Developing nations have launched an impassioned attack on the failure of rich countries to live up to their climate change pledges in the wake of the disaster in the Philippines.
With more than 3600 people now believed to have been killed by Typhoon Haiyan, moves by several major economies to backtrack on commitments over carbon emissions have put the world's poorest and wealthiest states on a collision course, on the eve of crucial high-level talks at a summit of world powers.
Yeb Sano, the Philippines' lead negotiator at the United Nations climate change summit being held in Warsaw, spoke of a major breakdown in relations overshadowing the talks, which are to pave the way for a 2015 deal to bring down global emissions.
The diplomat, on his sixth day of a hunger strike staged in solidarity with Haiyan's victims, said: "We are very concerned. Public announcements from some countries about lowering targets are not conducive to building trust. We must acknowledge the new climate reality and put forward a new system to help us manage the risks and deal with the losses."
Munjurul Hannan Khan, representing the world's 47 least affluent countries, said: "They [rich nations] are behaving irrationally and unacceptably. The way they are talking to the most vulnerable countries is not acceptable. Today the poor are suffering from climate change. But tomorrow the rich countries will be."
Recent decisions by Australia, Japan and Canada to downgrade their efforts on climate change have caused panic among those states most affected by global warming, who fear others will follow as they rearrange their priorities during the downturn.
In the past few days, Japan has announced it will backtrack on its pledge to reduce its emission cuts to 3.8 per cent by 2020 on the basis that it had to close its nuclear reactors after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Australia, which has not sent a minister to the talks, signalled it might weaken its targets and is repealing domestic carbon laws.
Canada has pulled out of the Kyoto accord, which committed major industrial economies to reducing their annual CO2 emissions to below 1990 levels.
China's lead negotiator in Warsaw, Su Wei, said: "I do not have any words to describe my dismay at Japan's decision." He criticised Europe for showing a lack of ambition to cut emissions further, adding: "They talk about ratcheting up ambition, but rather they would have to ratchet up to ambition from zero ambition."
When the highest level talks start at the summit today, due to be attended by representatives from 195 countries, the developing world will seek confirmation from states that they will not follow the path of Japan and others.
British Prime Minister David Cameron's comments at the weekend in which he backed carbon emission cuts and suggested there was growing evidence of a link between man-made climate change and disasters such as Typhoon Haiyan will inevitably be used to pressure others to offer similar assurances.
The developing world also wants the rich Western nations to commit themselves to establishing a compensation scheme for future extreme weather events, as the impact of global warming is increasingly felt. And it wants firm signals that rich countries intend to find at least US$100 billion ($120 billion) a year by 2020 to help them to adapt their countries to severe climate extremes.
Survivors hold on to faith
Grieving survivors of the monster typhoon in the mainly Catholic Philippines gathered in shattered churches yesterday, listening to soothing sermons, asking questions of God and feeling a ray of hope.
Nine days after some of the strongest winds ever recorded and tsunami-like waves destroyed dozens of coastal towns and killed thousands of people, the services offered a moment to escape the grinding battle to survive in the wastelands.
Aid has been slow reaching the millions of affected people, but an enormous international relief operation picked up momentum over the weekend, bringing food, water and medical supplies and airlifting basic necessities to isolated communities.
About 300 people in Guiuan, the first town to be hit by Super Typhoon Haiyan, attended Sunday Mass in the courtyard of the ruined 400-year-old Immaculate Conception church.
"I wish to thank the Lord. We asked for his help for all the people who survived this typhoon to be able to eat and continue a life that is hopefully more blissful," Belen Curila, 71, said. "The Lord has strengthened our faith and made us stronger in order for us to survive and start off all over again."
About 80 per cent of the Philippines' 100 million people are Catholic, a legacy of Spanish colonial rule, and their steadfast faith was on display throughout the central islands that were devastated by Haiyan.
The Philippine Government said yesterday that 3681 were confirmed dead in the disaster, with another 1186 people missing.
If the worst fears are realised, Haiyan could be the country's deadliest natural disaster, surpassing the 1976 Moro Gulf tsunami that killed between 5000 and 8000.