11/26/2014 05:03 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Before COP20: Climate Walkers Arrive At Ground Zero

Alan Burns is a climate activist from North Carolina. He just came back from a month in the Philippines, where he joined the "Climate Walk" as the only non-Filipino and with his 68 years also as the oldest climate walker. During his unique experience I was following the events closely and interviewed Alan shortly after he arrived back home:

Alan, why did you choose to join the Climate walk?

"Having communicated with the Philippine Climate commissioner, Naderev Yeb Sano, since January in connection with climate fasts we were both heading up, the opportunity to join the Climate Walk was clearly an opportunity for me to report back to Climate Action Network, the global organization behind Fast for the Climate, as well as keeping people in the USA in touch with progress of the walk via blogging and social media. Being there to witness and take part in the walk, speak with walkers and others, would give first-hand accounts and an understanding of the situation in a country vulnerable to extreme climate events, more so than following on the internet. Through my own non-profit, Carolina Climate Action, I felt it important to actually take part."

What did you experience in the Philippines?

"As the only non-Filipino walking the entire route from Manila to Tacloban, I hoped to bring a different perspective and experience of the walk as someone visiting the tropics (and indeed Asia) for the first time. The walkers all had their own reasons for joining the walk - mostly personal reasons, some were survivors, others had lost friends during typhoon Haiyan. The Filipinos are a very strong, resilient people. All along the route there was evidence that they were accustomed to severe weather events; villages always had emergency agencies ready to respond. The police, army and fire departments were trained for emergencies and rapid response; I was surprised that all these agencies, as well as local government units, were keen to join the walkers on days we passed through their towns and all wanting to carry the lead banner. During heavy rains, many simply carried on without special rainwear. Most walked in sandals or often bare feet for long stretches.

Each barangay (village) had people out welcoming the walk. Schoolchildren lined the route at their schools with hand-held messages of support. At lunch stops we were provided with meals and drinks, sometimes church halls to rest for the hot midday stopovers, and every evening there was floor space provided at schools, municipal building and churches for overnight sleeping - sometimes with mattresses, which I was particularly grateful for. All I spoke with said climate events were getting worse, and all expected another storm as severe as Haiyan in the future."

So, what would be your message to the negotiators at COP20?

"On our arrival in Tacloban, at the ending ceremony for the walkers, the mayor of Tacloban, Alfred Romualdez, said that Filipinos must reconsider their lifestyle. This really jarred with me because the carbon footprint per capita for the Philippines is one fiftieth that of the USA, Canada and Australia. My message to negotiators in Lima would be that the first world, responsible for the present high greenhouse gas emissions creating the climate crisis, are the ones that should reconsider their lifestyles which make the most vulnerable nations, such as the Philippines, the ones subject to gross climate injustice. It's time to make serious decisions and stop simply talking. As Yeb says, 'Stop this madness'. "
Alan in the midst of the Filipino climate walkers/ All photos by Climate Walk