The long, chilly road to Paris climate talks


InterAksyon, Paris, France

The journey to Paris for the UN-led climate summit has been long for many.

For climate activist Naderev 'Yeb' Saño and scientist Dan Price, they took a fashionable way to reach Paris. Their goal: To spread awareness of climate change and put pressure on the world leaders to address climate justice.

For Saño, who led the People's Pilgrimage, the toughest stretch was walking along the chilly and mountainous villages from Rome to Paris for about 1,500 kilometers.

For Price, a young scientist who studied the Antarctic sea ice, he cycled from the South Pole on his way to Paris covering some 17,000 kilometers.

These two young climate advocates do not know each other, but their twin odysseys were not over when they reached Paris last week, where world leaders and negotiators from more than 195 countries met to hammer out a global climate deal this week.

Scientists have warned of catastrophic consequences if the debate on climate crisis and governments fails to avert rising global ambient temperatures.

They needed to make sure that the voice of the poor and the climate vulnerable people are heard in the four corners of the UN climate talks venue at Le Bourget, France.

Hoping for a miracle

Armed with Pope Francis' blessing, Saño and his fellow pilgrims walked over 60 days hoping for a miracle and a meaningful action that the people wanted to see through the fair, ambitious and binding agreement at the end of this conference.

In the 2013 Warsaw climate talks, Saño, who served as chief negotiator for the Philippines, personified the threat of climate change as he wept and pleaded for climate action when he delivered his speech before the delegations after Super Typhoon Haiyan [local name Yolanda] devastated the Philippines.

More than 6,000 people died and thousands of others were left homeless by that monster storm.

"We wanted to be heard. For millions of people, climate change is an issue of survival, a matter of life and death," Saño told InterAksyon.

Saño joined up with other inter-faith groups and climate advocates, such as the Our Voices and the Climate Reality Project founded by former US Vice President Al Gore.

"We have been walking in our pilgrimage, on every continent on this spiritual journey to carry a message of hope and urgency about climate crisis," Saño said. "It must resonate across the world in every community."

Paris was not the ultimate destination, he stressed. "It should not give us the illusion that this journey ends here. As a human family, we must all continue to walk together and build a place that is harmonious and sustainable."

The People's Pilgrimage concluded in Paris with a 'fast for climate' activity on the first day of the negotiations.

Solidarity across faiths, boundaries, generations

"In this whole journey, this has been a truly interfaith effort and we highlight the importance of solidarity across faiths, across boundaries and across generations. It is the only way to stand together and walk together to strongly give the message of hope and urgency for climate action," Saño said. Even former US vice president Al Gore, who personally met with Saño and the Philippine delegation through the Climate Reality Project that he founded, gave a message of support to the Filipino people, especially those affected by Super Typhoon Haiyan.

"What you did when Haiyan hit Philippines electrified the meeting at the UN climate talks in Warsaw in 2013. And it really made a huge difference because the other delegations had to suddenly experience the issue on very human terms, and it really made a tremendous difference," Gore told Saño.

"One of the secrets of the human conditions is that suffering binds people together, and when they experience in their hearts the suffering they knew the Philippines was enduring during that tragedy, it really made a tremendous difference."

Al Gore expressed his sympathy to the Filipino people, saying, "I really want to express my condolences to those who lost their loves ones, homes. Thank you for converting that loss and suffering into determination and activism and ability to communicate in ways that really touch the hearts of people."

Dean Tony La Viña, spokesman of the Philippine delegation, shared with Gore that the Philippines is playing an important role in leading many small, climate-vulnerable countries through the Climate Vulnerable Forum, where more than 110 countries support the below 1.5 degrees Celsius global warming limit.

Long-term goal: 1.5 degrees

"Here we are championing the long-term goal of under 1.5 degrees Celsius. I can actually smell and taste the agreement that we can get this goal," La Viña said. "But we need civil society to lobby to the big governments in the face of their resistance to push this as a priority."

La Viña said the head of the Philippine delegation to the UN climate talks Climate Change Commission, Manny De Guzman, has been relaying instructions of perseverance and flexibility to attain a universal agreement in Paris.

"It is very difficult for us to leave Paris without achieving that goal," La Viña told Al Gore.

Gore said: "I am hopeful that, at the conclusion of the meetings here there will be the right kind of language, and even more, not only the signatures of the national delegations but also the shared commitment of all the civil society members, activist and business community, and investors."

"The entire world has to come out on shared determination to really change. And of course there will be some who will resist this and slow it down. But, once our numbers are large enough, the change will be irresistible," Gore said.

Cycling for climate from Pole to Paris

Your British scientist and climate activist Dan Price started the "Pole to Paris" campaign to help raise public awareness of climate change issues in the run up to Paris climate talks.

Price led the journey from the Antarctic to Paris by bicycle highlighting the consequences of melting ice sheets and sea level rise passing through over 15 countries.

"We want our leaders to take action. Climate change is about people and caring for our environment. That's the message we want world leaders to know so they would act and know that this is a matter of urgency. It is a matter of survival especially for the poorer, vulnerable countries," Price said.