At the opening plenary for the UNFCCC COP19 in Warsaw, Christiana Figueres heralded the Olympic motto "Citius, Altius, Fortius," the Latin words for "Swifter, Higher, Stronger," as the rallying theme for this conference.
"Please take a deep breath," she asked the delegates. "As you do, be aware that we are the first human beings to ever breathe air with 400 parts per million CO2 ... There is no doubt that climate change has created an unlevel playing field for future generations. Previous generations unknowingly had an advantage; and now we know that the next generations face a monumental uphill struggle."
She outlined the positive signs that COP19 could take up the challenge, noting that the collective climate movement is ready, that the increase in climate action is not only propelled by environmental concerns but also "for security, energy, economic and governance reasons. Political will and public support favour action now."
Last of all, Figueres noted, "a new universal climate agreement is within our reach."
Speakers at the opening plenary included Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, Chair of the IPCC, who painted a realistic picture of the dire conditions the world currently faces due to unparallelled human related climate change. Dr. Pachauri gave a powerful and highly annotated overview of scientific findings relative to the release earlier this year of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report.
In the most dramatic presentation of the opening plenary, Philippine's main delegate Yeb Sano urged the developing countries to pay for the damages resulting from Typhoon Haiyan. Sano tearfully begged the conference to address loss and damages during this COP and called a failure to do so "madness."
“In solidarity with my countrymen who are struggling to find food back home and with my brother who has not had food for the last three days, in all due respect Mr. President, and I mean no disrespect for your kind hospitality, I will now commence a voluntary fasting for the climate. This means I will voluntarily refrain from eating food during this COP until a meaningful outcome is in sight.”
Referring to the UNFCCC's ongoing problems with reaching solutions, Sano said though this is the 19th COP, "we might as well stop counting, because my country refuses to accept that a COP30 or a COP40 will be needed to solve climate change ... Now, we find ourselves in a situation where we have to ask ourselves – can we ever attain the objective set out in Article 2 – which is to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system? By failing to meet the objective the Convention, we may have ratified the doom of vulnerable countries."
Sano, who had not yet received word on the fate of many of his relatives as COP 19 opened this morning, took homage at the idea of natural weather disasters. "It is not natural when people continue to struggle to eradicate poverty and pursue development and gets battered by the onslaught of a monster storm now considered as the strongest storm ever to hit land. It is not natural when science already tells us that global warming will induce more intense storms. It is not natural when the human species has already profoundly changed the climate."
"What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness."
In the lead up to the opening of today's conference, which falls on Poland's National Independence Day, other developing countries remain staunch in their commitment to focusing on the funding of adaptation and mitigation and loss and damage, which refers to the compensation due to the poorest countries for irreperable losses incurred due to climate change.
In a recent article in The Hindu, delegates from India demanded clarity on the Green Climate Fund, with specifics on how richer nations will find ways to raise $100 billion annually as promised beginning in 2020.
One Indian negotiator at Warsaw told The Hindu, “Warsaw talks will have to provide some kind of mechanism to address loss and damage by the end of the two weeks of talks for the negotiations to be successful here.”
Along with loss and damage, other developing nations are urging Warsaw to aggressively tackle adaptation and mitigation, which are huge challenges to agro-based economies typical of nations like those which comprise the African Group.
A coalition of 53 African countries, the Africa Group seeks financial commitments which represent at least 1.5% of combined industrialized nations GDPs.
For me, there is nothing as infectious and exhilerating as attending one of the international UNFCCCC Climate Conferences, and this year all I can say is, despite only five hours of sleep in two days and the confines of being on a gluten-free vegan diet, I am truly fired up and ready to go!
The room is filling up around me as the Opening Plenary is already running late. . Follow me on twitter @boatsie.