Haiyan wasn’t actually on the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP) participants list which just started in Warsaw on 11 November. But due to the devastating and tragic impacts of the super-typhoon, Haiyan was omnipresent at the opening session of the COP and will most likely continue to be present until the end of the two week negotiations. Polish Environment Minister Marcin Korolec referred to the disaster in the Philippines as an "unforgettable, painful awakening."
Of course, it is impossible to blame climate change for individual storms, but the Philippines are already confronted with some of the consequences of climate change including sea level rise. According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) parts of the Philippines witnessed a rise of 35cm in average sea levels from 1950 to 2010, compared to a global average of 10cm. Haiyan is a convincing illustration of the struggle between the international community and changing environments in already disaster-prone areas.In addition, the current situation in the affected region around the City of Tacloban -characterized by violence and instability – underlines the concerns on potential security risks associated with climate change. These were also part of the G8 communique released after the Lough Erne Summit in Northern Ireland this summer.
However, Haiyan is only a late warning. After all, earlier warning over the last few years have demanded a targeted, powerful climate diplomatic effort – especially for the COP caravan from Warsaw, through Lima, to Paris in 2015. A timeline of extreme events that occurred in 2012 indicates not only the number but also global distribution of storms, but also floods and droughts. The list for the first two months of the year includes flooding and landslides in Southeast Brazil, 50 major wildfires in Chile, Europe’s worst cold snap in a quarter century, massive flooding in Australia, and devastating drought in the Sahel. These extreme events resulted in injury, death, and millions of people at risk of food insecurity and other threats to human security. In addition, more scientific evidence was published in 2012 on the contribution of climate change to extreme weather events like heat waves, high temperatures, and heavy precipitation. As the special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change summarized, climate extremes can - in combination with social vulnerabilities and exposure to risks - produce climate-related disasters: “The main message from the report is that we know enough to make good decisions about managing the risks of climate-related disasters. Sometimes we take advantage of this knowledge, but many times we do not,” stated Chris Field, Co-Chair of IPCC’s Working Group II.
In other words, there have been plenty of early warning signs highlighting how important an ambitious climate agreement is – not only with respect to the overall target and timetables for emission reductions, but also to strengthen climate change resilience through financial and technical assistance. More concretely, for the COP 19 negotiators it is a matter of credibility to present results on the “loss and damage” agenda. Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh, outlined in a recent blog post how different South and North narratives are on this agenda item: industrialized countries may frame “loss and damage” in terms of “liability and compensation” -whereas a southern perspective on this issue is dominated by the notion of climate injustice and a lack of implementation of the polluter pays principle. Overcoming such gaps in Warsaw will be of crucial importance – too many early warnings have been ignored in recent years.