While hunger gripped thousands in the storm-strewn ruins of his home city of Tacloban, Naderev "Yeb" Saño tweeted that he felt "stronger than ever" on the fourth day of his fast.
Here at international climate talks that were widely expected to result in little movement, if any, toward a binding treaty to curb greenhouse gas emissions, the lead negotiator for the Philippines is prodding his fellow delegates with a personal hunger strike, setting himself up as a living reminder that lives are at stake.
Super Typhoon Haiyan, perhaps the largest tropical cyclone ever to make landfall, struck his nation just three days before the start of the 19th annual round of negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). And while scientists are always reluctant to trace a direct link between any one storm and global warming, Saño did not hesitate to draw the connection in an impassioned speech on the opening day of the conclave.
"What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness," he said, choking back sobs. "We can stop this madness. Right here in Warsaw."
He said he would maintain a fast throughout the two-week conference "until a meaningful outcome is in sight," not only on emissions cuts but in long-promised funding to build protections and bolster resilience in poor nations like his own that are at greatest risk due to sea level rise and extreme weather.
With degrees in philosophy and community development with a focus on disaster management, Saño has a long history of climate activism. He headed up the World Wildlife Fund's energy and climate program in the Philippines before becoming a public servant; he was appointed as the nation's climate change commissioner in 2010 near the end of the term of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the former president. His speech urging action at last year's climate talks in Doha was one of the highlights of the meeting. His official biography says he was "born to a family of revolutionaries," and Saño has said he draws inspiration from his brother, street artist and conservationist Amado Guerrero "AG" Saño, known for his murals of larger-than-life images of dolphins, rainbows, and other nature-themed paintings.
Saño has been using Twitter to urge Filipinos to unite amid the tragedy, and to provide updates on his fast, mixing quotes from Mahatma Gandhi with assurances to his followers that he has been having medical checkups and is drinking natural (not commercial) liquid mixtures to restore electrolytes.
In an interview, Saño explained what he hopes to accomplish at the climate talks.
What made you decide to fast at the climate talks?
I thought of this over and over again, and I decided to do voluntary fasting in solidarity with the Filipino people, my brother (who was briefly out of communication, but survived the storm), and some of my relatives who are still unaccounted for. Millions of people are now suffering . . . hungry, [with] no clean water to drink and no more homes or properties to go back to. [Everywhere] is loss.
This is the only way I can think of so we could pressure countries to come up with an urgent solution and action on climate change. We should not take for granted this opportunity in Warsaw. The devastation in the Philippines should serve as a wake-up call on the reality of climate change. Many poorer countries will suffer in the future should we fail to act. Now is the time to act.
What are you calling for the conferees to do?
The appeal is simple. We have to stop this madness. We must take drastic action now to ensure that we prevent a future where super typhoons are a way of life... We refuse to accept that running away from storms, evacuating our families, suffering the devastation and misery, having to count our dead become a way of life.
I have no illusion that a tragedy like what the Philippines is going through could spur immediate action in this process. However, I am still hopeful that progress can be done here.
The 19th [session of the ] Conference of Parties at the climate talks must deliver on enhancing ambition and should muster the political will to address climate change. Developed countries must show that they are fulfilling their commitments to fulfill the objective of the climate convention in order to avert disasters in the future.
Explain your decision to declare so decisively the link between Super Typhoon Haiyan and climate change.
The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on climate change 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 up, 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. This will have profound implications on many of our communities, especially [those that] struggle against the twin challenges of the development crisis and the climate change crisis. Typhoons such as Haiyan and its impacts represent a sobering reminder to the international community that we cannot afford to procrastinate on climate action.
Climate change has resulted in a shift in the way the Philippine climate behaves. Official studies indicate that the typhoon belt has moved southward. The trend is that most typhoons are now crossing [the] central Philippines [southern Luzon-Bicol, the Visayan Islands, and northern Mindanao]. This means that northern Mindanao will have more typhoons than in the past. Climate change also has very wide-ranging unpredictable impacts, including anomalies in rainfall. Climate change is also manifested through increased warming of the sea surface and so it is also worthwhile to note that tropical storms would not usually brew if the sea surface temperatures (SSTs) are below 27 degrees Celsius (80.6° F). But if SSTs are above 27 degrees Celsius, you got a brewery of typhoons, and more intense ones at that. So with climate change, the new normal is one that means what used to be will no longer be.
Detail the key issues that need to be addressed in Warsaw.
Countries need to decide on the establishment of the "loss and damage" mechanism, in its full ideal, meaning a provision on compensation of climate change losses and damages.
We must agree to strengthen the climate regime, which means that all countries must take climate action according to [their] fair share and in accordance with common but differentiated responsibilities. [We must bear] in mind that the science as shown in the latest IPCC report demands developed countries . . . fulfill their targets, take deep emissions cuts, and be serious in providing finance and technology transfer to developing countries. [This is] so that the latter can contribute to the pursuing the emergency climate pathway that will allow us to pursue our right to development and at the same time saving the planet.
Imelda Visaya Abano is the president of the Philippine Network of Environmental Journalists. This is her sixth time covering climate change talks and she is in Warsaw under a UNFCCC media fellowship. Follow her on Twitter.