Advocates say ‘clean coal’ a false solution to Philippine climate crisis
MANILA, Philippines– As the world meets in Madrid, Spain for the 25th United Nations climate conference, Filipino advocates call for the phasing out of fossil fuels, especially coal, as a means to achieve national low-carbon development.
Rodne Galicha, lead convenor of Living Laudato Si Philippines, said Filipinos should remain vigilant of businesses who conduct greenwashing, or misleading the public by claiming an environment-degrading activity to be an eco-friendly one. He singled out those who are promoting “clean coal” to keep profiting at the expense of communities.
“There is no such thing as clean coal [when] it still emits carbon dioxide and other pollutants,” he said.
Galicha added carbon capture and storage (CCS) systems attached to said facilities do not fully mitigate the environmental impact of coal. He said greenhouse gas emissions caused by coal plants do not account for other life-cycle activities, “including extraction, hauling, processing, and transportation.”
Galicha said the country remains dependent on dirty sources of energy. President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed in his State of the Nation Address this year the need to fast-track the development of the country’s renewable energy sources to help deal with the climate crisis. However, Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Alfonso Cusi has maintained his support for building more coal plants to address the Philippines’ growing energy needs.
Fight against coal
Negros Island has been a recent hotbed of activism against fossil fuels. At the center of the most recent incident was a proposed 300-megawatt coal plant by SMC Global Power Holdings Corporation, which has been put on hold.
The plant would feature a circulating fluidized bed (CFB) technology, which could lower the greenhouse gas emissions produced. However, advocates claimed it only mitigates the emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, and does not address the additional pollution that could be caused by discarded coal.
San Carlos Bishop Gerry Alminaza, one of the leaders of the anti-coal movement in Negros, shared that the potential social and environmental costs of the project outweigh the benefits, making it a “false solution.”
“We are determined to prove together with other stakeholders that Negros is ready and capable to transition to 100% RE (renewable energy) and will be sustainable,” he said.
Alminaza added that he and his allies would focus on monitoring the implementation of the executive order issued by former Negros Occidental Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr last March, which declares the province as coal-free. This involves campaigning for the development of the island’s renewable energy potential. (READ: The youth behind coal-free Negros Occidental)
“We need to find ways to maximize the full potential of solar and geothermal plants in Negros to meet the energy supply demands of the island making coal plant unnecessary,” he said.
To maintain momentum, Alminaza suggested raising the "awareness of both our public officials and their constituency through traditional and social media to counteract the false propaganda of coal proponent groups and to sway public opinion to the truth about coal and the climate emergency.”
His group also intends to continue engaging in dialogues with current Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson regarding the proposed SMC coal plant. Lacson initially planned to allow the construction of the facility to push through before protests forced him to stop it last June. (READ: [OPINION] Breathing out coal: How victims of the climate can be its protectors)
“We plan to take full advantage of it by dialoguing with DOE Regional Director, our provincial governor, and city and municipal mayors and ask them to declare their cities and municipalities coal-free and will go RE,” he said.
The coal issue has also been controversial in Palawan, where residents of the town of Narra are fighting to block a 15-megawatt coal plant by DMCI Power Corporation. The project has been pushed since 2012 to help address the supply problem in the province. However, fierce opposition by academic and civil society groups have already forced the proposed plant out of two target sites in the province.
The Green Thumb coalition said that pushing for the DMCI coal plant does only contradict President Duterte's directive for renewable energy development, but also is an ironic act for the Philippines that is highly vulnerable to climate change.
"With less than 11 years left to limit temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius average globally by reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, our current and future climate safety relies on whether we reduce our GHG emissions or allow it to expand," Greenpeace-Philippines representative Sonny Batungbakal said.
Hoping to end the use of coal and other fossil fuels for power, Galicha called on the DOE to forge the country towards a future powered by genuinely clean energy.
“Without clear, transparent and measurable transition measures from carbon-based development to a cleaner and sustainable one, this is just a fakery as the DOE leadership is still playing inside the jurassic park,” he said. – Rappler.com
John Leo Algo is the Program Manager of Climate Action for Sustainability Initiative (KASALI). This article was published through the support of Rosa Luxemberg Foundation and Climate Tracker’s Climate Journalism Fellowship.