Philippine climate envoy steps down to lead 'pilgrimage'

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 22, 2015 8:40 AM

By Imelda V. Abano

MANILA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The Philippines' climate change commissioner, Naderev "Yeb" Saño, who grabbed the limelight at U.N. climate talks with emotional pleas for action, stepped down on Wednesday to lead a "pilgrimage" to parts of the world hit by climate impacts.

Dressed in a traditional embroidered shirt, Saño emerged from his office in Manila to begin a symbolic 10 km walk on Earth Day with other climate activists in sweltering heat.

Saño first tendered his resignation on March 13, and sent another "irrevocable resignation" on April 22 to Philippine President Benigno Aquino III.

"I sincerely feel that the battle on climate change cannot be won merely within the confines of the institutions we have built and the boundaries of our country," Saño said in his letter.

"After stepping down from public office, I will be immediately embarking on a global pilgrimage to highlight the issue of climate change, with the fervent hope of rallying people and communities towards building a more just, sustainable and peaceful world," he wrote.

At U.N. climate talks in Warsaw in November 2013, he made a passionate appeal to world leaders to act on climate change and vowed to fast regularly in solidarity with the victims of Typhoon Haiyan which devastated the Philippines that month.

"I believe that going back to civil society is the best way for me to continue the fight against climate change. I have done my part as a climate negotiator," Saño told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The former envoy was left out of the Philippine negotiating team at last year's climate talks in Lima amid speculation about policy rifts.

Saño said he expected civil society mobilization on climate change around the world to be "unprecedented, more bold, more uncompromising".

"I have never seen faith communities converge so intensely on the climate issue," he said.

JOURNEY TO CLIMATE HOTSPOTS

Saño has joined a global multi-faith climate campaign called "OurVoices", created in recognition of the moral urgency of the problems caused by global warming.

He will lead a "People's Pilgrimage" to the world's climate change hotspots starting next month in Tacloban City in the Philippines, which was destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan.

Accompanied by religious leaders, faith groups and other activists, the journey will take him to Vanuatu, battered by Cyclone Pam in March, as well as South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, the Great Barrier Reef, India, Africa and the Americas.

Saño said the pilgrimage will culminate in a 1,500 km, 60-day walk from Rome to Paris, where world leaders are due to forge a new global agreement to tackle climate change at a U.N. conference in December.

"Paris must be seen as a stepping stone towards a new future," said Saño.

But the summit risked producing a pragmatic political pact that would meet pressure for a deal but would be "unacceptable for those communities whose future is condemned to more devastating impacts", he said.

Voltaire Alferez, a climate activist and trustee of Earth Day Network Philippines, said Saño's resignation was not surprising because his stance on the climate talks was "no longer compatible with the 'pivot' of the Philippine government's strategy".

"The Philippine government's loss is a gain for the worldwide climate movement," Alferez told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

(Reporting by Imelda V. Abano; editing by Megan Rowling)