According to the 2013 Climate Change Vulnerability Index, the Philippines is the 9th most at risk country in the world. Its capital Manila is the city 3rd most at “extreme risk” from the impacts of climate change within the next 12 years.

No one knows this more than Naderev “Yeb” M. Sano, climate change commissioner and head negotiator for the Philippines at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Sano first entered into the public eye on an international level at the UN climate talks in Warsaw, Poland in November of last year. His country was reeling from the effects of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda in the Philippines) and Sano began fasting in hope of securing an international deal on climate change policy.

Aerial view of Tacloban after Typhoon Haiyan. Pic: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development (Flickr CC)

The deal was lukewarm at best, with countries agreeing to publish their plans for curbing greenhouse gases by 2015 with the intention of implementing them starting in 2020. Sano was understandably disappointed, but broke his hunger strike, which he was not alone in maintaining for much of the talks. 

From an interview with Sano in the Guardian: 

I have been told that at least 300 delegates fasted with me at the talks, as well as the Archbishop of Canterbury and the head of the church of Sweden. A petition of one million signatures was collected by churches and faith groups. I hate being the face of a movement but I do believe sometimes movements have to have a face. 

Having fasted for two weeks I was energised, alive. I was looking forward to being back with the family. I was very emotional. My family was waiting. In the end we evacuated my relations from the city and brought them to Manila. Their houses were a shambles. They had no electricity or food.

I’ll never understand how people feel “energised” after a fast, but I do understand the sense of urgency that someone who comes from a country that is at such risk from climate change, but with so little power to act on it, must feel. Sano is carrying that urgency to the climate meetings in Yokohama Japan.

Typhoon Haiyan resulted in an estimated 8,000 deaths and left millions without homes and livelihoods. Whether the typhoon was influenced or exacerbated by man made climate change is perhaps something we’ll never know, but many scientists have linked the increased frequency and severity of extreme weather with climate change, so extra concern coming from countries like the Philippines, Bangladesh and other most at-risk nations is a no-brainer. Should we ignore the dark irony attached to the fact that many of the countries most at risk are also the ones who have benefitted the least from industrialization?

Yeb Sano. Pic: Push Europe (Flickr CC)

These are the places already dealing with extreme poverty, limited food security and weak infrastructure for coping with extreme weather. Adapting to climate change in the developing world is far more of a challenge than in rich nations, and it will affect the poor first and worst. 

Yeb Sano writes for the Philippines’ Interaksyon: 

Climate change is making people hungry. It will change what we all eat. Extreme weather events such as Typhoon Yolanda, unpredictable seasons, increasing temperatures, and rising sea levels are already causing chaos for farmers and fisherfolk. Food prices are going up. Food quality is going down. By 2050, 50 million more people – equivalent to the population of Spain – will be at risk of going hungry because of climate change.

Watch Sano’s recent video statement on climate change and poverty here.