Fasting for a climate deal after Typhoon Haiyan | Environment| All topics from climate change to conservation | DW | 13.11.2013
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Fasting for a climate deal after Typhoon Haiyan

Thousands dead, a country ravaged - Typhoon Haiyan has caused untold damage in the Philippines. Their chief delegate at the climate conference in Warsaw intends to fast until a workable deal has been reached.

Lunchtime in Warsaw. There is a smell of fried chicken and boiled vegetables. Climate conference delegates take their trays and sit down at the tables in the cafeteria of Warsaw's national stadium. At one table sits a man with no tray in front of him.

Yeb Sano is director of the Filipino delegation to the conference. In an emotional appeal before negotiators from more than 190 countries on Monday (11.11.2013), he declared that he would fast - in solidarity with his compatriots, his brother among them, who have had almost nothing to eat for days. He intends to maintain his fast until a "meaningful" agreement has been reached at the conference.

Today, the second day of his fast, he looks around the cafeteria and explains that his doctor had told him to avoid places that smell of food. "That isn't working so well," he says with a shrug.

'No illusions'

In his dark suit, white shirt and blue tie, Sano looks more like a sober politician than an idealistic environmentalist. He is under no illusions: he doesn't believe his fast, or indeed the catastrophe on the Philippines, will drastically alter the talks. "But we hope that humankind will take on the challenge and that we make progress here in Warsaw," he says.

Yeb Sano, head of Philippine delegation at Warsaw Climate Conference. Rights: DW/ A. Rönsberg.

Sano is under no illusions about his fast

For Sano, progress means the industrialized countries agree to put up money for what is known as "climate change adaptation." That includes financial support for developing countries to start building effective protection against disasters and develop plans on how they can change land use so that extreme weather patterns cause less damage. Progress also means that a mechanism is agreed in Warsaw on how the damage caused by climate change should be paid for.

Philippines badly affected

It remains unclear whether Typhoon Haiyan really was caused by climate change. "Scientists cannot say for certain whether individual weather phenomena happen as a result of climate change or not," says Sano. "But they can say that the warming of the oceans leads to more rainfall, which in turn causes heavier storms."

Christoph Bals agrees. Bals is political director for the organization Germanwatch, whose climate-risk-index analyzes year on year what extreme weather phenomena hit which countries, how many people are killed and how much financial damage is caused.

Even without counting Typhoon Haiyan, the Philippines is already at the top of the table of countries most affected - due mainly to Typhoon Bopha in 2012, which led to 1,400 deaths and $1.2 billion (900 million euros) worth of damage.

'Industrialized countries can protect themselves'

The Philippines is also in the top 10 of another one of Germanwatch's tables: that of the hardest-hit countries over the past 20 years. This is topped by Honduras, Myanmar and Haiti - the rest of the top 10 are all developing countries, too. "That is mainly because the industrialized nations can protect themselves better from such catastrophes," says Bals.

Survivors stand near bags containing bodies of typhoon victims in Tacloban city. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco (PHILIPPINES - Tags: DISASTER ENVIRONMENT TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

The Philippines is prone to extreme weather

It might seem ironic that the Philippines is actually among the developing countries comparatively well-equipped to deal with extreme weather. "The Philippines is always being asked by African countries for advice in preparing for extreme weather," he says.

Action plan is not enough

Sano explains that his country has indeed drawn up a climate change action plan, and some regions have certainly made progress in preparing for climate risks. But Haiyan, he adds, has shown one thing: all that has been done so far is not enough.

Sano believes his country could not have done more: "We have all the other problems of a developing country to overcome too," he says. "Poverty, education, health - we just don't have enough money to adequately protect ourselves from extreme weather."

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