked-in climate change and would still need to address the issue of loss and damage.]

19. We find ourselves at a critical juncture and the situation is such that even the most ambitious emissions reductions by developed countries, who should have been taking the lead in combatting climate change in the past 2 decades, will not be enough to avert the crisis. It is now too late, too late to talk about the world being able to rely on Annex I countries to solve the climate crisis. We have entered a new era that demands global solidarity in order to fight climate change and ensure that pursuit of sustainable human development remains at the fore of the global community’s efforts. This is why means of implementation for developing countries is ever more crucial.

20. 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.

21. Mr. President, I speak for my delegation. But also, I speak for the countless people who will no longer be able to speak for themselves after perishing from the storm. I also speak for those who have been orphaned by this tragedy. I also speak for the people now racing against time to save survivors and alleviate the suffering of the people affected.

22. We can take drastic action now to ensure that we prevent a future where super typhoons are a way of life. Because we refuse, as a nation, to accept a future where super typhoons 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.

23. Mr. President, Even in the context of the obvious imperative for adaptation, my country does not come with empty hands. The Philippines had enacted a Renewable Energy Law, which mandates the establishment of Feed-in-Tariffs for Renewable Energy, with the aspiration of doubling our Renewable Energy Capacity by 2020 and tripling it by the year 2030, pursuant to our National Renewable Energy Program. Now, as has become very clear, the Philippines grapples with serious challenges in the face of climate impacts, and it may be unreasonable to ask the ordinary Filipino to bear the burden of increased electricity rates because of feed-in-tariffs until renewables reach grid parity. I challenge developed countries to finance this incremental cost of the portion of the Philippine feed-in-tariff that would otherwise be paid for by the impoverished electricity consumer, only until renewables reach grid parity with fossil fuels. We call this the Socialized Feed-in-Tariff. By our estimate, it is in the neighborhood of US$ 500 million. We also estimate that renewables will reach grid parity by 2020.   If developed countries would finance this cost, we can triple our renewable energy capacity by 2030. If developed countries will come forward to provide the resources for this, we are ready to inscribe this as our Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action.  Because we believe in renewables. Because we believe in sustainable development, and because we believe that solving climate change is our moral duty. This moral duty is applicable to all parties.

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

25. These last two days, there are moments when I feel that I should rally behind the 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 our enormous responsibility. 

26. To the youth here who will constantly remind us that their future is in peril, to the climate heroes who risk their lives, reputation, and personal liberties to stop drilling in the polar regions and to those communities standing up to unsustainable and climate-disrupting conventional 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.

27. Mr. President, and I express this with all sincerity: 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, with all due respect Mr. President, and without meaning to disrespect 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 as this process cannot afford a fourth COP in a row with the GCF empty. 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 of the Convention.

28. Mr. President, This process under the UNFCCC has been called 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. WE can prove them wrong. The UNFCCC has also been called the “Project to save the planet.” It has been called “saving tomorrow today”.

29. We can fix this. We can stop this madness. Right now. Right here, in the middle of this football field and we must stop moving the goal posts.

30. Mr. President, Your Excellency, Honorable Minister, my delegation calls on you, most respectfully, to lead us. And let Poland be forever known 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. Can humanity rise to the occasion? I still believe we can.