Challenging climate crisis, shifting power to people

Leon Dulce

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'We need to change the direction where our country’s climate change narratives are heading'

In the past decade, we have heard of stories like these from the margins:

Fishermen forced farther out into the open sea as boiling waste water from coal power plant pours into bay, now virtually desolate.

Big mine’s tailings spill stunts and discolors indigenous farmer’s rice crops.

Poor family loses house and livelihood to storm surge.

These are real-life anecdotes about climate change and environmental destruction that affect poor and vulnerable communities.

Coal-driven climate change 

The climate crisis worsens as fossil fuels continue to drive up greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that cause global warming, according to the International Energy Agency.

In the 2011 emissions trends, coal contributed the largest chunk of carbon dioxide emissions – about 44% – among all fossil fuels.

The trend is already being reflected in Third World countries like the Philippines where transnational corporations enjoy lesser regulations and rising demand for coal.

There are currently around 15 existing coal power plant projects across the country, 10 of which have plans to expand their installed generating capacity.

At least 17 more new coal power plant facilities are already in varying stages of development, which, in addition to expansion plans, represent a 165% increase in dirty coal capacity. (READ: The Philippines’ addiction to dirty coal and dirty politics)

Dirty coal worsens vulnerability 

Dirty coal not only drives the worsening of global warming and climate change but also worsens the vulnerabilities of communities directly affected by its toxic and other waste emissions.

Activists from Batangas province, which according to politicians is the ‘most powerful’ province in the country because it hosts the most number of power plants – point to the experience of the municipality of Calaca.

The town is where the oldest dirty coal power project operates, exposing residents to air pollution and respiratory diseases. Fisheries are vanishing in areas where the waste water of coal plants have been dumped since the 80s.

Coal pollution is just one example of the many risks that make our communities extremely prone to the impacts of climate change. Do you remember the 20-million metric tons of waste that spilled from Philex’s Padcal mine after days of extreme monsoon rainfall? How about the expanses of timber and agri-industrial plantations that paved the way for massive flash floods during typhoons Sendong and Pablo? 

The country is replete with ‘development aggression projects’ that plunder natural resources and cause environmental destruction and pollution, adversely affecting millions of Filipinos. 

EMPOWERED. Environmental activists from all over the Philippines participate in the Power Shift convergence. Photo from #SulongPH

Underlying factor

The aggravating factor behind these risks is the chronic problems of poverty and social injustice suffered by poor communities long before Yolanda struck. These social conditions have made it tremendously harder for communities to build back better. (READ: #2030Now: Time to redefine development)

When Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) swept through Central Philippines, we were grimly reminded that disaster risk reduction and climate-proofing measures in the country are still severely lacking under the administration of Pres. Benigno Aquino III.

The disaster presages a future of devastating climate norms if we do not address the country’s vulnerabilities.

Dealing with the coal problem would already be a significant step forward in our aspirations for climate mitigation and adaptation. But the energy privatization policies implemented by the Aquino administration primarily whet the monstrous appetite for dirty coal.

Coal is the logical choice of corporations as it is the cheapest, albeit dirtiest, energy source. There are coal power projects developed to create demand for local coal mines such as DMCI’s Semirara project. Others supply cheap base load electricity to large-scale mines and smelting plants, most of which are owned by the private energy owners themselves, such as Alsons for the Tampakan mine and the San Miguel’s Legenda mine.

Power to the people

We need to change the direction where our country’s climate change narratives are heading.

Indeed, when more than 150 youth and grassroots leaders came to the Power Shift Pilipinas convergence last March, we heard stories of fisherfolk and residents in Tanjay, Negros Oriental successfully mounting a barricade to stop illegal black sand mining operations. (READ: Power shift towards 350: Climate movement kicks off in Cebu)

We heard of students in Palawan marching against a proposed coal power plant soon to rise beside their university.

We heard of the successful power rate rollback due to consumer pressure that forced the Energy Regulatory Commission to do something it has never done before: to actually regulate the power industry.

We heard of the 15,000-strong mobilization across Tacloban by the People Surge, an alliance for Yolanda victims, demanding sustained relief, rehabilitation, recovery, and justice from the negligent Aquino government.

‘The world is yours’

The organizers and participants of Power Shift Pilipinas united after conference: that addressing the enormous climate crisis in the Philippines requires the collective wisdom and action of the millions of grassroots citizens, precisely as history has taught us time and again.

We united in the belief that climate solutions of renewable and self-sufficient energy, disaster and climate resilience, and genuine people-centered development should be in the hands of the people. We now go back to our own communities to live and breathe new, bigger, and bolder stories of the people’s struggles for global transformative change and justice. 

As we work to shift the power away from the corporate and political elites towards the Filipino masses, let me conclude with a challenge a great leader once said to the youth of the world: “The world is yours, as well as ours, but in the last analysis, it is yours. You young people, full of vigor and vitality, are in the bloom of life, like the sun at 8 or 9 in the morning. Our hope is placed in you. The world belongs to you.” –

Leon Dulce is the current campaign coordinator of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE). He is part of the core organizing team of Power Shift Pilipinas (PSPH), a national youth-led climate convergence held in the University of San Carlos in Cebu last March 26 to 29.

PSPH was organized by the AGHAM Youth, Asia-Pacific Research Network (APRN), Redraw the Line, Cordillera Youth Network for Global Change, the Climate Reality Project, Kalikasan PNE, Visayas Coalition for the Ecology, Pilipinas and the Network Opposed to Coal Power Plants in Davao. It was supported by its partners, the Farmers Development Center (FARDEC), Foundation for the Philippine Environment (FPE), and Global Green Grants Fund. Rappler’s MovePH was the event’s media partner.

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