Why the Philippines Is Ground Zero for Super Storms …And Why Recovery Is So Difficult

Why the Philippines Is Ground Zero for Super Storms …And Why Recovery Is So Difficult

The destruction wrought by typhoon Haiyan — which has killed an estimated 2,500 people, according to Philippine President Aquino — cast a pall over opening day of the UN climate talks in Warsaw on Monday. During the opening ceremony, Philippines negotiator Naderev Saño made an emotional plea to his peers, asking them to finally establish an international mechanism for addressing losses and damages linked to climate change.

"To anyone who continues to deny the reality that is climate change…" Saño told the conference, "You may want to pay a visit to the Philippines right now."

Haiyan may prove to be the worst typhoon in history, but, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has noted, global warming is increasing both the frequency and ferocity of extreme weather events like it. The Philippines, situated along the Pacific Ring of Fire, already bears the highest risk of natural disasters in the world, after Vanatu and Tonga. And climate change is causing the Philippine sea to rise at an astounding rate of 10mm per year, well over the global average of 3mm per year. Four typhoons have made landfall in the Philippines this year alone, with Haiyan being the third Category 5 typhoon to strike since 2010. Last year, supertyphoon Bopha killed nearly 2,000 people, while in 2011 tropical storm Washi killed 1,000.

The increasing incidence of climate change-related disasters like Haiyan has developing countries calling for international measures to help mitigate the effects of extreme weather events, whether that takes the form of disaster insurance or technical assistance from their more developed counterparts.

While the environmental consequences of climate change affect all countries, poor nations– especially those already at high risk of natural disasters — tend to be disproportionately burdened because they lack the resources and institutional capacity to prepare for and respond to calamities. A study released Thursday by the United Nations University examined the effects of extreme weather events and climatic changes on nine developing countries, ultimately finding that they deepen poverty and erode houshold living and health standards. Researchers also argued that current efforts to mitigate climate change effects are insufficient, and should be augmented by international mechanisms that deal with climate change-related loss and damage.

The issue was contentious at the 2012 negotiations in Doha (during which Saño made a similarly impassioned speech), as developed nations worried that they might have to compensate poorer countries for the consequences of their own emissions.

The conference eventually agreed that the issue would be resolved at the 2013 talks in Poland. In his speech to the assembly, a tearful Saño underscored the need for a quick resolution — announcing that he would fast "until a meaningful outcome is in sight."

Saño’s hometown was hit by Haiyan. "Up to this hour, I agonize while waiting for word as to the fate of my very own relatives," he told the assembled, just days after the typhoon struck. "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, in all due respect Mr. President, and I mean no disrespect for your kind hospitality, I will now commence a voluntary fasting for the climate." His remarks were met with a standing ovation.

The conference will run through November 22.