With his home city, Tacloban, in ruins, the commissioner for the Philippines climate change commission urged the U.N. in Warsaw to resolve the deadlocked climate talks.
"In solidarity with my countrymen who are struggling to find food back home and with my brother who has not had food for the last three days ... I will now commence a voluntary fasting," said Naderev (Yeb) Saño in his opening remarks Monday morning. His speech emphasized the disconnect between the international negotiations and the stark reality of climate change's impact, of which the Philippines is only the most recent victim:
To anyone who continues to deny the reality that is climate change, I dare them to get off their ivory towers and away from the comfort of their armchairs. I dare them to go to the islands of the Pacific, the islands of the Caribbean and the islands of the Indian ocean and see the impacts of rising sea levels; to the mountainous regions of the Himalayas and the Andes to see communities confronting glacial floods, to the Arctic where communities grapple with the fast dwindling polar ice caps, to the large deltas of the Mekong, the Ganges, the Amazon, and the Nile where lives and livelihoods are drowned, to the hills of Central America that confronts similar monstrous hurricanes, to the vast savannas of Africa where climate change has likewise become a matter of life and death as food and water becomes scarce.
Not to forget the massive hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico and the eastern seaboard of North America. And if that is not enough, they may want to pay a visit to the Philippines right now.
"What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness," Saño continued. "We can stop this madness. Right here in Warsaw."
It was a sobering way to kick off two weeks of talks that many already say aren't likely to go anywhere. While the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently acknowledged that it's "extremely likely that climate change is man-made and, according to a leaked draft of a forthcoming report, will assert that a warming planet will exacerbate nearly all of the world's current problems, including extreme weather, experts predict that there will only be moderate progress this year in reaching an international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
UPDATE 11/12/2013 11:17 EST: A video uploaded to YouTube captures Saño's struggle to get through his emotional speech. Tearing up, he was met by a standing ovation:
"It's always hard to attribute a single weather event to climate change," he said after the speech. "But...the science is also clear that climate change will mean more intense typhoons, potentially. Even if we cannot attribute Haiyan to climate change directly, my country refuses to accept a future where super typhoons could become a regular fixture."