Haiyan, the Sad Refrain—Whose Fault? Who Pays?

By Christina Birchfield | 11/27/2013

How many times can we hear the phrase, “Worst ever recorded?”


In another twist on who should be responsible and pay for the effects of climate change, a New York Times story reported on the high emotions at an international climate change conference in Warsaw.

The Philippine Typhoon Haiyan is just the latest in worst-ever disasters. So far, 5,000 are dead. Winds hovered around 147 miles per hour, with gusts of 170 miles per hour. The storm surge was 20 feet.

Participants at the 19th conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change held November 11 through 22 in Warsaw, Poland, were tired of just talking. Representatives from “developing countries” demanded “compensation from the worst polluting countries for damage they say they are already suffering.” The conference had 8,300 participants including 4.022 government officials and 3,695 attendees from United Nation bodies and agencies.

The Philippines represent vowed to fast for the duration of talks. A South Pacific Island representative said “without urgent action to stem rising sea levels,” many of the islands she represented would cease to exist.

Because of the lower standards of living in many developing countries, climate scientists have long realized that those least responsible for man-made problems would suffer the most. Many call this “climate injustice.”

Farah Kabir, Bangladesh director of ActionAid International, described Bangladesh as a relatively small piece of land “with a population of 160 million, trying to cope with this extreme weather, trying to cope with the effect of emissions for which we are not responsible.”

Not only is extreme storm events at issue, but also desertification, salinization and erosion, resulting in the loss or arable land for food production. Climate change may even be leading to diseases like malaria infecting people in regions where such disease has never before been seen.

No legal means currently exist to assign blame or compensate for damage. One representative pointed out that the U.S. Congress allocated $60 billion to rebuild from Hurricane Sandy. Conference negotiators were hoping to see $100 billion pledged by all nations to a Green Climate Fund established in 2010 but so far not well funded.

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