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Discussion Question, Sami Haidar

Haiyan: A Preventable Crisis?

In the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, we can only look at the scale of the storm’s damage with horror. Indeed, weather experts deemed Haiyan to be significantly more intense than Hurricane Katrina in its peak, with sustained wind speeds reaching 196 MPH. It is in times like these that Mother Nature likes to remind us of how powerless we are and how futile our most advanced technology is. But, could this crisis have been prevented?

In a moving statement to the UN climate summit in Warsaw, Naderev Sano, leading diplomat for the Philippine delegation, said:

“Disasters are never natural. They are the intersection of factors other than physical. They are the accumulation of the constant breach of economic, social, and environmental thresholds. Most of the time, disaster is a result of inequity and the poorest people of the world are at greatest risk because of their vulnerability and decades of maldevelopment, which I must assert is connected to the kind of pursuit of economic growth that dominates the world; the same kind of pursuit of so-called economic growth and unsustainable consumption that has altered the climate system.”

It is undeniably true that the United States and other G8 nations have historically dominated the globe in industries that are responsible for the climate change we are currently facing. We are responsible for 150 years of extremely high GHG emissions. It does seem unfair then to limit the carbon emissions of developing economies with dirty industries. In many ways, the Kyoto Protocol, set by the UN in 1997 to reduce emissions, was an abysmal failure. Former President Bush, for all his environmental wisdom, said:

“The Kyoto treaty would have wrecked our economy, if I can be blunt.”

So, where do we go from here? Well, the UN has already proposed an initiative called the Green Climate Fund, and one of its key objectives is to help fund low-emission, climate- resilient industries and infrastructure in developing economies, especially countries that are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change like the Philippines.

Sounds nice, what’s the catch? Well, simply put, it has a hefty price tag: $100 billion a year. And unfortunately for Filipinos, and anyone living in developing countries at risk of more environmental disasters, it is cheaper for developed economies to provide aid money after disaster strikes, than it is to invest to prevent future harm. In fact, the UN is requesting only $301 million in emergency aid, which is only a fraction of the cost to invest. And for all of the West’s rhetoric on tackling climate change and cutting carbon emissions, most have not yet met their pledges made in the Doha Climate Talks earlier this year for $8.4 billion in climate finance funding, according to an Oxfam report. Worse still, the report highlights that most of this money is not separate climate change funding but actually just funding redirected from aid budgets.

Now, with the Earth’s climate in such a precarious state, it is dangerous and quite frankly, hypocritical for developed nations like ours to ignore the dangers posed by climate change to the rest of the world. Even today, the United States alone is the second highest emitter of carbon. Every other nation in the top 20 has an industrialized economy. Considering this was a disaster that in many ways we helped to create, it is something that we should be working to pay for, and something that we should be investing in to prevent in the future.

-Sami Haidar

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