GUIUAN, Philippines – French President Francois Hollande met survivors of one of the world’s strongest typhoons in a remote Philippine coastal town on Friday, February 27, seeking to sound a global alarm on climate change ahead of a crucial UN summit.
Hollande is on a two-day trip to the Southeast Asian archipelago, regarded as a frontline state in the struggle against global warming, as part of his campaign to build diplomatic momentum ahead of the Paris summit in December.
The French president is determined to broker an historic pact in Paris to save the world from catastrophic impacts of climate change, and he went to the storm-battered Philippines to highlight those feared consequences.
“My visit is not only as president of the Republic of France, but also as a member of the international community which is mobilising to succeed at the Paris summit,” Hollande said in Guiuan in the far east of the Philippines. (READ: France offers 50M euros to PH for disaster prevention)
The small fishing community of Guiuan was one of the first towns hit when Super Typhoon Haiyan roared in from the Pacific Ocean 15 months ago with the strongest winds ever recorded on land.
Haiyan then swept across already deeply impoverished farming and fishing communities of the central Philippines, leaving more than 7,350 dead or missing in the world’s deadliest natural disaster of 2013.
The Philippines endures about 20 major storms or typhoons every year but scientists say they are getting stronger and more unpredictable because of climate change, and that this will likely mean more Haiyan-like disasters.
In Guiuan, Hollande met fishermen who lost their homes during Haiyan, walked past the remains of a destroyed church and spoke at an elementary school with a roof still missing after being torn off during the typhoon.
“I’m here with you, in Guiuan, to show the entire world the devastation from the typhoon you have suffered,” he said.
Forty-year-old fisherman Jessie Bisaya said he was awestruck when Hollande shook his hand next to a seaside row of shanties where he lives.
“I’ve never seen a foreign leader before. We are happy and honoured that he visited our town,” Bisaya told Agence France-Presse from his cramped home made entirely out of tarpaulin that he shares with 8 other family members.
“Life has been tough since Yolanda (Haiyan). We have not fully recovered. It can get really hot inside this house and we sleep packed like sardines.”
Hollande, the first French head of state to visit the Philippines, brought a high-profile delegation with him, including French actresses Marion Cotillard and Melanie Laurent.
The Hollywood stars, as well as Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, traveled with him to Guiuan.
In a joint appeal for climate change action in Manila on Thursday, February 27, Hollande and Philippine President Aquino emphasised that Filipinos had “endured an unprecedented series of extreme weather events in the last few years”.
The main message in their appeal was for world leaders to secure a “universal, equitable and ambitious climate deal” in Paris to contain climate change.
Hollande presented the appeal as a show of unity that could serve as a model in the lead-up to Paris for rich and poor nations, whose divisions led to a similar effort at a UN summit in Copenhagen in 2009 ending in disarray.
The goal of the planned Paris pact, which must enter into force by 2020, is to limit warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-Industrial Revolution levels.
Scientists warn that on current trends, Earth is on track for double that or more – a recipe for catastrophic droughts, fiercer storms like Haiyan and other extreme weather events. – Rappler.com
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