This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.
It seems these days that whenever Mother Nature wants to send an urgent message to humankind, it sends it via the Philippines. This year the messenger was Haiyan, known in the Philippines as Yolanda.
For the second year in a row, the world’s strongest typhoon barreled through the Philippines, Yolanda following on the footsteps steps of Pablo, a k a Bopha, in 2012. And for the third year in a row, a destructive storm deviated from the usual path taken by typhoons, striking communities that had not learned to live with these fearsome weather events because they were seldom hit by them in the past. Sendong in December 2011 and Bopha last year sliced Mindanao horizontally, while Yolanda drove through the Visayas, also in a horizontal direction.
That it was climate change creating the super typhoons that were taking weird directions was a message from Nature not just to Filipinos but to the whole world, whose attention was transfixed on the televised digital images of a massive, angry cyclone bearing down, then sweeping across the central Philippines on its way to the Asian mainland. The message that Nature was sending via Yolanda–which packed winds stronger than Superstorm Sandy, which hit New Jersey and New York last October, and Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005–was especially meant for the governments of the world that are assembling in Warsaw for the annual global climate change negotiations (COP 19), beginning on November 11.
Is it a coincidence, ask some people who are not exactly religious, that both Pablo and Yolanda arrived at the time of the global climate negotiations? Pablo smashed into Mindanao during the last stages of the Conference of Parties (COP 18), in Doha last year.
To reinforce Haiyan’s message, Commissioner Naderev Sano, the top negotiator for the Philippines in Warsaw, went on a hunger strike when the talks began.
COP 19: Another Deadlock?
It is doubtful, however, that the governments assembling in Warsaw will rise to the occasion. For a time earlier this year, it appeared that Hurricane Sandy would bring climate change to the forefront of President Obama’s agenda. It did not.
While trumpeting that he was directing federal agencies to take steps to force power plants to cut carbon emissions and encourage movement toward clean energy sources, Obama will not send a delegation that will change US policy of non-adherence to the Kyoto Protocol, which Washington signed but never ratified. Although 70 percent of Americans now believe in climate change, Obama does not have the courage to challenge the fanatical climate skeptics that fill the ranks of the Tea Party and the US business establishment.
It is also unlikely that China, now the world’s biggest carbon emitter, will agree to mandatory limits on its greenhouse-gas emissions, armed with the rationale that those that have contributed most to the cumulative volume of greenhouse gases, like the United States, must be forced to make mandatory emissions cuts. And as China goes, so will Brazil, India and a host of the other more industrially advanced developing countries that are the most influential voices in the “Group of 77 and China” coalition. What the governments of these countries seem to be saying is that the carbon-intensive industrial development plans they are pursuing are not up for negotiation.