Typhoon Haiyan and the Warsaw Climate Talks

16 December 2013


By: Sarah Schmitt, Administrative and Climate Change Intern

Every year since 1995, a Conference of the Parties session has taken place for international climate action leaders from over 190 countries to further deliberate the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), an international environmental treaty. The UNFCCC addresses climate change and the need to minimize greenhouse gas emissions. It is legally non-binding, but acts as a framework to develop binding international treaties, such as the Kyoto Protocol, that require greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

The nineteenth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP19) took place November 11th-22nd at the Warsaw Climate Change Conference in Warsaw, Poland. U.S. President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese President Xi Jinping are just a few of the world leaders that made appearances. Attendees of COP19 addressed a variety of UNFCCC topics including loss and damage and climate action finance, both of which are pertinent to extreme weather events. The necessity to make progress in discussing these topics was amplified by the simultaneous occurrence of Typhoon Haiyan.

Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines on November 8th, just three days before the beginning of COP19. At the time of the conference, the Philippine government had recorded over 5,500 deaths. The number of deaths now surpasses 6,000. To illustrate the devastation, Naderev “Yeb” Saño, the Philippine’s lead negotiator, gave a speech to the COP19 attendees. He described his personal experience with Typhoon Haiyan which struck his home city, Tacloban, the hardest. Speaking of the damage to his homeland, his search for his brother and the suffering of his fellow countrymen, he made an emotionally resonant account of the terror he endured. He declared that he would go on a hunger strike for twelve days- the duration of COP19- to demonstrate the suffering taking place in the Philippines. Yeb Saño’s hunger strike aimed to put pressure on the decision making process in hopes to facilitate a losses and damages agreement. UNFCCC COP sessions are notoriously slow to make progress.

Even with the influence of the devastation brought upon the Philippines by Typhoon Haiyan, COP19 was purportedly unambitious. 800 delegates from Non-Governmental Organizations walked out of the conference in protest of the low productivity, influence of dirty corporations and absence of new funding. By 2020, 100 billion dollars, known as the Adaptation Fund, will be required annually of developed nations to finance climate action, yet no specifics have been determined. Developing countries argue that the financial support be government-to-government rather than a market-based system of capital flow. The Adaptation Fund was established in 2001 but, 12 years later, the conference still has not resulted in any conclusions regarding specific sources, timelines or pathways for the Adaptation Fund due to disagreements between developing and developed nations. Finances will be beneficial to extreme weather prone countries like the Philippines.

Although no progress was made regarding the Adaptation Fund, the delegates began to deliberate a new treaty that will take into account the disproportionate impacts of climate change. A mechanism will be established to ensure that international populations most vulnerable to climate change will have better protection against loss and damage and slow-onset events. This is tentatively known as the “Warsaw international mechanism for loss and damage” and details will begin to be worked out this upcoming year.

Regardless of tensions between nations and slow progress, the UNFCCC conferences reinforce that climate change is a persistent global issue and the responsibility to find solutions is shared by all nations.  With funds from developed countries and emissions reductions promised by both developing and developed countries, perhaps the occurrence of intensified weather events will be reduced and vulnerable populations will be better prepared and adapted when they occur. A recent United Nations report showed that there is not enough mitigation taking place to prevent two degrees of warming. Unless warming is slowed, intensified weather events, like Typhoon Haiyan, will be a continuous threat.

Photo Credit: the Australian

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