Remembering a champion of climate justice

As the Katowice climate talks were ongoing, news came through that veteran climate negotiator Bernarditas Mueller had passed away in Geneva on 14 December 2018. Mueller, or Ditas as she was fondly known, had represented her country the Philippines and developing countries in various capacities in the UN climate negotiations over the years. The following is the text of a eulogy delivered at her funeral on 21 December by Vice Yu of the South Centre, the intergovernmental developing-country think-tank where Ditas had served as Special Adviser on Climate Change.

THANK you, Vera, Mr. Mueller, for inviting me to be here to represent Ditas's other family, her climate change family, and to say a few words about that aspect of her life.

Ditas was well known and well loved in the climate change negotiations. She will be deeply missed; yet her spirit, strength, determination and commitment continue to live on in those of us, like myself, that had the fortune to have been taught by and to have learnt from her and her work.

Many of us met Ditas in the course of our work in the climate change negotiations. I remember the first time I sat down with her at the South Centre to learn about the Convention 11 years ago ... what was supposed to be a one-hour meeting in the beginning of the afternoon stretched to the entire afternoon! Even after that, since then, I have continued to learn from her.

If there is one lesson about climate change and international cooperation that was at the heart of what Ditas taught us, it is that we are all interdependent, and that such interdependence carries with it common but differentiated responsibilities for our actions.

But let me now read out to you how others in our climate change family knew and loved Ditas:

Ditas was always very proud of having been, for a very long time, the voice of the Philippines in the climate change negotiations. She was also very happy to have also had the privilege and honour of representing other developing countries like Bolivia and Sudan in the climate change negotiations.

In the Philippines' official closing statement on 15 December at the climate change conference in Poland, the Philippines said this of Ditas:

'Ditas was once described by The Guardian in an article as the dragon lady of the climate negotiations. For others, she was the fearless warrior for developing countries. But we were always awed by this magnificent woman, dressed in the colours of Europe and Asia, pulling everywhere her roll-on luggage full of COP decisions, recalling every article of the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement, always speaking impeccable and grammatically correct English. Above all, we remember her passion for people and planet, for climate justice. We remember Ditas for her generosity, especially in mentoring young Filipino and developing country negotiators. With her passing the Philippines has lost a dear colleague, developing countries lost a champion of their interests, and the world lost a great citizen.'

Another colleague, Martin Khor of Malaysia, who had taken Ditas on as our special adviser on climate change when he was the Executive Director of the South Centre, wrote of Ditas:

'Never have we known someone so totally deeply committed, indeed so fully in love with the Convention, with its faithful interpretation and implementation, with the rights and interests of the developing countries that she came to symbolise so much, for the climate, for Mother Earth and for the people of the world, South or North, East or West, old or young.

'Those are her finest legacies to us ... the formidable spirit of defending the Convention and what is right, the spirit of taking part despite difficulties and pain, the generosity of sharing, the love for her friends. And in the climate change negotiations, the need for developing countries to unite positions and to put text on the table.'

What motivated Ditas to be so passionate and committed to the climate change negotiations?

Ditas once said, in an article in The Guardian nine years ago, that climate change is the most complex and satisfying of all the diplomacy she has done because there is so much at stake. Get it right, she said, and the world has the chance to both halt catastrophic climate change and find a better path to develop. Get it wrong and all the injustices and disadvantages that developing countries now face will be magnified 1,000 times in the coming years. She said that 'I am not working for developing countries but for our children's children and what we will leave the world.'

Clearly, Ditas not only loved the negotiations and regaled us with stories of negotiations past; she even more so loved her family, and would regale us with stories of the antics and affection of her grandchildren. For her, her work in the climate negotiations was all about leaving behind a better world for her grandchildren to grow up in.

I think the words of Omar El Arini of Egypt, another of Ditas's contemporaries and who worked hand in hand with her in creating the Green Climate Fund several years ago, can speak for us all:

'The legacy left to the world by the ancient Egyptians was the idea of the immortality of the soul. Ditas's soul will be immortalised in the so many whose spirits she revived, whose courage she inspired and whose self-esteem and dignity she personified.

'Indeed, if Mother Earth were to be renamed, the new name would be Ditas; if it were to have a future, the path to it must be Ditas's path, armed with encyclopaedic knowledge of issues and indefatigable determination, iron will manifested with exemplary integrity, zeal for justice and enduring compassion for the poor, and indomitable faith in the sanctity of humanity.

'Ditas has been, and always will be, a tributary of the River of Light, which in the words of the poet Gibran Khalil Gibran "flows from ex-eternity to eternity". May she illuminate the darkness of our world. We belong to God, and into His fold is our final return.'

As we say our goodbyes to Ditas and she returns to the fold of God, permit me to share with you this poem from Zaheer Fakir from South Africa, with whom Ditas worked on climate finance issues and who was a Chair of the Green Climate Fund Board:

In Loving Memory of Our Ditas!

You never said you were leaving us

You never said goodbye

You were gone before we knew it

And only God knew why

A million times we needed you

A million times we'll cry

If love alone could save you

You would never have died

In life we all loved you dearly

In death we love you still

In our hearts you hold a place

That no one could ever fill.

It breaks our heart to lose you

But you did not go alone

A part of us goes with you

The day God took you home.

Goodbye Ditas. Amen.

*Third World Resurgence No. 335/336, 2018, pp 38-39