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In solidarity with storm-ravaged country, Philippine envoy to fast throughout climate conference

Tears, silence for typhoon victims at UN conference in Poland

LONDON—Philippine climate change commissioner Naderev Saño began an almost two-week fast at the UN climate conference in Warsaw, Poland, where he made yet another tearful appeal for stronger action on climate change following Typhoon Haiyan’s devastation in the Philippines.

Saño announced that in solidarity with his countrymen scrounging around for food and his brother who has not eaten for days, he will fast during the 11-day conference until he sees concrete steps to address climate change.

“With all due respect, Mr President, I will now commence a voluntary fasting,” he said at the conference’s opening session on Monday.

In his speech, Saño turned emotional as he spoke about the storm’s aftermath in the Philippines, particularly in his hometown, Leyte.

He told the conference about his agonising wait for word about his relatives in Dulag town, and about his brother who had told him he has been gathering dead bodies.

“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 and damages we have suffered from this cataclysm,” he said.

Saño broke down and cried after delivering his message, wiping his tears with his handkerchief while delegates from all over the world rose in applause.

The delegate from China then asked for three minutes of silence for those who died in the storm.

(Video courtesy of IISD Reporting Services)

It was not the first time that Saño made an emotional appeal at the conference. During the talks in Doha last year, he also cried as he urged the world to act swiftly on climate change. The Philippines was then reeling from Typhoon Bopha (Pablo), a devastating storm that killed thousands.

Conference leaders expressed support for the Philippines in their opening speeches.

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, called Haiyan’s devastation a sobering reality.

“There is no doubt that climate change has created an unlevel playing field for future generations,” she said. “Now we know the next generations face a monumental uphill struggle.”

The conference’s president-elect, Marcin Korolec, called the storm’s aftermath “a great human tragedy” and an “unforgettable painful awakening”.

“It is another proof that we are losing this struggle between man and nature. This will continue in the future if we do not close ranks and act together and fight back,” he said.

In an interview two days before the speech, however, Saño said he wants to hear more than just expressions of sympathy.

In particular, he hopes to see specific commitments from developed countries to further reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and give financial help to countries that suffer the most from the effects of global warming.

“We can take drastic action now to ensure that we prevent a future where super typhoons are a way of life. We refuse, as a nation, to accept a future where super typhoons like Haiyan become a fact of life,” Saño said in his speech.

Saño said the recent disaster in the Philippines was madness, and that they in Warsaw have to prevent similar catastrophes from happening again.

“We can fix this. We can stop this madness. Right now,” he said. “I call on you to lead us, and let Poland be forever known as the place we truly cared to stop this madness. Can humanity rise to the occasion? I still believe we can.”

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About Ryan Chua

I live to tell stories.

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