Philippine Delegate to Climate Conference Declares Hunger Strike

Ed note. I am pleased to welcome Mythili Sampathkumar to the UN Dispatch. Mythili will be reporting from COP 19 international climate change conference in Warsaw. She is a freelance writer and journalist based in New York City. Follow her @RestlessRani

Protesters at COP 19. The red circle shows those going on hunger strike during the conference in solidarity with the Philippines

(COP19, WARSAW, POLAND) As countries and representatives announced announced their presence at  UN’s Framework for Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC), Conference of the Parties (COP19) in Warsaw it began as most of these confabs do: boilerplate speeches about the urgency of the issue, some cliches, and less than meaningful commitments to combating climate change from the usual players.

That all changed in an instant when  the Philippine’s Representative and Climate Change Commissioner, Naderev “Yeb” Sano took to the microphone.  The images of the damage of Super Typhoon Haiyan made your heart go out to those devastated by this vicious act of nature, but to see Sano choking up with tears was an unexpected jolt of a start to the conference.

Climate change just got personal.

Sano pointed out “What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness, the climate crisis is madness.” It is indeed madness, and bureaucracy, that no real changes have been made by this, the nineteenth try.

In a way he fought fire with fire. Sano went boldly off script and proclaimed he would go on hunger strike until real progress was made in this year’s negotiations.  Sano’s personal sacrifice is admirable for sure, but it also illustrates the shameful need for such drastic action in order to cut through the red tape of climate negotiations.  Sadly, the chilling irony of Sano’s speech last year at COP18 was not lost on anyone as he pleaded for progress in light of another storm that had hit his island nation just before that conference.  Seeing the images of Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami of 2004, and now Haiyan are not enough to move talks forward, but perhaps watching one of their own negotiators go without food will jar some of them into reality.

Civil society is joining Sano. Delegates from NGOS have perched themselves outside the food court with many members going on hunger strike in solidarity.  Today they arranged a protest outside the food court of the convention.  Security were not allowing them to do so at first, but they did have a temporary sit-in of sorts.

Of course, getting governments of developed countries to act is terribly difficult and it;s unclear if this drama will shake any countries out of their entrenched positions.  But if Sano’s actions could move even China, where a city was evacuated due to smog, to call for a three minute silence in honor of Haiyan victims, then maybe COP19 will actually see some progress in global standards.  The fact that even an insider like Sano said, “this process under the UNFCCC has been called…a farce,” and that youth delegates who stood chanting during the plenary in support of Sano lost their badges, is damning.  Though, the personal demonstration of declaring a hunger strike shows that he truly believes Poland can “be forever known as the place we truly cared to stop this madness.”