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Walking to the climate talks

Road to Arc de Triomphe

The road to Paris is a long one for Yeb Saño, who is walking from Rome to raise awareness of the impact of climate change. Yann Caradec under a Creative Commons Licence

Philippine Yeb Saño is going to great lengths to get the world to focus ahead of the Paris climate negotiations, as Iris Gonzales explains.

It’s a walk he will not forget. An historic walk that he hopes will raise awareness of the real issues causing climate change.

Yeb Saño, former Philippine Climate Change Commissioner, is leading a 60-day, 1,500-kilometre journey from Rome to Paris, to call the world’s attention to climate change ahead of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris from 30 November to 11 December.

As of this writing, his contingent is in Bologna, Italy, on the 14th day of the journey.

Last year, Saño also bravely travelled to Tacloban, from Manila. Tacloban, his family’s hometown, was the province hardest hit by Super Typhoon Haiyan, which struck in 2013, killing at least 6,000 people. Haiyan was one of the strongest typhoons ever to hit the Philippines.

Greenpeace paid special tribute to Saño just before he left for Rome in September to start his walk and he is backed by environmentalists and church groups around the world. He hopes to get the attention of large corporations and world governments attending the UN climate negotiations to take climate action on behalf of vulnerable countries like the Philippines.

Big corporations are currently singing their own tune in the run-up to the talks, floating what they deem to be solutions to climate change but which in reality benefit themselves.

Take, for instance, liquefied natural gas and clean oil. Oil giants such as Royal Dutch Shell are lobbying for natural gas, supposedly as an alternative to coal. In reality, natural gas is not enough as an answer to coal. The real alternative that would be good for the environment is renewable energy.

Similarly, global energy giants are also trumpeting ‘clean coal’, when there is in fact no such thing. In reality, Saño said, coal burning for power generation remains the main reason for heat-trapping gases that cause anthropogenic climate change.

He explained that there have been technological gains in reducing the pollution coming from coal plants, but these ‘band-aid’ measures have prohibitive costs and only in countries with strict air-quality regulations does pollution-control investment make business sense.

‘Coal will always be dirty, because even with technology to control air pollution, the process still produces coal ash, which when disposed of improperly can contaminate the environment with heavy metals. Also, the water used for scrubbing smoke stacks or in the ash ponds will have to be disposed of and pose a dangerous risk to human health. Coal has to be extracted from coalmines, usually through open-pit mining that leaves irreversible damage and creates black wastelands. As such, there can be relatively “cleaner” coal technologies but it can never be truly “clean”,’ he told me by email.

According to an article published by the Guardian, Saño hopes a miracle will happen in Paris so that countries achieve a fair agreement during the talks.

Front cover of November 2015 issue of New Internationalist

‘The impact of climate change is not just a function of the strength of hazards like typhoons, but it’s a function of people’s development. If people are still subject to unfair global economic structures, then people will remain vulnerable and climate change will exacerbate all of that,’ he said.

Like Sano, I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Perhaps miracles do happen.

Read more about what’s on the table at Paris in the November 2015 issue of New Internationalist.

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