Let us stop this madness!

Yeb Sano
Yeb Sano speaks to the UNFCCC.
Speaking to the UNFCCC in Warsaw, shortly after Typhoon Taiyan devastated his country, Philippines climate negotiator Yeb Sano makes an impassioned case for decisive action on climate.
Haiyan was nothing we have ever experienced before, or perhaps nothing that any country has ever experienced before.

I thank the youth present here and the billions of young people around the world who stand steadfast behind my delegation and who are watching us shape their future. I thank civil society, both who are working on the ground as we race against time in the hardest hit areas, and those who are here in Warsaw prodding us to have a sense of urgency and ambition.

We are deeply moved by this manifestation of human solidarity. This outpouring of support proves to us that as a human race, we can unite; that as a species, we care.

It was barely 11 months ago in Dohawhen 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 after, we could not imagine that a disaster much bigger would come. With a cruel twist of fate, my country is being tested by this hellstorm called Super Typhoon Haiyan. It has been described by experts as the strongest typhoon that has ever made landfall in the course of recorded human history.

It was so strong that if there was a Category 6, it would have fallen squarely in that box. We remain uncertain as to the full extent of the devastation, as information trickles in in an agonisingly slow manner because electricity lines and communication lines have been cut off. The initial assessment show that Haiyan left a wake of massive devastation that is unprecedented, unthinkable and horrific.

This is affecting two-thirds of the Philippines, with about half a million people now rendered homeless and with scenes reminiscent of the aftermath of a tsunami, with a vast wasteland of mud, and debris, and dead bodies. Despite the massive efforts that my country had exerted in preparing for the onslaught of this monster of a storm, it was just too powerful and even as a nation familiar with storms, Haiyan was nothing we have ever experienced before, or perhaps nothing that any country has ever experienced before. The picture in the aftermath is ever slowly coming into focus. The devastation is colossal.

To anyone who continues to deny the reality that is climate change, I dare you to get off your ivory tower and away from the comfort of their armchair.

I dare you to go to the island 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 polar ice caps, 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. Not to forget the hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico. And if that is not enough, you may want to pay a visit to the Philippines right now.

Haiyan was nothing we have ever experienced before, or perhaps nothing that any country has ever experienced before.

The science has given us a picture that has become much more in focus. The IPCC report on climate change and extreme events underscored the risks associated with changes in the patterns as well as frequency of extreme weather events. Science tells us that simply, climate change will mean more intense tropical storms. As the Earth warms, 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.

Typhoons such as Yolanda (Haiyan) and its impacts represent a sobering reminder to the international community that we cannot afford to procrastinate on climate action. Warsaw must deliver on enhancing ambition and should muster the political will to address climate change.

What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness. We can stop this madness. Right here in Warsaw. It is the 19th COP [Convention of the Parties to the UNFCCC], 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 made since the UNFCC was born, 20 years hence we continue to fail 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? 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 combating climate change in the past two 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. This is why means of implementation for developing countries is ever more crucial. We cannot sit and stay helpless staring at this international climate stalemate. It is now time to take action. We need an emergency climate pathway.

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 and damages 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.

We call on this COP to pursue work until the most meaningful outcome is in sight. 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. But it has also been called the Project to save the Planet. It has been called 'saving tomorrow today'.

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, in all due respect Mr. President, and I mean no disrespect for 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

We call on this COP to pursue work until the most meaningful outcome is in sight. Until concrete pledges have been made to ensure mobilization 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 stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations. We must put the money where our mouths are.

Let Poland, let Warsaw, be remembered as the place where we truly cared to stop this madness. Right now. Right here, in the middle of this football field, I call on you to lead us. Can humanity rise to this occasion? Mr. President, I still believe we can."

Yeb Sano is head of the Philippines delegation to the 19th Convention of the Parties to the UNFCCC now under way in Warsaw, Poland.