Environmentalists use Philippines typhoon to urge Canada, international community to act on climate change

Andy Radia
·Politics Reporter

It didn't take long for environmental activists to make an example out of the Philippines "super typhoon" Haiyan.

The typhoon — which made landfall on Friday — is estimated to have caused over 10,000 casualties, displaced 660,000 residents and is considered to be one of the most devastating storms in recorded history.

The Canadian government has pledged $5 million in humanitarian aid and have also promised to match all other money donated by Canadians over the next month.

[ Related: How to help donate to Typhoon Haiyan relief efforts ]

But Canadian activists suggest the aid is a case of too little too late.

"Tragedies such as the devastation caused by typhoon Haiyan are framed as natural disasters, when in fact they are human-made climate disasters," Harsha Walia, and activist, writer, and researcher based in Vancouver told Yahoo Canada News.

"Island communities on the front lines of climate change, as well as scientists, have all been warning us for decades about the ecological crisis. Yet Western states and the fossil fuel industry are, at best, ignoring this crisis, and at worst, exacerbating this systemic environmental and social violence.

"And if countries like Canada really support the Philippines, then concrete action on climate change - like stopping the expansion of the Alberta tar and other 'extractive' industries within Canada as well as mining operations abroad - and addressing the global asymmetry of deliberate Third World impoverishment would be a more apt and effective first step."

Other political activists took to social media to chide the Harper government on their environmental record.

"The people least responsible for climate change are losing their lives because of it," Brigette DePape of Sh#$ Harper Did wrote on her Facebook page.

"Meanwhile, rich governments who are most responsible, like Canada, give a few dollars in hand-outs and then do nothing to stop the problem they're creating."

Her colleague Sean Devlin wrote a similar post also criticizing the media for ignoring the climate change issue.

"It is deeply frustrating to see coverage in the western media, like the CTV headline that says the Philippines is 'Doomed by geography'. I wish journalists who offered platitudes to celebrate the "courage" of the Filipino people had the courage to at least mention climate change in their coverage.

The failure to do so turns this unimaginable human tragedy into something that can only be responded to with acts of charity. As opposed to something that demands we act on our responsibility to each other and the Earth. Though we may not all be bound by blood, the changing climate binds each and everyone of us."

[ Related: Aid trickles in to typhoon-wrecked Philippine islands; with no body bags, corpses uncollected ]

Coincidentally, the United Nations' climate talks are currently taking place in Warsaw this week.

On Monday, Filipino negotiator Yeb Sano gave an impassioned speech to his assembly colleagues urging them to go beyond talk and take real action.

The picture in the aftermath is ever so slowly coming into clearer focus. The devastation is colossal. And as if this is not enough, another storm is brewing again in the warm waters of the western Pacific. I shudder at the thought of another typhoon hitting the same places where people have not yet even managed to begin standing up.

To anyone who continues to deny the reality that is climate change, I dare you to get off your ivory tower and away from the comfort of you armchair. I dare you to go to the islands of the Pacific, the islands of the Caribbean and the islands of the Indian ocean and see the impacts of rising sea levels; to the mountainous regions of the Himalayas and the Andes to see communities confronting glacial floods, to the Arctic where communities grapple with the fast dwindling polar ice caps, to the large deltas of the Mekong, the Ganges, the Amazon, and the Nile where lives and livelihoods are drowned, to the hills of Central America that confronts similar monstrous hurricanes, to the vast savannas of Africa where climate change has likewise become a matter of life and death as food and water becomes scarce. Not to forget the massive hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico and the eastern seaboard of North America. And if that is not enough, you may want to pay a visit to the Philippines right now.

The science has given us a picture that has become much more in focus. The IPCC report on climate change and extreme events underscored the risks associated with changes in the patterns as well as frequency of extreme weather events. Science tells us that simply, climate change will mean more intense tropical storms. As the Earth warms up, that would include the oceans. The energy that is stored in the waters off the Philippines will increase the intensity of typhoons and the trend we now see is that more destructive storms will be the new norm.

This will have profound implications on many of our communities, especially who struggle against the twin challenges of the development crisis and the climate change crisis. Typhoons such as Yolanda (Haiyan) and its impacts represent a sobering reminder to the international community that we cannot afford to procrastinate on climate action. Warsaw must deliver on enhancing ambition and should muster the political will to address climate change.

The full transcript of the speech can be seen here.

A video with excerpts of of Sano's address was also posted on YouTube.

As can be seen in the video, Sano received a standing ovation with many delegates in tears.

(Photo courtesy of Reuters)

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