Climate Talks with Yeb Saño: “Love should be at the center of our advocacy” – CIDSE

Climate Talks with Yeb Saño: “Love should be at the center of our advocacy”

Picture: Nitin Bhardwaj/GreenFaith

From 31 October to 12 November, the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) will take place in Glasgow. After being postponed due to the pandemic restrictions last year, this summit is expected to be crucial for climate negotiations. Many delegations from the Global South encountered obstacles to participate in the important event due to the inequity of access to the vaccine for COVID- 19 and the restrictions that still remain in their country. In this context, CIDSE shares experiences from our Global South partners as we consider their voices are one of the most important ones.  

After the challenging couple of years we experienced due to the COVID 19 pandemic, we can still hear stories of loss and frustration related to the pandemic and climate events around the world. Yeb Saño however, has lived many challenging moments in his life before the pandemic as well, some of which pushed him to engage more for climate justice.  

For example, in 2013 Saño, multi-awarded climate justice advocate and currently working as Executive Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, experienced the impact and catastrophe left by the typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, where it is also one of the most dangerous countries to become an environmental activist as violence against land and environmental defenders in the Philippines is a systemic problem. “The super typhoon Haiyan landed in my family’s hometown, it left a massive trail of devastation, thousands of people die during that time. We lost friends and loved ones to the typhoon”; he tells us remembering that moment as crucial in his advocacy career. Before that, in 2004, a series of typhoons also hit the community where he was working and witnessed how people died: “I saw in my own eyes how people suffered and how the disregard for the care of our environment had led to the catastrophe”, he says and adds “what has stuck with me over the years and has really given me the inspiration to continue standing up for what is right, and speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves”.  

In the past years, he has been working with diverse communities in Southeast Asia on issues related to the climate crisis, campaigning for the defense of ancient forests or against carbon polluters. Besides, as a member of the Laudato Si’ Movement, he works helping people in vulnerable communities in the journey towards ecological conversion for an integral ecology. “I’ve invested so much time on this as this has also allowed me to spend a lot of time with the most vulnerable communities affected by social injustice by the climate crisis and of course, now the COVID pandemic”, he shares. In the latest IPCC report, published this August, it is predicted that Southeast Asia– already considered one of the planet’s most vulnerable regions to the climate crisis- will particularly suffer stark consequences, such as rising sea levels, heatwaves, drought, and more intense and frequent bouts of rain. 

“All of the challenges we face, and all of the difficulties, all of the heartaches, all of the frustration we see all around us that happens at any point in life, and all the reasons that make us lose sleep at night… these should be the same reasons that would make us get out of bed in the morning. Hope is the only thing that is stronger than fear, hope is taking that first step, even if you don’t see the rest of its own. Hope is about believing in a better future, even if you’re not sure it will come”, comments Saño, who also affirms that one of the things that give him a lot of motivation to continue his work despite any obstacle is the opportunity to tell his children (a 17 years old boy and 14 years old daughter): “I have done my best, and I have been able to do what I can to leave you a world that is better than I have found, and better and more peaceful and more just”.  

Many investigations affirm that the climate crisis will affect poor countries, where different vulnerable communities live, including children, indigenous, and racialized communities, among others. These same groups of people face even bigger challenges such as hunger, access to basic resources, or health services. “There is a big disparity between the vaccinations happening in the Global North versus the Global South. In particular, in my country and then in the Southeast Asian region, we are dealing with a massive inequity in terms of vaccination”, explains Yeb when asked why he is not attending the COP26 this year and adds: “we still confront a process that is slow, a process that has not been delivered as responsibly as necessary as dictated by the science. My realistic expectation is that the kind of political delays that have happened in the past years will continue and that means, we have to find other ways to solve the problem, we have to find other venues to make people understand this reality and open the eyes of people to the urgency of the climate crisis 

Advocating for climate justice in a country that faces many disparities is already a challenge, but it can also be an act of major empowerment, as described by Yeb, “sometimes we do it because we’re angry, sometimes we do it because we’re frustrated or disappointed. But for me -and I like to share this especially with young people- we should do it out of love. Love should be at the center of our advocacy; love should be at the center of our desire to see the change in this world, we stand up to advocate to avert the biggest ecological crisis that we’ve ever faced as a human family, the climate crisis can only be overcome when we do things out of love”.  

When asked about the connection between his advocacy work and spiritual recognition, Yeb Saño, who despite all the things he has seen and experienced due to the impact of the climate crisis and inequity in the world, responds without a place to doubts: “Of course. There is a problem in the environment, but the biggest problem we have is in our hearts. This is a spiritual crisis, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done there because this spiritual acknowledgment will only be meaningful if it happens at a scale that affects more people more than ever and people translate that acknowledgment into actual actions and, and real-world change.” 


Books to find inspiration by Yeb Saño 

One of my favorite books is a spiritual book. It’s a book titled “Peace is Every Step”, and the author is a Buddhist monk, his name is Thich Nhat Hanh. I’ve been reading this book for more than 20 years now, it has given me a lot of strength, inspiration, and a perspective towards peace in the world.  I also have another recommendation and it’s actually something that is dear to me, a book that every climate activist or climate advocate should read “This changes everything” by Naomi Klein. So, anybody who cares about the future of the world and how climate change affects all of us, and how we can avoid this crisis, should read Naomi Klein’s book.  

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