Philippine climate activist starts global trek

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Manila: An internationally renowned Filipino environmental activist on Wednesday started a journey to climate change hotspots around the world to press for an accord at a United Nations summit later this year.

Naderev “Yeb” Sano — a former envoy to UN climate talks who came to world attention in 2013 by fasting to highlight the threat of global warming — said he hopes his “People’s Pilgrimage” will put pressure on delegates to reach agreement at the UN Conference on Climate Change in December.

“It will take a huge amount of effort and an unprecedented amount of political will to arrive at an agreement in Paris,” Sano said.

He was speaking during the first leg of his journey, a 10-kilometre (6.2-mile) walk to the monument of the Philippines’ national hero Jose Rizal in Manila on Earth Day, an annual campaign involving thousands of environmental groups worldwide.

Asked if he was hopeful of a climate deal this year, Sano said: “I don’t think we can gauge that today. Our fate is in the hands of a few people. The challenge is to make them listen.”

Delegates to the conference will try to achieve, for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, a binding and universal agreement on climate.

Sano next month will leave the Philippines from Tacloban for the tiny Pacific island of Vanuatu, which was flattened by Super Typhoon Pam in March.

Tacloban was ground zero of Super Typhoon Haiyan — the strongest storm on record — that claimed more than 7,350 lives in 2013.

Sano gained world attention that year when, as the Philippines’ lead negotiator, he made a tearful appeal for a climate change accord during UN talks in Warsaw. He also went on a 14-day fast.

Last year he embarked on a symbolic one-day hunger strike to try to maintain pressure before UN talks in Peru, attracting followers around the world via social media.

On his journey he plans to travel — walking for much of the way — to places reportedly affected by climate change in Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, Australia, India, Africa and North America.

These include Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, said by experts to have been hit by ocean acidification and rising sea temperatures and sea levels.

The final leg of his journey will be a 60-day, 1,500-kilometre (930-mile) walk from Rome to Paris. He aims to arrive towards the end of the year in time for the conference.

Sano resigned earlier this week as the Philippine government’s envoy to the climate talks to concentrate on his march to Paris.

“I need to go on this pilgrimage together with the people who believe in this fight ... I cannot be walking around the world and still get paid with taxpayers’ money,” he said.

He said the government had not explained why he was not sent to last year’s summit in Lima. A report in a British newspaper, The Guardian, claimed he may have been dropped due to political pressure from rich countries of whom he had been critical.

The overarching goal of the Paris pact is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-Industrial Revolution levels. The aim is to have an agreement in force by 2020.