Filipino negotiator tells RTCC that his monthly ritual of fasting is helping him to secure a strong UN treaty on climate change
By Sophie Yeo in Bonn
A UN climate meeting in Bonn’s bright World Conference Centre this week saw the usual tussle between the climate negotiators who are trying, each in their own way, to secure a deal designed to put a stop to climate change.
Tactics of diplomacy were varied, as negotiators both coaxed and conflicted with other countries as they tried to win the rest of the world around to their own way of thinking. But Yeb Sano, the lead negotiator from the Philippines, is the only one makes his point through fasting.
It is an unusual approach, but Sano believes it is effective, making him a better operator when it comes to driving forward progress on the UN’s climate treaty, which needs all the help it can get if it is going to be signed off by a 2015 deadline.
“When we look at this convoluted process called the climate negotiations, which has been running for more than two decades now, a lot of things we discuss here are things that will really test your patience,” he tells RTCC.
“Fasting allows you to understand where others come from and lead you to solutions that would go beyond the confines of what is written, what is conventional.
“That goes with the notion of dealing with climate change not by sticking with the traditional positions countries take, but finding common ground that addresses the problem in a way that respects not legal context, but the human moral context.”
Fasting each month is now a ritual for Sano, who goes without food for two days. On the first of each month, he fasts as part of a wider movement among environmental activists—united on Twitter with the hashtag #FastForTheClimate.
On the thirteenth, he undertakes a personal fast to remind himself of the catastrophic super-typhoon that hit the Philippines in November last year.
It was this storm, which hit the Philippines just as the UN’s annual climate talks were getting underway in Warsaw, which started the movement.
As the talks opened, Sano pledged to fast for the entirety of the talks, and from then on every month until he saw evidence of meaningful action to tackle climate change.
Not everyone agrees with Sano’s tactics, and some of the positions he adopts at the talks are unpopular among other parties.
“The Philippines are excellent at delivering emotional speeches” says Franz Perrez, the lead negotiator for Switzerland, but added that the country’s negotiators are blocking flows of climate finance by delaying the operationalization of the Green Climate Fund.
Nonetheless, his strong moral rhetoric has made him something of an icon among environmental activists.
This is something of which Sano is aware: “I don’t know whether it’s touching the hearts of governments, but I have reason to believe it is touching the hearts of many people, and that is deeply moving and really encouraging.
“Even as a climate negotiator I believe that this process is not merely driven internally. There are a lot of things we need to do outside the process to drive governments and to open people’s eyes on the reality of climate change.”
In spite of many negotiators hailing this week’s negotiations as “constructive”, it is likely they will have progressed inches at most towards anything resembling what they final agreement may look like. So would more action be served up if there were slightly less food being consumed by fellow negotiators?
It’s probably not possible, says Sano, but it’s an option worth trying: “I have huge belief in the act of fasting and it has been there for ages as a means to change the way people think and behave. It’s probably not feasible for all the negotiators to do it, but I believe it would be very powerful.”