‘Worst tropical typhoon ever’ wreaks havoc in the Philippines days before the start of this year’s international climate summit

Extraordinary picture of Haiyan tweeted from the International Space Station by NASA Astronaut Karen L. Nyberg.

By Anders Lorenzen

On Friday just days before the start of the annual UN climate summit in (coal reliant) Poland, the powerful typhoon ‘Haiyan’ made landfall across large swathes of the Philippine coast, before moving across the South China Sea towards Taiwan and Vietnam. So far the death toll is estimated to be in the region of 10,000, and rising. This event can only serve to reiterate to the COP19 delegates gathering in Warsaw, that the effects of climate change should never be underestimated.

The Philippines bear the brunt of the ‘strongest tropical cyclone on record
Typhoon Haiyan is the worst tropical storm the Philippines has ‘ever seen’; some even say this is the most powerful storm in recorded history. Either way, Haiyan is the 24th tropical storm to have hit the Philippines this year alone, a country in which the population is still weary from the impacts of a powerful earthquake which hit just a month ago. Dr. Jeffrey Masters, Director of Meteorology at Wundergrund.com (a meteorological forecasting site), outlined the enormity of Haiyan in his blog:

‘’Haiyan hit Guiuan, on the Philippine island of Samar, at 4:40 am local time (20:40 UTC) November 7, 2013. Three hours before landfall, the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) assessed Haiyan’s sustained winds at 195 mph, gusting to 235 mph, making it the 4th strongest tropical cyclone in world history. Satellite loops show that Haiyan weakened only slightly, if at all, in the two hours after JTWC’s advisory, so the super typhoon likely made landfall with winds near 195 mph. The next JTWC intensity estimate, for 00Z UTC November 8, about three hours after landfall, put the top winds at 185 mph. Averaging together these estimates gives a strength of 190 mph an hour after landfall. Thus, Haiyan had winds of 190 – 195 mph at landfall, making it the strongest tropical cyclone on record to make landfall in world history. The previous record was held by the Atlantic’s Hurricane Camille of 1969, which made landfall in Mississippi with 190 mph winds.’’

Climate change campaigners rally to support the victims
US based climate change organisation 350, scrambled to develop an online resource outlining how the public can help those caught up in Haiyan, as 350 co-founder Jamie Henn writes in his blog that “Climate change is loading the dice for extreme weather events like Haiyan. The storms strength and rapid development have been aided by unusually warm ocean waters and warm, moist air (warm air holds more water vapor than cold). Global warming also causes sea level rise, increasing the risk of flooding from storm surges, especially in low-lying areas like much of the Philippines. Carbon dioxide is the steroids that leads to grand-slam storms like Haiyan’’  

With each storm the debate shifts a little further
When Hurricane Sandy hit the US East Coast last year, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg and President Barack Obama were quick to make strong statements about the worsening impact of climate change. Weeks later Obama was re-elected to a second term, in which he has placed climate change high on his agenda and is eg. currently moving forward with imposing tighter legislation on US coal powered power plants. Developing nations, who contribute the least to climate change yet bear the greatest brunt of climate change, are no doubt hoping that Haiyan will serve a similar purpose in motivating the Warsaw delegates. COP15 in 2009 saw the inception of a $100 billion yearly fund for climate adaptation and mitigation projects to safeguard against the impact of climate change, however few have seen any of the financing promised and are asking for clarification about the delay.

The aftermath and the future post Haiyan
As the the storm settles down, the clean up work begins and the real cost to people’s lives and the Asian economy can begin to be measured, our thoughts turn to the the people of the Philippines and it’s neighbors. They, alongside the rest of us, must surely be wondering when the world will begin to take climate change and the destruction it causes seriously, when it will hit again and when decision makers will unilaterally step up and provide the climate financing they promised four years ago. The world’s eyes are on Warsaw.

Sub edited by Kirstie Wielandt

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