New global warming claims over deadly typhoon

Is climate change to blame for the Philippines typhoon? Scientists are cautious but David Cameron and some United Nations leaders are now arguing that there is a link.

‘Stop this madness,’ said the delegate from the Philippines. Naderev Sano, chief climate change negotiator for the country hit ten days ago by a devastating typhoon, was in tears as he addressed the United Nations global warming conference in Warsaw.

During the last set of negotiations one year ago his country lost 2,000 people in another deadly storm, also bringing the diplomat to a pitch of emotion as he made his speech. But this month’s catastrophe is estimated to have claimed five times that number of lives.

Sano was demanding action to tackle global warming faster than can be achieved under current policies and emission-reducing targets. Anger has been growing about the fact that low-lying nations suffer disproportionately from floods and storms, and that industrialised countries who enjoyed decades of economic prosperity stoked by the unchecked use of fossil fuels aren’t the ones suffering.

The Filipino negotiator was also claiming a direct link between the rise in the earth’s atmospheric temperatures and extreme weather events, and making a further causal connection between relative inaction on climate change and the plight of his compatriots.

From a man who comes from Tacloban, the city flattened by Haiyan, the call to take action is compelling. But the politics of climate change and energy policy is now even more controversial. The British prime minister David Cameron has risked antagonising those to the right of his own Conservative party, for example, by appearing to confirm that he believes in a causal link between floods, storms and carbon emissions.

According to scientists, the only incontrovertible link between the death toll in the Philippines and global warming is the rise in sea levels that has resulted from the melting polar ice caps: a total of eight inches since 1900. A higher sea level makes surges of water during a storm in coastal regions more likely and more severe: remember Hurricane Sandy in New York and New Jersey.

Taking responsibility

The British politician Baroness Valerie Amos, now in charge of humanitarian aid for the UN, said that because disaster relief had taken so long to get to the victims of Haiyan ‘we have let people down.’ The storm was more severe than expected and the response was inefficient, so preventable deaths have occurred.

Some will say this is the right focus for the global community: how to improve the way we respond to inevitable natural disasters. The Philippines, for example, suffers from eight or nine severe storms every year. But to others the weeping diplomat deserves far greater attention: until we accept the urgent task of preventing further global warming, and get it under our collective control, sea levels will continue to rise and nations like his will bear the brunt unfairly. That would really be letting people down.

You Decide

  1. Is it more or less frightening to believe that man is responsible for changes to the weather?
  2. Should industrialised countries pay for catastrophes in the developing world caused by climate change or extreme weather?

Activities

  1. Role play debate: a representative from the Philippines argues the case for compensation against a representative from the USA or UK.
  2. Investigate exactly what can be proved about the causes of the disaster in the Philippines.

Some People Say...

“The day when we have no doubts about man-made climate change will be too late to act.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Is climate change scepticism growing, then?
The opinion polls suggest it is, yes. And disagreement about whether developed countries should be spending so much on renewable energy like wind and solar is also undermining the campaign for tighter controls on greenhouse gas emissions.
Surely they accept the rise in sea levels as fact?
Some do, but they question any link to human behaviour. And those who reject the theory of man-made climate change point out that population growth in low-lying areas could be just as much of a factor in why typhoons cause such widespread human misery. There are simply too many people, they argue, living where their badly-built homes and their families are vulnerable to storms that batter them every year.

Word Watch

Conference
This is the second and final week of the 19th UN conference on climate change.
Anger
There is now an active campaign to demand that the rich, northern countries pay compensation to poorer nations who are, because of their geography, more vulnerable to the natural disasters that are laid at the door of climate change. The jargon term is ‘climate change mitigation.’
Filipino
Although the country is spelled with a Ph in English, the nationality is spelt with an F: grammarians say this is because of its history as a Spanish colony. The islands were named after King Philip II of Spain and in Spanish this meant adopting an F for Las Islas Filipinas.

Subjects

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