#ClimateActionPH dilemma: Cutting carbon emissions from coal

MANILA, Philippines – With a platform that’s focused on crime, drugs, and corruption, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte doesn’t seem to have a concrete stance on climate change issues. (READ: Advocates dismayed at presidential bets' 'catfight' over coal

Nevertheless, as the presumptive winner of the 2016 presidential elections, he will have to face this dilemma head-on: how to fulfill a 70-percent cut in the Philippines’ greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, a chunk of which is supposed to come from the energy sector.

The cut was promised by the Aquino administration under the Paris Agreement on climate change. The glaring irony is that the administration also approved 29 new coal-fired power plants, which will go online by 2020.

Coal combustion is a major producer of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, which causes global warming and its flipside, climate change.

Those new coal plants are expected to bring coal’s share in the country’s energy mix to over 70 percent by the time we’re supposed to have fulfilled our committed emission reduction. 

Yet the issue isn’t merely our commitment to the Paris Agreement. Even without it, the Philippines needs to get serious about mitigating climate change because the country is most vulnerable to it, experts say.

Moving toward renewable energy plays a critical role in slowing down climate change, and it reduces the Philippines’ exposure to dirty and imported fossil fuels, whose prices fluctuate all the time.

The big picture

Given these scenarios, it’s difficult to grasp why the government approved more coal plants. Legarda cited a possible reason. “You can see there's a very strong lobby to retain and to sustain and to continue [the use of] fossil fuels, especially coal.”

Who’s leading the lobby? "I cannot mention names, but there are powerful people within the government, and I would even say, the Aquino administration, who are really trying to make a killing out of these coal-fired power plants,” Muni said. “They know that they are losing the markets in Europe and the US and Asia is now their new market.”

Various climate action groups are urging the government to roll out a concrete plan to significantly reduce our dependence on coal, starting with a moratorium on building new coal plants.

“[The government has to revoke] these permits. There has to be a review of how these permits were given,” Muni said.

Yet he also clarified that this should go hand in hand with a proper plan on how to transition to renewable energy. “You can’t just say ‘no (stop building coal plants).’ [You’ll also give] renewable energy a bad name if there will be loss of jobs in the fossil fuel industry.” 

For her part, Legarda said the shift to renewable energy is not as daunting as it seems.

Countries such as Norway and Iceland now run on 100% renewable energy. The United States, India, and China have already committed to reduce their coal consumption drastically. Recently, Hawaii made headlines when it approved a legislation to shift to 100% renewable energy by 2045.

It is up to the country’s next leader to set the agenda.

Duterte previously said his climate change mitigation policy would consist of the purchase of state-of-the-art anti-pollution equipment and stricter enforcement of air pollution laws.

However, during the second leg of the presidential debates, he called the United Nations “hypocrites” for imposing mitigation requirements on small nations like the Philippines, while failing to sanction the world's biggest carbon dioxide emitters.

"The issue of climate, the issue of urgent climate finance, and climate action rest with our commander-in-chief because it is the greatest humanitarian challenge of our time, and for me, one of the biggest, if not the biggest national issue,” Legarda said. – Rappler.com