As the Philippines reeled in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan on Monday, a climate negotiator from the island nation made an emotional statement at the UN climate talks in Warsaw that was met with a standing ovation.
"The devastation is staggering. I struggle to find words even for the images that we see in the news coverage, and I struggle to find words to describe how I feel about the losses. Up to this hour, I agonize waiting for word for the fate of my very own relatives," Saño said, voice breaking as he began to tear up.
"I speak for my delegation, but I speak for the countless people who will no longer be able to speak for themselves after perishing from the storm. I speak also for those who have been orphaned by the storm. I speak for the people now racing against time to save survivors and alleviate the suffering of the people affected. We can take drastic action now to ensure that we prevent a future where super typhoons become a way of life."
Saño also pledged that he would refrain from eating at the convention until "a meaningful outcome is in sight."
"We can fix this," Saño said in closing. "We can stop this madness." The room erupted into applause as he wiped his tears from his face.
Saño also made a heartfelt appeal to the climate convention at Doha last year, right after the Philippines had been hit by Typhoon Bopha. "It is not about what our political masters want, it is about what is demanded of us by 7 million people," he said at that time. "Please, no more delays, no more excuses."
Still, scientific research suggests that global warming is contributing to the increased intensity of storms and to sea level rise, which can worsen storms' impact.
A 2008 study found that in the northwestern Pacific where Haiyan formed, the top 1 percent of the strongest tropical cyclones over the past 30 years are getting on average about 1 mph stronger each year — a phenomenon some scientists suspect is a consequence of global warming.
"The strongest storms are getting stronger" said study co-author James Kossin of the National Climatic Data Center. Haiyan "is what potentially could be a good example of the kind of the things we're finding."
Similarly, the Philippines has seen its sea rise nearly half an inch in the past 20 years — about triple the global increase, according to R. Steven Nerem of the University of Colorado. Higher sea levels can add to storm surge, creating slightly greater flooding.
Saño acknowledged afterwards that an individual weather event cannot be directly attributed to climate change, but said that the storm should still be a call to action.
"Even if we cannot attribute Haiyan to climate change directly," he said, "my country refuses to accept a future where super typhoons could become a regular fixture."
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