THE BLOG
11/26/2013 04:36 pm ET Updated Jan 26, 2014

Naradev Sano: "If Not Us, Then Who? If Not Now, Then When?"

Two weeks after one of the most powerful storms in history struck the Philippines, killing over 5,000 people, recent climate change talks in Warsaw have failed to produce a meaningful outcome.

World governments now have until the first quarter of 2015 to publish their carbon emission reduction plans. Such targets are an essential first step in order to avoid the worst effects of man made global warming.

According to the UN's latest blockbuster climate report, our planet may warm by up to two degrees Celsius within the next few decades.

Such a temperature rise will not only make super storms like Haiyan more intense, it will also lead to widespread crop failure and water shortages which will make the food riots of 2007 and 2008 seem quite tame by comparison.

But, in spite of the heartbreaking devastation wrought by typhoon Haiyan, and its uncanny timing just days ahead of the Warsaw climate talks, the UN sponsored gathering was marked by its usual bickering as developed and developing nations continued to disagree over who should make the largest emission cuts.

In the end, both camps agreed to make "contributions" instead of "commitments" to reduce their carbon output.

After making an impassioned plea at the start of the summit, the head of the Filipino delegation Naderev Sano fasted throughout the talks in solidarity with his countrymen back home in the Philippines. Meanwhile, his brother was helping to collect the dead in the wake of the carnage unleashed by Haiyan.

One of the most powerful storms ever recorded, Haiyan was 40 kilometers wide and ratcheted speeds of up to 322 km/h. It was the third super storm to strike the Philippines this year, coming after seven major typhoons in October alone. It came barely a year after super storm Bopha ripped through the archipelago and claimed over a 1,000 lives.

According to a recent report, the Pacific is now warming at its fastest pace in 10,000 years. And, the Philippines is especially vulnerable as it is the first country that storms meet on their usual course west from the mid Pacific Ocean.

As Sano said last year: "We cannot go on like this. It cannot be a way of life that we end up running always from storms."

This year, he called for a redefinition of the word "disaster."

"We must stop calling events like these natural disasters. It is not natural when science already tells us that global warming will induce more intense storms. It is not natural when the human species has already profoundly changed the climate."

What is perhaps most distressing for vulnerable countries like the Philippines and Bangladesh is the lack of urgency and political will demonstrated by rich nations to tackle the problem.

The small pledges made by wealthy states in 2009 to help them adapt are yet to appear. And, appalled by this lack of goodwill, most of the world's poor nations walked out of this year's talks together with WWF, Oxfam and Greenpeace.

But, as global temperatures continue to rise, the developed world will not be spared of the devastating effects of extreme weather. Haiyan came but a year after hurricane Sandy whiplashed across the U.S. northeastern seaboard to leave much of New York City submerged under water.

Caused by a warming of the world's oceans, such storms are a brutal reminder of what the future may look like if global warming continues to run riot.

"Typhoons, hurricanes and all tropical storms draw their vast energy from the warmth of the sea. We know that sea-surface temperatures are warming pretty much around the planet" says Will Steffen from the Australian National University.

According to a recent report, the climate crisis has been caused by a mere 90 companies which include household names such as Exxon, Chevron and BP. The study says that such firms have generated nearly two thirds of all carbon emissions since the beginning of the Industrial Age.

"There are thousands of oil, gas and coal producers in the world. But the decision makers, the CEOs, or the ministers of coal and oil, if you narrow it down to just one person, they could all fit on a Greyhound bus or two," says the report's author Richard Heede from the Climate Accountability Institute in Colorado.

The report says that half of all CO2 emissions have been produced over the last 25 years. And, if the remainder of the world's fossil fuel reserves are burned, the planet will face a head on collision with catastrophic climate change.

Given the current state of our climate, it's a cruel irony that the fossil fuel sector still receives over $500 billion in government subsidies every year.

"Those who are historically responsible for polluting our atmosphere have a clear obligation to be part of the solution," says Al Gore, former vice president.

Some experts hope that the report will help to break the deadlock of international climate talks.

"We do not normally talk about Mexico or Poland or Venezuela. So then it's not just a rich versus poor, it is also a producers versus consumers, and resource rich versus resource poor," says Naomi Oreskes, a professor at Harvard.

But, as John Ashton, the UK's former chief climate change negotiator points out: "The challenge we face is to move quickly from a carbon intensive energy system to a carbon neutral energy system. If we don't do that, we stand no chance of keeping climate change within the 2C threshold."

With a steep temperature rise sitting on our collective horizon, governments and companies the world over must take their own steps to rein in emissions now, for as Ban Ki Moon, the head of the United Nations points out: "It is much more than a wake up call -- it is an emergency alarm bell."

In the words of Naradev Sano: "We can fix this. We can solve this madness," for "time is running out." And, "I ask of all of us here, if not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?"