MANILA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Hundreds of activists led by the Philippine climate change commissioner kicked off a 38-day walk of more than 1,000 km from Manila to the typhoon-hit city of Tacloban to raise awareness of rising risks from higher seas and extreme weather.
Climate commissioner Naderev “Yeb” Saño grabbed global attention at U.N. climate talks in Warsaw last November when he gave a tearful speech and fasted in solidarity with the victims of super typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 6,000 people in the central Philippines.
Saño, the country’s chief climate negotiator, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation the “Climate Walk” is a tribute to all those confronting the impacts of climate change, especially the most vulnerable.
The commissioner said the walk will flag the urgency of forging a new global deal to tackle climate change that “responds to the latest science and prevents further dangerous climate change”.
Governments are due to agree a pact in Paris at the end of next year.
“The walk will also chronicle stories of the experiences of people on the ground facing climate impacts,” Saño said. Participants will deliver toolkits to help local governments boost resilience to climate change, he added.
On Nov. 8, 2013, super typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda, sent a storm surge higher than 5 meters (17 feet) sweeping through low-lying coastal areas, including Tacloban, leaving millions homeless.
The World Meteorological Organization said afterwards rising seas due to climate change are putting coastal populations at greater risk of such surges.
Saño said U.N. climate negotiations remain locked in a stalemate, despite growing concern about the consequences of climate and weather extremes for the poor who are most exposed.
“Climate change is the defining issue of our generation. We will be measured by how we respond to this crisis,” Saño said. “The world must find the courage and muster the political will to avert (it).”
A festive yet serious mood infused the first day of the walk along Manila’s main roads, with activists wearing T-shirts calling for “Climate Justice Now!” They included celebrities, artists, singers, students and youth groups carrying colorful banners, placards and a giant purple globe.
The walk symbolizes the long and perilous journey of the Filipino people as they face climate change, said Gerry Arances, national coordinator of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice.
Despite widespread recognition of global warming blamed on human-made emissions, “we are still in this situation because of the business-as-usual track of developed countries and even the Philippine government”, Arances said.
The walk will highlight too how people are suffering due to related problems including ongoing use of dirty energy like coal, tougher conditions for food production, conversion of farm land for commercial purposes and mining operations.
The walk is part of a series of actions by civil society groups in the run-up to December’s climate change negotiations in Peru, and beyond to Paris in 2015.
On Sept. 21, hundreds of thousands of people took to streets around the world demanding bold climate change action from leaders who met two days later at a U.N. summit in New York.
“The people have spoken from New York - now in the Philippines, we will show our force and compel world leaders, including ours, to heed the call for climate justice and systemic changes,” Arances said.
Von Hernandez, executive director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said the issue was no longer just about the environment. “This is about our survival,” he said.
Melvin Purzuelo, convener of the civil society network Aksyon Klima Pilipinas, said the walkers wanted to challenge the Philippine government “to walk its own climate talk”.
A government initiative to protect communities from climate impacts should be the start of efforts to harmonize local and national policies to adapt to climate change, switch to clean energy, and provide funding for climate measures, he said.
Aaron Pedrosa, a lawyer and civic group leader from Tacloban who evacuated with his family after Haiyan destroyed their home, said the “Climate Walk” was testament to the resolve of those hit by the disaster to push governments to adopt “a concrete, grounded and people-centered solution to the climate crisis”.
Reporting by Imelda V. Abano; Editing by Megan Rowling