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14 Nov 2013

Typhoon Hiayan: an Open Letter to Naderev Saño

Naderev Saño

Naderev Saño is head of the Philippines delegation to the UN climate talks, who gave an emotional speech at the COP 19 climate talks currently underway in Warsaw and is currently on hunger strike until the end of the talks.  

Dear Naderev, 

I’m writing this in deep admiration for your recent words and actions.  The gallery of images that capture the true nature of the hell we are unleashing through our global inability to do anything about climate change grows by the day.  Most recently it was the photos taken by the family in Australia caught in the middle of a huge forest fire who had to take refuge in a river.  On Saturday, as news of the impact of Typhoon Haiyan was unleashing on your home nation was starting to trickle in, it was a photo of Earth taken from space on the front page of one of the newspapers in my local corner shop that caught my attention:

Typhoon Haiyan from space

I stood looking at it in the shop for some time.  Here is the enormity, the power, the scale of what climate change looks like.  Of what we have unleashed.  Of what the future will look like.  Haiyan was the biggest and most powerful storm ever to hit land. Images from space can be somewhat abstract though.  There are people in the middle of that.  Millions of them.  Millions of them, in the path of 195 miles per hour winds.  People you know.  Me, I can’t even imagine what 195 mile an hour wind looks like.  I pray I will never have to, and my heart breaks for those that have no choice other than to seek whatever shelter they can find in that maelstrom, in the eye of such savage ferocity. 

Then as the news came in, the death toll rose over 2 days from 25 to 10,000, and may yet rise higher.  News images were unbelievable.  As one BBC reporter put it, the best way to imagine it is as though a nuclear bomb had exploded.  The scale of suffering is just dreadful. I pray that by now you have received news of your family, and that they are all safe.  

In your speech you firmly linked what your nation has gone through and climate change.  You said: 

“Science tells us that simply, climate change will mean more intense tropical storms. As the Earth warms up, that would include the oceans. The energy that is stored in the waters off the Philippines will increase the intensity of typhoons and the trend we now see is that more destructive storms will be the new norm.”

Many climate scientists are now making this link, arguing that a warmer world will be one of more intense storms, that Haiyan will not be the last such ‘Super Tornado’.  I admire your decision to go on hunger strike until the end of the COP 19 negotiations.  I honour your honesty, your willingness to open your heart and speak with passion and to share your tears with us.  Thank you.  You spoke of what you see as needing to happen now:

“We need an emergency climate pathway.  We call on Warsaw to pursue work until the most meaningful outcome is in sight. Until concrete pledges have been made to ensure mobilisation of resources for the Green Climate Fund. Until the promise of the establishment of a loss and damage mechanism has been fulfilled; until there is assurance on finance for adaptation; until concrete pathways for reaching the committed 100 billion dollars have been made; until we see real ambition on stabilising greenhouse gases. We must put the money where our mouths are”.

I share your intense frustration and growing despair at the global community’s inability to find a way to a solution to this crisis, to overcome the intense lobbying and influence of fossil fuel companies and others.  I very much hope that your action and, perhaps, the suffering of your people, will provide the impetus such a solution requires. We have waited for it long enough.  You also said: 

“…these last two days, there are moments when I feel that I should rally behind 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 this enormous responsibility. To the youth here who constantly remind us that their future is in peril, to the climate heroes who risk their life, reputation and personal liberties to stop drilling in polar regions and to those communities standing up to unsustainable and climate-disrupting sources of energy, we stand with them”.  

I want you to know that alongside the brave and selfless activists you speak of, those ingeniously and often at great personal risk taking a stand against the continuing and expanding exploitation of fossil fuels, are those who are applying similar passion, dedication and commitment to creating the kind of world we need to see.  They are putting a large “Yes” alongside the large “No”.  We need both.  

I want you to know that those of us involved in the Transition movement, thousands of communities in 44 countries (including recently emerging in the Phillipines), stand with you in solidarity today.  Transition is just one manifestation of this though, there are many, whether they identify as that or not.  You spoke of “those communities standing up to unsustainable and climate-disrupting sources of energy”, well we represent just one of the many networks of communities doing not just that, but working as communities to put in place sustainable and climate-protecting sources of energy as well as a wide range of other solutions.  

While there is much that we can do from outside the Phillipines to send help, as many are doing, and putting pressure on our governments to do more to help, we are also, for the longer term, working to reduce our carbon emissions, changing the story about the future we want to see, setting the example our governments fail to set.  

I want you to know that around the world, communities are creating community energy companies, we are draught-proofing houses, inviting our neighbours to come together and support each other in reducing their carbon emissions, to invest in community-owned renewables.  We are rethinking our local food systems, starting new farms, better working with existing ones, ensuring that local food goes further by utilising food that might other be wasted.  We are becoming developers in order to model what truly regenerative, people-driven, carbon-positive development looks like.  

We are showing that new local and regional currencies which support lower-carbon, more local trading habit work at scale.  We are showing the economic case for how more local and resilient economies can be more economically vibrant than the current approach.  We are showing that lower carbon economies can be more fun, more connected, more resourceful.  So much is happening on the ground it is hard to keep up with.  It’s the kind of stuff that doesn’t often capture the headlines in the way that more adversarial campaigns do but it matters just as much. 

I want you to know that we stand in solidarity with the people of the Phillipines and with their suffering.  I want you to know that although it appears as though our leaders seem to have stepped directly from arguing that climate change isn’t much of a problem to arguing that it is too late to do anything, we have not.  We have dedicated our lives to this.  We do so in the face of a media which feeds people mixed messages – at one moment climate change is a huge crisis, at the next it may not be, and we all need to consume more in the interests of the economy.  

We also know what we are doing isn’t enough.  We need to up our game.  We need to see our action as Transition initiatives wherever we are, as standing in solidarity with the people of the Phillipines, and all the other communities around the world for whom climate change isn’t an abstraction, but is in the reality of extreme weather, failing crops, homes sinking into the permafrost and so on.  It is often said that “another world is possible”.  While political processes such as COP may yet yield the changes we do desperately need, millions of people are not waiting, but are getting on with modelling this world in practice, and they doing more each day to stand in solidarity with you and your people.

Thank you for your clarity and your courage.

Rob Hopkins, Transition Network.