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Advocate calls for stronger climate policies

Published on 26 July 2017 Philippines

AFTER President Rodrigo Duterte delivered his State of the Nation Address (SONA) a year into his tenure, climate advocates are not satisfied with the climate change policies implemented so far during his administration.

Rodne Galicha, branch manager of the Climate Reality Project Philippines, said Duterte's support of installing coal-fired power plants will only place the country in a path opposite of the shift to more sustainable energy sources by other countries.

"This is not only about mitigation or the reduction of carbon emissions, but also the health of nearby communities within the coal-fired power plant areas," he said.

While the President tackled measures for improving food production and disaster risk management in his Sona, there was no mention of his plans for developing renewable energy resources in the country.

"I have no problem with his adaptation measures, but we cannot adapt forever," Galicha added. "Duterte reiterated that he believes in climate change, but he did not talk about mitigation measures, especially renewable energy."

Causes for concern

Advocates have pointed out the irony of the Philippines, considered one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change impacts, such as sea level rise and extreme weather events, opting for coal-fired power plants to fuel its development for the next few decades.

The latest data from the Department of Energy (DOE) show that between 2016 and 2019, 63 percent of the country's expected additional capacity will come from coal-fired power plants, with none of the renewable energy plants providing more than 10 percent.

Galicha said that Duterte's backing of coal-fired power plants was a means of "looking back at those people who helped him in the elections."

Two of the biggest funders for his election campaign, brothers Tomas and Nicasio Alcantara, are stockholders of the Alsons Power Group, which operates three diesel-powered facilities and a coal-fired power plant that recently opened in Sarangani, southern Mindanao.

This continued support increases the likelihood of severe environmental and health impacts brought by coal-based energy generation. 

A recent Harvard University-led study projected that Southeast Asia's coal emissions will tripe by 2030 from current levels as a result of a massive increase in energy demand. This would result in 70,000 deaths should all the fossil fuel-based power plant projects in the region proceed.

In light of these findings, Galicha highlighted the need for strengthening the country's growing renewable energy sector, capitalizing on the rich solar and wind energy potential brought by its geographical location.

"We have the laws and the targets and indicators from the [United Nations] Sustainable Development Goals. We have the plants for renewable energy, so talking about opening more coal-fired power plants is quite obsolete, and not up-to-date," he added.

On March 1, Duterte signed the Paris climate agreement, under which the Philippines pledged to reduce its carbon emissions by 70 percent in its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) with assistance from developed countries. However, achieving this goal would be difficult should plans to construct the coal-fired power plants push through due to the high greenhouse gas emissions they would produce.

The country's ratification of the historic treaty was also preceded by months of criticism from Duterte, alleging that the mechanisms of the agreement would unfairly hinder developing nations such as the Philippines of economic growth. He also questioned the United Nations, especially the developed nations, regarding their willingness to provide technical and financial aid to poorer countries in pursuit of sustainable, climate-resilient development.

Areas for improvement

Emphasizing the need for a shift in perspective regarding the country's energy mix, Galicha recommended that the President use a more science-oriented approach for developing and implementing renewable energy policies in the Philippines.

While the national solar and wind power capacity has dramatically increased the past decade, renewable energy constitutes about a third of the country's energy mix.

"He needs to listen to the scientists and the experts in the DOE and the National Renewable Energy Board because there are recommendations already. We also have the National Renewable Energy Act so I think that's the way forward," he said.

Galicha noted the need for localizing the implementation of the Paris agreement to empower the local government units (LGUs) and their constituents for improving the climate resilience and disaster risk management in their respective towns.

"The Paris agreement should be understood by the communities and the local government units," he added. "Actions on the Paris agreement should involve the participation of the LGUs because at the end of the day, they're the ones who are on the ground and the ones who are experiencing the effects of climate change."

Despite the Philippines's key role in the negotiations that led to the adoption of the agreement, many local officials remain unaware of the significance of its terms and measures. This can be attributed to the lack of strong coordination between LGUs and the National Government, which has led to poor implementation of community-based adaptation plans.

Galicha also stressed the importance of empowering consumers regarding energy use through information dissemination campaigns and strong local programs. Doing so will help form a strong backbone of grassroots-based initiatives that will contribute to more sustainable energy practices for generations to come.

"It's all about giving them the freedom to choose the kind of energy they want to use. We need to liberalize that kind of course. Consumers should be given the right to choose what kind of energy they want to use," Galicha said. 

Source: Sun Star Manila | 26 July 2017