Globale Politik und Entwicklung

08.11.2017

“Everything was taken by that storm”

How does the debate on climate related "loss & damage" influence COP23?

Bild: Typhoon Hayan destroys Central Phillippines von Alanah Torralba

Bild: Devastation caused by typhoon Haiyan on Nov 8, 2013 von Alanah Torralba

BONN, Germany — Four years since typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful storms ever recorded, unleashed death and destruction on Eastern Visayas and the central Philippines—some 820 km away from the capital Manila, Joanna Sustento still vividly remembers the horrors that unfolded on November 8, 2013.   

Sustento says she woke up to howling winds that sent their home vibrating as an unimaginable amount of rain poured down. In a matter of minutes, dark water had filled their house. They clung desperately to metal window grills as they exited, fighting to keep from being carried away by the strong currents.   

One by one

Sustento’s sister-in-law Geo was the first casualty, who grew weak after a snake bit her. She eventually lost consciousness and floated away. Then it was her three-year old nephew Tarin, who had autism. Despite wearing a life jacket, he began drowning. Sustento cried to her father as they tried to fight the rushing waters. “I was always confident that my father would have the answers but that day he had none. I will never forget the defeated look on his face. I could not do anything.” Her father then slipped away and was gone, too.   

Sustento and her mother managed to hang onto the trusses of a building near their house. “The water was like a washing machine. It was turbulent,” she says. Exhausted and devastated, Sustento says she was ready to die right then and there. But her mother shouted at her and her mother’s voice pulled her out of the turbulence. Sustento forced herself to hang onto a door that was floating past. But then she saw that her mother was beginning to drown.She swam to save her mother. “I could still see there was still some life in her,” she says. But her mother was already too weak and the strong current forced them apart.   

On that day, Sustento lost her mother, father, eldest brother, sister-in-law and nephew. The body of her father was never found and she is uncertain if Tarin, who remains missing, is alive or dead.   

“Everything was taken away by that storm.”   

Deadliest storm on record

Officially, Haiyan killed more than 6,300 people, making it the deadliest storm to ever make landfall in the Philippines. More than 1,000 are still missing and four million were affected by the disaster. The supertyphoon, packing winds of up to 315 kilometers per hour, generated powerful storm surges that destroyed entire communities as it made landfall in the provinces of Leyte and Samar early in the morning of November 8, 2013. Aside from the deaths, it is estimated to have caused as much as US$2 billion in damages to property.   

Impassioned plea to the world

As the horrors of Typhoon Haiyan was slowly unfolding, Yeb Saño, then the Philippines’ lead negotiator at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change high-level talks in Warsaw, Poland, which took place as Haiyan struck, delivered an emotional appeal for the world to respond to the massive devastation in the Philippines.   

“What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness,” he said. Saño himself had relatives who were victims of Haiyan.  

As a result of the horrific images from Haiyan, the COP19 in Warsaw developed the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change. The mechanism is meant to promote approaches to minimize loss and damage — irreparable impacts of climate change such as loss of lives in extreme weather events and sinking of islands due to rising sea levels. However, it remains to be a controversial topic in climate negotiations as developed countries are averse to questions of accountability and liability.  

The Paris Agreement

In 2015, the UNFCCC forged the Paris Agreement, a landmark climate treaty that was signed by 195 countries. The climate accord pushes to keep global temperatures well below two degrees Celsius as well as mitigation of greenhouse gases, adaptation practices and climate financing. In addition to these, it also includes a provision for ‘loss and damage.’ The provision includes enhancing action and support, especially financing, to address loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change.  

However, specific rules on its implementation have stalled, as developed countries are wary of touching on the issue of liability. Acknowledging liability would mean that those who have historically contributed more to the causes of climate change must pay for the cost of loss and damage.  

‘An insurance system’

Manila Observatory chair and veteran climate negotiator Antonio La Viña says that the loss and damage mechanism is akin to an insurance system where countries make contributions to a global fund. It will be used in the event of an extreme weather event or slow onset events to compensate countries for damages.  

COP23: Battleground for loss and damage

With the implementation of the Paris Agreement set to start in 2023, Bonn, Germany will be the staging ground of the rulebook for the treaty, which must be finished by 2018. Developed countries are debating on the issue of accountability, and instead have focused discussions on adaptation and mitigation. Meanwhile, developing countries are united in pursuing the rules on loss and damage as they recognize that the irreversible impacts of climate change are already happening.   

Harjeet Singh, global lead of Action Aid, says that he remains optimistic that the provision of loss and damage will be pursued during COP23, despite the reluctance of developed countries to tackle accountability. “The bargain is to provide action and support, especially financing. If they (developed countries) don’t address that then the discussion will come up in a much bigger way,” he says.  

Climate justice

For many Yolanda victims, the inclusion of loss and damage in the agenda of the Paris Agreement presents an opportunity to deliver climate justice to the most vulnerable people to climate change.  

Sustento says that she remains traumatized by Yolanda. Many survivors, she says, feel that those who died in the storm were luckier because they no longer have to think about the future. Sometimes she wonders if life is still worth living after losing seven family members, including both her parents.   

In the years following her trauma, Sustento turned to activism. She is part of a movement that calls on rich countries to be accountable to their contributions in accelerating the effects of climate change and provide financing for concrete adaptation and mitigation measures.   

“Our lives are not less than yours.”

Text and Photos: Alanah Torralba

To strengthen climate journalism around the globe, the FES Media Fellowship COP23 this year cooperates with Climate Tracker and supports two young journalists, Alanah Torralba from the Philippines and Alo Lemou from Togo, who participate in this program. They receive a climate media training, report from COP23 and take part in FES events as well.

Schlagworte: cop23, english

Department/Section: IEZ, GPol


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