The plight of the Philippines took center stage as United Nations climate talks got under way today in Warsaw while the Asian nation counted the cost of one of the most powerful cyclones ever recorded.
Delegates from more than 190 nations at the meeting sat in silence for three minutes to commemorate the victims of Typhoon Haiyan. The Red Cross estimates as many as 10,000 people may be dead in the Philippines as the storm, the worst recorded in almost a century, heads to Vietnam and China.
The typhoon slammed into the city of Tacloban on Nov. 8 with winds of 196 miles (315 kilometers) an hour, and Yeb Sano, an envoy from the island nation, said he would fast until there’s a meaningful outcome. The diplomats are discussing how to limit fossil-fuel emissions that are blamed for damaging the climate, making storms more intense and boosting sea levels.
“We cannot sit and stay helpless staring at this international climate stalemate,” Sano told delegates today in Warsaw, according to a transcript by the Responding to Climate Change Website. “We refuse to accept that running away from storms, evacuating our families, suffering the devastation and misery, having to count our dead, become a way of life.”
The storm was cited as a reason to add urgency to the talks by United Nations Framework Convention on Climate change Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres in her opening comments. Delegates are trying to craft by 2015 a global deal to cut emissions. Scientists warn that rising temperatures threaten to make tropical cyclones such as Haiyan more intense.
Haiyan has “reminded everybody around the world of the urgency of coming to resolution as to how all countries are going to work together to address climate change,” Figueres told reporters at a briefing in Warsaw. “The human cost of climate change are very much within the walls” of the conference.
The opening talks coincided with Poland’s Independence Day holiday. Scuffles broke out after the 3 p.m. start of a march organized by the Radical Nationalist party. Seven police officers were injured and 30 people were detained, Dariusz Sokolowski, a spokesman for the Warsaw police department, said.
Topics for discussion this week include the flow of money from rich nations to poorer ones to help them adapt to the effects of climate change and reduce their own emissions, and the creation of a so-called “loss and damage” mechanism to help deal with the aftermath of the impacts of global warming.
“We were all moved by the statement from the man from the Philippines,” said Jose Antonio Marcondes de Carvalho, Brazil’s ambassador to the talks. “It comes as a strong and timely reminder for countries to act.”
It’s the second consecutive year that this conference has coincided with a devastating typhoon in the Philippines. Typhoon Bopha killed more than 1,000 people in December 2012.
The European Union ruled out increasing its pledge to cut carbon emissions at the conference in Warsaw. A U.S. envoy said his country is concentrating on meeting a commitment that’s already in place, which he described as “ambitious.”
“It seems to be a pattern of these conferences that people affected by heavy storms ask for more ambition, but the UN conference is not willing or able to act accordingly,” Martin Kaiser, international climate policy analyst at the environmental group Greenpeace, said today in an interview.
Sano, whose family is from Tacloban, said he had spoken to his brother, who had been gathering bodies with his own hands.
“He is hungry and weary as food supplies find it difficult to arrive in the hardest hit areas,” Sano said. He said he would begin a voluntary fast of his own, “in solidarity with my countrymen who are struggling to find food back home and with my brother who has not had food for the last three days.”