I didn't realize standing in solidarity with the Philippines, in the wake of the catastrophic supertyphoon Haiyan, meant risking my badge to the UN climate talks.
Here in Warsaw, at the UN Climate talks, history is repeating itself in an unsettling way. Last year in Doha, as the conference was underway, a massive typhoon hit the Philippines, killing 1.200 people. The head of the Filipino delegation Yeb Sano then delivered a powerful speech : “Let 2012 be remembered as the year the world found the courage to take responsibility for the future we want. I ask of all of us here, if not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?” His call was not heard.
As the talks begin in Warsaw this year, one of the strongest typhoons the Philippines has ever experienced hit land. More than 10 000 people are reported to be dead, making this disaster the deadliest in the country in 35 years. Entire villages have completely disappeared. The damage is comparable to that of the tsunami of 2004. As I write this, the typhoon is now hitting Vietnam, and 600.000 people have already been displaced. Climate change is making these storms bigger and more intense. Taking action is a matter of life and death.
On Sunday, the Conference of Youth expressed solidarity with the Philippines. We stand with you was our messsage.
We wished to take this message to the UN Climate Talks. In the opening plenary this morning, Yeb Sano delivered a heartbreaking speech urging parties present to make progress on an ambitious deal. He spoke of his brother, who hasn't eaten in three days because he is retrieving bodies from the floodwaters, and announced he will be fasting for the remainder of the Conference until real action is visible. “We cannot sit and stay helpless staring at this international climate stalemate. It is now time to take action. We need an emergency climate pathway“. At the back of the plenary, we clapped to show our support, chanting “We stand with you!” The hall was visibly shaken. China requested a moment of silence to pay respects to the dead.
As Yeb was leaving the plenary, we deployed banners in solidarity. They simply represented the number of casualties, and read How Many More ? We held up the names of all the provinces hit by the typhoon. Yeb greeted us at the exit, hugging activists. As we followed him to a side event coordinated by the Third World Network, security officials closed in and isolated three of us from the group: myself, and Graham Hallett and Maria Escalante, both from Earth in Brackets. Supposedly causing “trouble”, we were then deprived of our badges and immediately escorted out of the building.
In the wake of this tragic disaster, it is surprising that the UNFCCC would attempt to silence voices of solidarity. What exactly is their message? Corporate logos are all over the place here in Warsaw. The plenary hall is stamped by Arcelor Mittal, one of the biggest, dirtiest companies in the world, actively lobbying against ambitions action on climate change. Corporations have all the space they could possibly dream of at these climate talks. And yet youth standing in solidarity with people impacted by extreme weather is crossing the line? We are not the voices of corporate interest. We are the voices of the people. We simply wished to underline the urgency of the climate crisis – and for that we have been silenced and excluded from what should be a democratic process.