Christiana Figueres: We need a climate deal for the people of Guiuan

UN climate chief says visit to typhoon-hit Philippines demonstrates why a deal to curb global warming in Paris is essential

(Pic: UN Photos)

(Pic: UN Photos)

By Christiana Figueres

“Thank you for restoring our buildings; thank you for being our friends, thank you for keeping us safe.”

The Guiuan schoolchildren sang, smiled and swayed to their own beautiful voices. They touched every heart in the sun beaten public plaza of Guiuan.

Guiuan, a town of 48,000 people on the eastern side of the Philippines is where super typhoon Hayan first made landfall in November 2013.  Most of Guiuan was destroyed by that storm.

Much of Guiuan has been at least temporarily reconstructed. And no one knows what “temporary” is.

It is until more support arrives to repair the XVII century church, or is it until the next typhoon hits and structures are destroyed once again?

Last week I accompanied French President Hollande on his emblematic visit to the Philippines.

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The trip acted as a sort of debut of the French President onto the stage of global climate change, in preparation for his role as host of COP21 in Paris.

He and the Philippine President Aquino jointly launched the Manila Call to Action, a call to turn all good intentions into urgent climate action.

Damage in Guiuan caused by Typhoon Haiyan (Pic: Nick Nuttall/UNFCCC)

Damage in Guiuan caused by Typhoon Haiyan (Pic: Nick Nuttall/UNFCCC)

The Manila Call was elegantly staged on the beautiful grounds of the Malacanang Palace in Manila, but nowhere was the Call as compelling as in the little makeshift hall lovingly prepared to house a discussion of President Hollande with local leaders in Guiuan.

Early warning systems, grassroots insurance mechanisms for small and medium enterprises, investment in locally available renewable energy, and ecosystem based adaptation were all discussed not as theoretical topics of academic interest, but as real and urgent measures to be taken by highly prone communities.

These ideas were being put forth by community members who had already garnered remarkable strength to rebuild homes, reintegrate families, and re-energize the local economy.

The infrastructure of the town did not withstand the gales of Haiyan, but the resilience of the human spirit is vibrant in Guiuan.

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In the aftermath of the storm and in the midst of the pain they have found a deep solidarity with one another which is now inspiring them to stand tall, not as victims but as proud survivors, better prepared than before.

And yet they know their own efforts are not enough.

Like many other vulnerable communities around the world, the villagers of Guiuan need a strong agreement in Paris, one that can bend the curve of emissions in order to protect them from the worst impacts of climate change.

Sometimes we think the global agreement is very far from daily life.

Not so in Guiuan.  In his very eloquent speech the young Mayor called for “ambitious nationally determined contributions from all countries to ensure that our recent past does not become the new normal of the future”.

President Hollande well captured our feelings as we departed: “We are working toward COP21 in Paris.

“At the COP I will be thinking of you, I will be remembering your faces, remembering your courage.  It is for you that we must succeed.”

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