Wagering on Warsaw:
COP19 and the Philippines

As I await the start of the 19th Conference of Parties (COP19) on Climate Change tomorrow to be held here in Warsaw, I try to reflect on its significance for me. Throughout the course I am taking at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES) on “International Organizations and Conferences”, outstanding experts, ambassadors and people who have made it their life’s work to be involved in climate change negotiations have not pinned their hopes on the outcome in Warsaw. Seriously, for them, Warsaw will not be a game-changer. I don’t like to bet. However, as far as the Philippines is concerned, typhoon Haiyan raised the stakes here.

As I write this, I am literally going through so many updates from different news agencies that have painted a very heartbreaking picture of the deaths, the missing, the devastation, the hopelessness and the chaos that have ensued. Of course your hope for humanity is restored somewhat when you also see the efforts of people who go beyond their role as members of media reporting on the catastrophe, to save even at least one life. Still other stories attempt to show how both the local and national governments have tried to cobble a plan to get the provinces affected, particularly Leyte, get back on their feet. Albeit not too positively. Yet rehabilitation and recovery put together are painstaking processes. Unfortunately, disasters and rehabilitation come as part of a package. Rebuilding only happens after a disaster has struck. Without disasters, we normally call it development. Or knowing that we can never fully escape disasters, we just try to minimize the impact and refer to it as risk reduction. However, reducing risk can never be fully achieved if we await the next super storm. Again, as far as the Philippines is concerned, the next big one may just around the corner.

Classmates and friends from F&ES have written me or sent me messages asking how friends and family are back home. Putting up a brave front, I sigh and tell them fortunately that my family and friends are safe. A few other classmates as well have brought attention to the catastrophe in their pages and have even shared links on how to help. Alisa, Beth and Erin, you have my sincerest gratitude and appreciation. As I’ve written in a similar post last year in the aftermath of typhoon Bopha, knowing my family and friends are safe serve as consolation but it is no less heartbreaking, no less gut-wrenching, no less numbing wherever and whenever a disaster like this strikes. I do not wish it on anyone. As typhoon Haiyan heads to Vietnam, my hope is that it doesn’t have any fury left to unleash. I pray that Vietnam is ready and have a plan to avoid suffering a similar fate as my country. May that not be in vain.

The Philippines has been in the news for another reason, that of its economic development. Of course, there is always a lot more to be desired in how development is reaped and shared. In fact, that may prove valuable in efforts to reduce risk. That is a post I shall reserve for another time. Suffice it to say that whatever the Philippines gains in its economic progress is lost when the country is confronted by disasters of this magnitude. Then we’re back to square one. Indeed, while we do not need a typhoon the likes of Haiyan to realize the COP’s importance, I cannot emphasize enough the need to really move forward, to break the impasse, or most importantly, to finally get it done. Indeed, as Naderev Saño, the Philippines lead negotiator, stated in his plenary speech towards the end of COP18 last year in Doha, Qatar, “If not now, then when?”

Hopefully, that’s what Warsaw will be all about — working in the now. If I knew what the odds are in my favor, I’d love to bet on that.