A major typhoon slammed the Philippines this weekend, destroying nearly 1,000 homes and sparking conversation about climate change’s impact on communities at this year’s international climate change conference.
Typhoon Hagupit has killed at least 21 people so far, but according to the BBC, the storm has caused “far less damage than feared.” On Monday, the storm was downgraded from a typhoon to a tropical storm as it moved toward Manila, the capitol of the Philippines. Still, the Philippines government shut down offices and schools and suspended stock trading.
The typhoon has worked its way into discussions at the United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference, which brings world leaders together for a few weeks to discuss and debate international climate policy each winter — this year in Lima, Peru. Mary Ann Lucille Sering, commissioner of the Philippines’ Climate Change Commission and lead climate official for the Philippines at the conference, said that Hagupit and the other typhoons that have hit the Philippines in recent years show that “the impacts of climate change are beyond our capacity already.”
“Our country’s experience makes our work here (in Lima) so much more meaningful, as this is no longer just a job for us but a fight for our survival and the future of our nation,” she said. “We hope that the Philippine experience, no matter how difficult, can help unite all nations to take more concrete actions on climate change.”
Sering said that typhoons have been the “backdrop” of the U.N.’s climate change conference each year since 2008. Last year’s talks coincided with the massive Typhoon Haiyan, which killed at least 6,300 people in the Philippines, making it one of the deadliest typhoons to ever hit the country. Naderev “Yeb” Saño, the lead Filipino climate change negotiator at the conference in 2013, broke down while speaking about the typhoon and the link between climate change and extreme weather.
“To anyone who continues to deny the reality that is climate change, I dare you to get off your ivory tower and away from the comfort of you armchair. I dare you to go to the islands of the Pacific, the islands of the Caribbean and the islands of the Indian ocean and see the impacts of rising sea levels,” he said, mentioning several other locations that are struggling to adapt to a changing climate. “And if that is not enough, you may want to pay a visit to the Philippines right now.”
In 2012, it was Typhoon Bopha, another deadly storm that struck the Philippines, that entered into the U.N. discussions. This year, Greenpeace wants to make Typhoon Hagupit more of a headline in the climate talks, and has started an online campaign to rename the typhoon after one of the world’s top-polluting companies, such as Chevron or BP. These companies, Greenpeace Philippines climate justice campaigner Anna Abad said, “are the reason behind climate change and contributing to more intense typhoons in countries like the Philippines.” Greenpeace doesn’t want to stop at this typhoon either: it wants to name all future typhoons after major polluters.
“We want these big polluters to be responsible and transition and help us to transition to a low carbon future,” Abad said.
Scientists know that typhoons, which form in the Northwest Pacific, and hurricanes, which form in the Atlantic and Northeast Pacific, draw much of their strength from the warmth of the ocean, so higher ocean temperatures could drive an increase in large, destructive hurricanes and typhoons. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the world’s oceans have absorbed 20 times as much heat as the atmosphere has over the last 50 years, a trend that’s contributed to elevated temperatures of the ocean’s surface and 1,500 feet below it.