The New Unnormal

11 November 2013

“If not us, then who?  If not now, then when? If not here, then where?” Those words of Philippine lead negotiator Naderev Saño touched the hearts of all COP18 attendees in a powerful speech just one year ago, just after Typhoon Bopha (Pablo) struck the southeastern Philippines and killed more than 1000 people.

Who could imagine that just one year later this country would face the most powerful and strongest storm ever to touch land – Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), with a death toll that might surpass 10,000, and millions more affected?  These real losses of lives and physical damages occurred despite strenuous efforts to avoid such a disaster.  It points to a new world where there is no more normal.

ECO would like to express its solidarity with the Filipino people, and grief for those who are suffering  and those who died from this storm.  Haiyan appeared so magnificent in the photos from the space shuttle, and yet so utterly devastating to millions on the ground, and especially to girls and boys who lost their fathers and mothers, and to the parents who lost their children.

This monstrous storm scored an unthinkable 8.1 on the 8.0 Dvorak scale (causing consternation from meteorologists worldwide).  Yet it appears sea surface temperatures (SST) ahead of the storm, while above average, were not exceptionally high. 

Even small changes in SSTs dramatically amplifies these giant storms.  As the oceans continue to warm from the impact of greenhouse gas emissions, what will the years ahead bring to the nations and communities that already are the hardest hit?

The IPCC WG1 report, approved by the same governments sitting here in Warsaw, concluded that in a warmer world, extreme precipitation events over the mid-latitude land masses and over wet tropical regions will very likely be more intense and more frequent. We are creating a climate in which the Haiyan of today may be the ordinary unnormal storm of the future.

Last year’s typhoon was a wakeup call, and there have been many other extreme events in the following months. And the mainland region where Vietnam and China adjoin is now being pounded by the “remnants” of Haiyan that by any measure is still a very dangerous storm.  The Philippines itself may even be facing another five major storms during this season.

If 200 mph sustained winds aren’t a loud enough wakeup call, the world is going deaf.  In the coming days we will fully see the reality facing the most vulnerable regions – but we will also see their heroism and determination to rebuild stronger and safer.

In a story on Sun Star, the respected Philippines e-news site, the nationwide climate activist alliance Aksyon Klima Pilipinas stated, “The Warsaw conference should therefore produce real gains mainly in the form of more climate funds and less greenhouse gas emissions.”  

The question we lay before the Parties assembled in Warsaw is this: Are we going to stand with them and do all we must to help them?


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