Typhoon Bopha sends reverberations through to Doha

As governments from across the world stall progress in the climate change negotiations in Doha, especially with relation to the Kyoto Protocol, Typhoon Bopha, the 16th natural disaster to hit the Philippines this year, ravages through the country.

It is a massive coincidence which bears huge significance and is sending huge shock-waves over to the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in Doha, Qatar. It follows on from Hurricane Sandy, which occurred simultaneously as the US presidential elections. Nature is fighting back – it isn’t happy.

The Commissioner of the Filipino Climate Change Commission, Naderev (Yeb) Sano, made one of the most inspirational speeches I’ve had the pleasure of hearing on Thursday. Addressing the closing session of the negotiations on the Kyoto Protocol at the COP, Mr Sano lamented the devastation of natural disasters in his country (which had the most weather related disasters in 2011) and the lack of action and urgency in dealing with climate change by developed, wealthy countries.

He broke down towards the end of his speech, a sign of his utter despair that his fellow countrymen – and even family – are facing massive losses, but also a reflection of his frustration that governments are not doing enough to address a problem which is contributing to the devastation of his people.

He appealed to the negotiators at Doha, not as a representative of the Filipino Government or as just another negotiator, but simply as a Filipino, to raise the ambition of their commitments to reduce emissions and mitigate climate change immediately and efficiently.

I hate seeing the death toll of these sorts of catastrophes rising (it is now reaching 500 in the Philippines, while the number of displaced people has risen to 200,000), but the symbolism of the horrendous weather calamity gives a frightening context to the outcomes of the climate change talks here at Doha.

The number of natural disasters around the world is rising. This has even been known for a while now (see this old report from the World Bank). The number is growing concurrent with the rise of the average global temperature.

And according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a body independent from the United Nations, climate change is linked to rises in both the number and severity of weather-related disasters.

But the frightening thing is how prevalent these disasters are in the poorest of regions.The problem is obviously compounded by the inability of developing countries in these regions, like the Philippines, to respond to these dramas, as Mr Sano mentioned in his speech.

So, while climate change is primarily the result of the historical emissions of developed countries, developing countries are the ones who are facing the worst impacts from it and are unable to deal with them effectively. This, along with the fact that developing countries are having to divert attention away from sustainable development towards emissions reductions and climate change mitigation (which means turning away from cheap fossil fuel energy sources), signifies that developed countries should be held accountable for their huge contribution to the devastation of developed countries and their need to react to it.

Developed countries NEED to commit to ambitious climate change mitigation as soon as possible, as they are primarily to blame for causing it. But they need to do more than this as well. After creating the problem, and propagating it even once they started to discover that it actually existed, they have made it reach the point that their own mitigation efforts won’t be enough.

Mitigation is now needed from developing countries as well, as even if all developed countries committed to maximum reductions, it still wouldn’t be enough. Subsequently, while developing countries need to use up their resources and finances to recover from the natural disasters caused by climate change, something which wasn’t their fault to begin with, they also have to work at mitigating it.

Developed countries therefore have a moral, humanitarian and political imperative and responsibility not only to drastically cut back on emissions, but also to compensate developing nations as they are directly liable for their loss of lives and need to divert attention away from sustainable development towards a low emissions pathway.

Typhoon Bopha only goes to reinforce these responsibilities. It was looking as if these negotiations in Doha would go by unnoticed, with developed countries not held accountable for not being urgent enough and not showing enough ambition and political will to combat climate change.

It is thus sending reverberations straight for Qatar; the youth constituency here at the COP, along with all of the NGOs and non-Party stakeholders, are standing in solidarity with the Philippines and other developing nations.

The typhoon is triggering united action and a sense of energy throughout the COP in condemnation of the developed Party-states and their failure to act to live up to their responsibilities, their lack of ambition and political will, and their lack of urgency in climate negotiations.

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