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The Legacy of Super Typhoon Haiyan on Climate Action, 10 Years Later

Updated: Jan 19

By John Leo Algo

Exactly ten years ago, the Philippines was hit by category-five storm Haiyan (local name: Yolanda). Within a short period of time, everything changed.

Haiyan caused the deaths of 6,300 people, with many bodies either unidentified or never found. It cost nearly USD 2 billion of loss and damage (L&D) across multiple sectors, some of which are, in some ways, still recovering to this day. And it solidified climate change as a crisis, an emergency in the consciousness of the Filipino nation.

Yet Haiyan also had a huge impact at the global level. It hit the Philippines in the midst of the 2013 UN climate negotiations in Warsaw, Poland. Once the news reached the conference, Philippine negotiator Naderev Saño delivered a moving speech and staged a hunger strike in protest of the lack of meaningful progress at the summit.

This led to the establishment of the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM), which aims to implement integrated approaches and scaled-up actions to avert or minimize L&D. It also fueled the long road towards the historic agreement at Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt to set up funding arrangements on addressing this critical climate issue.

Haiyan was pivotal to establishing L&D as the third pillar of climate action, along with adaptation and mitigation. Yet much like those two, not enough funding or support is allotted to this issue and without drastic improvements, more tragedies like what transpired ten years ago would occur again and again.

Are they listening?

The findings of the latest Adaptation Gap Report paint a picture that is even worse than expected. The funding developing nations need to properly adapt is now up to 18 times as much as what they have received through public financing. Despite the commitment of developed nations to support the adaptation of developing nations under Article 4 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, relevant public finance actually decreased by 15 percent in 2021.

Even if the yet-another promise from COP26 for these countries to double adaptation finance by 2025 is fulfilled, it would mobilize only USD 40 billion, which is way below the estimate of up to USD 387 billion per year. Not cumulative total, but every year. The East Asia and the Pacific alone requires USD 158 billion to sufficiently cope with the changing climate.

These numbers all add up to a very simple scenario that is already a reality and still awaits our world: climate risks and impacts are increasingly beyond the capacities for adaptation. It directly translates to L&D becoming even more prevalent, especially in highly-vulnerable countries. Half of the global population is already considered vulnerable to the climate crisis; that is certainly going to increase without proper interventions.

At this point, it is fair to question whether the Global North would ever take their commitments seriously. The climate negotiations have been ongoing for thirty years, and while there have been milestones every now and then, the same issues that were first discussed before half of all people today were even born are still being debated on; except now there are even more problems to solve.

Don’t hide the past

When we look back, it can be argued that the WIM was created largely because Haiyan happened. It is mostly a response to a tragedy so severe that even the big polluters will not even dare to deny or undermine. Since then, even more climate catastrophes have transpired, including in the Asia-Pacific.

Developed countries themselves have been experiencing the wrath of climate change impacts in the past few years. From forest fires in Australia to heat waves in Europe to hurricanes hitting the United States, this crisis simply affects every country in more ways than perhaps we can imagine.

Yet the rate of global response has been nowhere near enough. And that's the key word: response.

By design, global climate action had to be initially responsive to growing greenhouse gas emissions and increasingly-extreme impacts. But that was three decades ago. The time for reaction is long done; we need anticipatory actions, especially from those obligated to do them.

This is why it is vital for developing nations to keep putting the pressure on the Global North to actually live up to what they promised. At COP28, it would be beneficial for developing nations to highlight that they are not just known for being resilient and reactive; they are also capable of being active implementors of adaptation and mitigation solutions.

But there has to be a balance. The governments of the Global South, especially the Philippines, must not shy away from the disasters and vulnerabilities that have partially defined them in the context of the climate crisis.

This is not to promote an image of being weak or helpless in the face of imminent danger; this is to show the ones responsible for the climate crisis, namely the Global North and the high-polluting corporations, that we will never forget and we will hold them accountable for their transgressions.

The moment the developing world stops actively reminding the big polluters is when any hope for the victims of climate-related disasters to get the justice they deserve will disappear.

If our own leaders from the Global South will not use the plenaries, Pavilions, side events, and all other platforms to call out the Global North when there is not necessarily a lot of direct non-government representation in these spaces, then who will?

We as the youth and civil society at large have been doing our part. Will the supposed leaders, especially from the Global North, do theirs? Ten years after Haiyan, it seems like the answer is headed towards a resounding ‘no’. Yet we must keep hoping and trying anyway.

John Leo is the Deputy Executive Director for Programs and Campaigns of Living Laudato Si’ Philippines and the National Coordinator of Aksyon Klima Pilipinas. He is also a member of the Youth Advisory Group on Environmental and Climate Justice under the UNDP in Asia and the Pacific. He has been a climate and environment journalist since 2016.


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