PH envoy breaks fast as UN climate talks end

Posted at 11/24/13 12:30 PM

Philippine Climate Commissioner Naderev Sano holds a sign at the closing session during the 19th conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Warsaw on Saturday. Photo by Kacper Pempel, Reuters

WARSAW -- For Philippines diplomat Yeb Sano, Saturday's close of UN climate talks in Warsaw comes with an unusual prize: he can eat again.

The climate envoy had embarked on a tea-and-water only fast on the first day of the talks on November 11, in a symbolic push for a good outcome.

"I am famished. I am famished!" the senior climate envoy told AFP at the Warsaw National Stadium where the discussions ended in a number of consensus agreements on Saturday.

"My doctor says I should take it slowly, so in three days I will be eating normal food."

What will tonight's meal be?

"Some vegetable juice," the negotiator said, laughing.

Sano had pledged to fast until the latest round of UN talks made "meaningful" progress towards fighting the climate change he blames for Typhoon Yolanda, which ravaged his country.

"I would say, the COP (conference of parties, as these gatherings are known) did not come out with the kind of outcome I thought would have been meaningful.

"But I also said that I will be fasting for the duration of the COP. This COP is about to close so I'll be able to eat."

Sano's move was also meant as a show of solidarity with his countrymen, relatives and friends left stranded and hungry after the powerful storm swept through.

The climate commissioner said he was pleased the Warsaw meeting had managed to agree on creating a "loss and damage" mechanism to deal with future harm caused by climate change events that can no longer be prevented.

The mechanism is meant to help poor and vulnerable countries deal with extreme weather events like storms, but also slow-onset damage like land-encroaching sea level rise or desertification.

Sano said he had felt weak from time to time, and was by Saturday "exhausted." This also had to do with the fact that he hadn't slept for nearly three days, like many other negotiators.

"But this is nothing compared to the suffering that my people in the hardest hit areas of Typhoon Haiyan are suffering right now... and the many, many people around the world who struggle with the impacts of climate change."

While no single weather event can be laid at the door of climate change, scientists warn that Earth will see ever more severe storms, droughts and sea level rise as average temperatures increase on the back of fossil fuel combustion.

Sano said he believed the typhoon which devastated the Philippines had added some impetus to this year's round of UN talks.

"The typhoon I think that was in the back of everyone's mind, there was a sense of urgency, but also a sense of solidarity and the reality of the suffering of so many people."

Sano lives in Manila, but his father is from Tacloban, one of the worst-hit areas. His immediate family had been spared, the diplomat said.

But he was worried about the scenes of destruction that will greet him when he gets home.

"I stopped looking at the pictures (in the media) last week because it is just overwhelming. It will be overwhelming," to be back, he said.

Sano's action drew considerable attention and support at the UN talks, with hundreds of environment and humanitarian activists claiming to have joined his fast.

The fraught negotiations ended Saturday with consensus among parties on cornerstone issues of an ambitious, global climate pact that will seek to stave off dangerous Earth warming.

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