Ten years on from Haiyan, Shell’s intimidation won’t silence me

I am named in a Shell lawsuit against Greenpeace for trying to board their oil rig, but I won’t stop fighting their climate vandalism

Ten years on from Haiyan, Shell's intimidation won't silence me

Yeb Saño delivers a rousing speech as the 2023 Climate Justice Walk prepares to cross the San Juanico Bridge in the Phillipines (Photo: Geric Cruz/Greenpeace)


Ten years ago this month, huge areas of my country were devastated by Typhoon Haiyan – the most powerful storm the Philippines had ever known.

Winds of almost 200 mph tore through communities claiming more than 6,000 innocent lives. My family’s hometown of Tacloban – only five metres above sea level – faced a wall of seawater over seven metres tall.

As the storm left a massive trail of devastation, I was delivering a speech at the Cop19 UN climate talks in Poland.

I could not reach my brother and it was another three days before I found out he was alive. But he personally carried 78 people to mass graves. To this day, many of the headstones in the local cemetery bear the names of ten people or more, with one date of demise.

Over the last few weeks, I have joined a band of climate and human rights activists on a 1,000km walk across the Phillipines to commemorate this catastrophe and demand climate justice.

Along the way I heard countless stories of loss from people who believe that Haiyan should have been a wake-up call for the world about the dangers of climate change.

Damaged areas along the coast in Tacloban City after Typhoon Haiyan hit the area. (Photo credit: Matimtiman//Greenpeace)

I continue my journey by ship. The campaigners, researchers, journalists and photographers on board the Rainbow Warrior have met residents of Bohol province’s ‘sinking islands’. Beautiful places that are slowly but surely losing ground to the waves as sea levels rise and typhoons are super-charged by a heating climate.

Yet even while I bear witness to their stories, there are some who want to silence me.

Shell lawsuit

Earlier this month we learned that Shell is suing Greenpeace UK and Greenpeace International, threatening a damages claim for millions of dollars for protesting against its continued exploration and production of planet-heating fossil fuels.

As executive director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia and as one of the activists who tried to board a drilling platform Shell was moving to the North Sea earlier this year, I am named in the court documents.

The company is not only financially attacking Greenpeace, but is seeking an injunction to prevent Greenpeace protesting on its infrastructure at sea or in port anywhere in the world forever.

Far from heeding the wake-up call, or even hitting the snooze button, they are trying to smash the alarm clock.

That is why I will be joining Greenpeace activists today in sending a clear message to the fossil fuel industry that its intimidation tactics will not silence us.

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Using kayaks and small boats, we will try to block an oil tanker from docking at a major Shell refinery near Batangas, a city on the edge of the Verde Island Passage.

This idyllic 10-mile wide channel separating the islands of Luzon and Mindoro is one of the most biodiverse marine habitats on Earth, home to countless rare and wonderful species.

But it now faces an existential threat. It has become the epicentre of my country’s expanding liquefied natural gas industry, with multinational giants pouring millions into constructing new power plants and LNG terminals.

Not only does this endanger marine life – an oil tanker spilled 800,000 litres of oil into the channel earlier this year – it will greatly increase my country’s fossil fuel dependence.

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Our kayaks and banners are clearly no match for a multinational oil and gas corporation.

Record profits

But as world leaders gather in Dubai for the Cop28 climate talks, we want to remind the world about the damage that Shell and the rest of the fossil fuel industry are causing to the planet and those who live on it.

All eyes at Cop28 will be on whether governments can agree how to set up a fund for loss and damage to help the most vulnerable communities recover from climate disasters. But what about the companies who have made record profits and are continuing to pump the oil and gas that is roasting our planet?

Shell recently announced third quarter profits of $6.2 billion, and further share buybacks on top of the $23 billion it has returned to shareholders so far this year.

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Why should the Philippines be left with a $12 billion bill for Typhoon Haiyan, not to mention other fierce typhoons that came after and future more powerful storms that scientists predict, while oil companies pile up obscene profits?

So as I reflect on the countless tales of loss I have heard, I remain focused on the road ahead.

I will cling to my banner and paddle, and if necessary face Shell in court, and together we will show oil companies that the era of fossil fuels must end and that they must pay up for the climate vandalism they continue to perpetrate. The journey ahead may be long, but we’re not stopping here.

Yeb Sano is the executive director at Greenpeace Southeast Asia 

Shell response

A Shell spokesperson said: “The right to protest is fundamental and we respect it absolutely. But it must be done safely and lawfully.”

“Boarding a 72,000 metric ton moving vessel at sea was unlawful and extremely dangerous. A judge said Greenpeace protestors were ‘putting their lives and, indirectly, the lives of the crew at risk’. The legal costs to secure two court injunctions to prevent further boarding were significant. So were the costs for the companies who had to deal with the action at sea, for example by mobilising an extra safety vessel and increasing security at the port.

“The safety of the protestors – as well as the crew – was paramount. Rightly, we did not hesitate to put in place measures to protect all people involved. Shell and its contractors are entitled to recover the significant costs of responding to Greenpeace’s dangerous actions.

“Our intent has been misrepresented. This is simply about preventing activities at sea which could endanger peoples’ lives — as happened earlier this year — nothing more.”

Read more on: Fossil Fuels