In the wake of the widespread destruction Typhoon Haiyan caused last weekend, residents of the Philippines have been left reeling. The death toll is at 2,500 and climbing, downed power lines and debris-covered roads continue to hinder rescue efforts, and millions are in need of emergency food aid.
Feeling his country’s loss, Naderev “Yeb” Saño, the climate change commissioner of the Philippines, broke down in his speech at the U.N.’s Warsaw Climate Change Conference on Monday.
“I speak for the countless people who will no longer be able to speak for themselves,” Saño said, his voice wrought with emotion. “We can take drastic actions now to prevent a future where super typhoons become a way of life.”
The commissioner’s speech was more than a plea—it was a criticism of the convention, which Saño said had so far been ineffective. “We cannot solve climate change when we seek to spew more emissions.... By failing to meet the objectives of the convention, we have ratified to meet our own doom.”
Saño then vowed to refrain from eating “until a meaningful outcome is in sight, until concrete pledges have been made to ensure mobilization of resources for the Green Climate Fund.” Created by the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, the fund was designed to help developing countries reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the effects of global warming, but wealthier nations have been criticized for not contributing enough.
Scientists cannot conclusively link a singular weather event to climate change, but because typhoons and hurricanes convert warm ocean water into wind energy, rising temperatures should mean stronger and more-frequent such storms in the future. Rising sea levels, moreover, may make low-lying areas around the world more vulnerable to storm surges.
Melanie Fitzpatrick, a climate scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, says that for these reasons the disaster in the Philippines should be a “wake-up call to the international community.”
Human factors not related to global warming were also responsible for the level of destruction Haiyan caused. In the Philippines, extreme poverty and expanding populations in coastal towns are said to be significant issues that contributed to the country’s devastation.
The Associated Press reports, for instance, that in Tacloban, a city of 220,000 that has been almost completely wiped out by the storm, the population nearly tripled in the last 40 years.
Rickety construction and weak building materials put such areas at far greater risk for damage.
Nonetheless, mega-storms such as Haiyan and October 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, which caused significant property damage and loss of life up and down the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S., are a harbinger of what’s to come as temperatures increase and the international community fails to meaningfully address greenhouse gas emissions.
Since his emotional speech, which earned a standing ovation from the convention’s delegates, Saño has started his own Twitter hashtag, #FastfortheClimate.
“The science is clear that climate change will mean more intense typhoons potentially,” he says in the video. “Even if we cannot link Haiyan to climate change directly, my country refuses to accept a future where super typhoons are a regular fixture.”