The road to decarbonization
This is the text of the keynote speech of Philippine Senator Loren Legarda during the 31st Climate Reality Leadership Corps Traning, March 14, 2016, at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila.
Former United States Vice President and fellow advocate Al Gore; fellow workers in the climate arena; distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen,
This is an honor that I have looked forward to for sometime now – to be with a fellow environmental activist, an enlightened man like Al Gore, who has taken a personal devotion, not just to talk, but also to take decisive action on climate change.
I am not sure if there has been anyone who has had the unique honor of being bestowed the Nobel Peace Prize, together with a Grammy and an Emmy award, but these accolades certainly speak volumes about Mr. Gore.
Thank you, Mr. Vice-President, for bringing the Climate Reality Project to the Philippines!
Let me begin my presentation with a basic question: What is justice?
The answer is simple. Justice is giving everyone their due.
My next question is something I want each of us to reflect on and relate to the concept of justice.
Do the future generations deserve the kind of climate we are leaving behind? Do our children and grandchildren deserve the Earth we are leaving behind for them?
The air that we breathe – we have polluted it to alarming levels.
Our waters – what have we done with the source of life?
Our forests have been denuded, causing more environmental disasters and leaving many species homeless.
What about our minerals that took 55 million years to form? We intend to extract these minerals in 30 to 50 years even if future generations will have nothing left.
This is how we have treated the benefits we receive from our natural resources. This is the mindset of an extractive and consumptive economics, a flawed model for progress and development.
Now we are in the face of a climate crisis. I believe we are gathered here today because we want to be part of the global effort to limit the Earth’s warming and allow our communities to adapt to climactic changes that are already inevitable.
The Philippines’ geographical location makes it prone to natural hazards and climate change is making it worse.
The injustice here is that the Philippines is a minor emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG) with only 0.3% of global emissions, but it is among the most vulnerable to climate change impacts. Ketsana or Ondoy in 2009, Haiyan or Yolanda in 2013 are just a few examples.
In last year’s climate change negotiations in Paris, the Philippines, as chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, led the call to limit warming to 1.5°C to be able to survive.
Governments conveyed the message that they are determined to act to achieve the goal of limiting the world’s rise in average temperature to “well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”
The 2015 Paris Agreement is a landmark agreement in this history of humankind. However, its aspirations will not happen on its own.
Bending the global warming curve to 1.5°C is a moral imperative, because it means saving the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people; it means upholding the human rights of the poor and vulnerable; it means ensuring the integrity of our ecosystems.
The dream of a safer world needs the cooperation of all countries, and of every man, woman, and child, otherwise, we are creating our own worst nightmare.
Global warming has already breached the 1°C level with unprecedented warming in the past months. We have already borne countless tragedies and losses from recurring impacts of extreme weather events under a 1°C global warming. How much more with higher temperatures?
In fact, the 2°C warming above pre-industrial levels is no longer a prognosis but a reality. Early this month, unofficial data shows that average temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere likely exceeded2°C above normal even only for a few hours.
I reckon that we are not taking part in this training exercise for the next three days to discuss the theoretical dimensions of climate realities. Neither are we here to speak of how we have fallen short in our climate efforts over the past century. We are here to build skills, share solutions, and to take our climate agenda to the next level.
In taking action, however, we face daunting challenges that confront us.
Heading the list is coal.
The sustainable development-energy nexus requires an urgent examination of how we can tap on the power of innovation and new technologies to provide for the energy we need in a sustainable and inclusive manner.
In reflecting on this, I wish to invite your attention to the following facts:
- First, 1.1 billion people globally, have no access to electricity. Asia accounts for 615 million.
- Second, energy decisions have mainly been rooted on affordability and expediency as primary considerations.
Energy production accounts for two-thirds of the world’s GHG emissions. The ADB projects that even by the year 2035, the majority of the region’s primary energy demand will still come from fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas.
- Third, more than half of the global population lives in cities. The ADB report poignantly pictures the problem – “Cities consume 78% of the world’s energy and contribute more than 60% of all carbon dioxide and other GHG emissions, while covering less than 2% of the earth’s surface.”
Cities will not stop from growing, but they need to find more sustainable and efficient ways of providing and using energy. Economic growth and boosting energy security, however, need not compromise the world’s future.
Coal’s share in CO2 emissions and the power sector
The World Energy Outlook Special Report 2015 cited that over the past two-and-a-half decades, global carbon dioxide emissions increased by more than 50%. Since 2000, the share of coal has increased from 38% to 44% of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions.
The annual carbon dioxide emissions of the power generation sector increased by an average of 1.2% in the last decade of the 20th century. It has turned for the worst between 2000 and 2014, when the average annual rate of increase accelerated to 2.3%.
As so-called development loomed – with massive volumes of steel and cement being produced to build cities and industries – so did carbon dioxide emissions double from 1990 to today.
Clearly, the development we saw these past decades did not deliver us from the great economic divide that separates us from the more affluent countries. It has only drawn us closer to the menacing uncertainties of climate change.
There is, however, one indisputable fact in all of these – the power sector has become one of the largest toxic polluters in the world.
What route is the Philippines taking?
It is projected that globally, coal will be the slowest-growing fuel in the decades to come.
It may be hard to believe, but it is happening as we have seen the diversification of the power sector away from coal in many countries.
The projections are bold – “the share of coal, after two decades of increasing in the world’s energy mix, is now declining.”
Coal demand will grow by only 0.8% on the average per year; with the growth accounted for by India and ASEAN.
The Philippines, regrettably, figures in this scenario.
By the year 2030, the Philippines would need an additional 13,167 megawatts of power capacity, more than half of which is expected to be generated from coal-fired power plants. In fact, 25 coal-fired power plants that have been granted Environmental Compliance Certificates are now either operational or under construction.
Philippine consumption of coal has been on the upswing, which increased by 27% between 2012 and 2014.
If global projections point to a decline in the share of coal in power generation, why is the Philippines taking the opposite track?
The explanation given is anchored on simplistic assumptions – coal-fired power plants are the country’s dominant power technology because economically, they are widely available and easy to build.
Easy and affordable defy durable solutions.
On the surface, one might be tempted to accept that this country’s continued struggle to provide electricity to four million households eclipses the seemingly mundane discussions of climate change. This may be so until one experiences its catastrophic impacts, with villages being washed away and thousands of young lives cut short by tsunamis.
What the “easy and affordable” explanation fails to consider is the fact that there are external costs to coal, which, if considered, would render coal-fired power plants as one of the most expensive forms of power generation. Coal-fired power plants’ impacts on health, air quality, and climate, and life – above anything else – are more vital considerations.
Quality of life comes with a price tag – not necessarily beyond our reach. Building liveable cities and communities requires good planning. More importantly, it requires a genuine commitment to the ultimate goal of putting the Earth’s and our people’s survival foremost over all other concerns.
Light is good, but life is better.
There is a dearth of studies on the health impacts of pollution from coal-fired power plants in the Philippines, but the cases studied point to the unequivocal truth – coal-fired power plants have generated health concerns in host communities.
Before coal can be used in power plants, they must first be mined, washed, and transported. This process alone, without a single watt of electricity generated yet, already produces pollution.
Coal is burned to generate electricity and its by-product, in the form of ash, is either recycled into cement or construction products, stored, or disposed in dry or wet landfills. Leakages from these landfills can contaminate ground and surface water with arsenic, cadmium, lead, just to name a few.
A documented case in Naga City, Cebu showed that from 1999 to 2004, the leading cause of death (33%) in the area, where a coal-fired power plant operated, was pneumonia; upper respiratory tract infections were the most common; and mortality and morbidity levels were much higher than national averages.
The World Health Organization (WHO) concluded in 2014 that air quality in most cities worldwide “fails to meet WHO guidelines for safe levels, putting people at additional risk of respiratory disease and other health problems.” This study covered 1,600 cities across 91 countries. It had attributed the air quality decline to a host of factors, including reliance on fossil fuels such as coal- fired power plants.
The United Nations estimates that 26% of global mercury emissions come from the combustion of coal in power plants.
Beyond the health impacts of coal-based energy production lie the severe and irreversible impacts of climate change across the world.
Two of the major greenhouse gases contributing to climate change are produced by coal combustion – carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. As concentrations of these gases in the atmosphere accumulate, global temperature increases, setting in motion absolute consequences of climate change.
Is everything lost?
Mr. Gore’s recent TED talk in Vancouver, Canada answers that question. His talk on “The Case of Optimism on Climate Change” highlights the decreasing cost associated with renewable energy and the recent agreement reached at COP 21 as reasons for a more positive outlook for the future.
Can this optimism be translated into action in the Philippines?
Switch to renewable energy
In 2008, we enacted one of the most progressive renewable energy laws in the world – offering wide range of incentives to spur the growth of the renewable energy sector.
- Where other states chose only between a Feed-in-Tariff or a Renewable Portfolio Standard Policy, we chose both.
- Where others incentivized only foreign suppliers of RE technologies, we provided incentives to local suppliers as well.
- Where others refused to put prescriptive targets on Renewable Portfolio Standard – or a regulatory mandate to source energy from renewable sources – we set these targets in our law.
The law even mandates the setting up of an RE Trust Fund that will support the development of local capacities in renewable energy development and installations.
At the time the law was enacted, people considered that renewable energy sources like wind and solar would only become a small share of the energy mix. Since then, we have seen installations increase, with hundreds of megawatts of solar and wind in excess of even the Department of Energy’s targets back then. In fact, this country was the first in Southeast Asia to deploy large-scale wind and solar technologies. But we are still far away from tapping and maximizing RE’s potential.
Estimates from past studies by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory indicate that the Philippines has 246,000 megawatts of untapped renewable energy capacity – from sun, tidal ocean power, wind, geothermal, biomass, and hydro resources.
This is thirteen times more than our current installed capacity. Failure to develop these capacities would be unforgivable.
Renewable energy currently accounts for 33% of the country’s energy mix.
I can say we have reached considerable progress; but we cannot stop just yet. We should have a good energy mix where there is a bias for renewables.
The National Renewable Energy Program has set out aggressive targets on renewable energy development from 2011-2030, aiming to increase RE capacity to 15,304 megawatts by the year 2030.
We have the legal framework that provides the necessary policy mechanisms such as the Feed-in Tariff, Net Metering, Renewable Portfolio Standards, Green Energy Option, Renewable Energy Market, and other fiscal incentives such as income tax holiday.
There have been challenges, however, in our efforts to fast track the development of our renewable energy resources more aggressively. Impacts on electricity pricing have been a major consideration among our regulators, particularly as we already have one of the highest electricity rates in the world.
But we take note of the DOE’s efforts on streamlining the Renewable Energy application process of service contracts. The agency has fast tracked the approval of pending service contracts by cutting the application process from two (2) years to forty-five (45) days.
With the onset of technological innovations in energy, achieving universal access to clean energy technologies is within reach.
The government needs to focus on promoting the growth of the low-carbon economy as a means to create jobs and curb carbon emissions.
Other countries are already gaining jobs and riches from renewables. In Europe, 650,000 jobs have been created in the renewable energy sector. The US employs 75,000 citizens in the wind industry and more than 100,000 in the solar industry. 
It has been found that renewables, as opposed to fossil fuel industries such as coal, often produce higher-value, better paying, cleaner, healthier jobs.  With hundreds of thousands of untapped renewable energy resources and the legal framework to develop RE in the Philippines, renewable energy is sure to create thousands of good jobs for Filipinos.
Moreover, renewable energy is recognized as a long-term solution to the global effort to address the climate crisis. It could help mitigate the environmental impacts of our expanding energy use.
Optimism requires action
Last December in Paris, 196 countries took a stand: “Development need not come at the cost of the Earth’s survival.”
Economic growth may be achieved with energy-related carbon dioxide emissions staying flat.
Countries around the world have shifted to renewable energy, accounting for nearly half of all new power generation capacity in 2014, with its cost continuing to fall.
The Philippines has committed to a 70% reduction by 2030 from business as usual scenario from energy, transport, waste, industry and forestry. We also committed to building the resilience of our communities and promoting inclusive growth in accordance with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Sustainable Development Goals.
We now enter a new era of development pursuits which challenges us to do more, to do better, and to be more innovative. Delivering on our commitments to these global frameworks is our way of telling and showing the world that though we are vulnerable, we are not incapable.
As a legislator, I will make sure that this happens.
In the upcoming 17th Congress, I will introduce an energy efficiency bill as part of our country’s decarbonization effort.
We will monitor the level of implementation and compliance with various laws that promote decarbonization, including the Clean Air Act; the Renewable Energy Act; and the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act.
We will track compliance with equally important laws that help us prepare for climate realities, including the Clean Water Act; Climate Change Act; the Environmental Awareness and Education Act; the People’s Survival Fund Law, and the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act.
We will push for the progressive reduction of least-efficient coal-fired power plants and will work towards banning their construction.
Although the Philippines is not a major emitter of GHG, we cannot let our economy grow through the ways that caused today’s climate crisis; we cannot let human society live in a world fraught with dangers.
A new movement for climate action
Creative approaches are needed for the problems we have at hand.
A novel and revolutionary movement was hatched by a group of deeply committed environmental thinkers and doers. This movement will seek for an an advisory opinion before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the question:
“Under international law, what are the duties of States to protect humankind of the present and future generations from the climate crisis?”
The legal action will not be adversarial; but would seek the advice of the world’s court on a question of law. The challenge rests in getting the UN General Assembly to issue a resolution, requesting the ICJ to issue an advisory opinion on this question.
Global and massive social mobilization effort would be needed to convince governments to support this initiative. Let us utilize the latest in information technology to reach out to our governments and to convince them to support a proposed Resolution that will seek this advisory opinion from the ICJ.
Friends, the situation we are in requires urgent, massive, and effective action. Let us all be involved.
The world is not just about us. There is a future and resources need to be protected and conserved for those who will be born beyond our time.
It is clear injustice to let future generations suffer the irreversible consequences of our irresponsible actions.
The climate crisis presents the opportunity to promote green growth for the sake of the only planet we call home, for the sake of our children and our children’s children, and for our own survival.
We should act to protect the Earth not just with a sense of urgency, rather with a sense of great emergency.
Thank you. – Rappler.com
 Northern hemisphere temperature breaches a terrifying milestone, 7 March 2016, https://www.newscientist.com/article/2079775-northern-hemisphere-temperature-breaches-a-terrifying-milestone/
 Asian Development Bank Outlook 2013: Asia’s Energy Challenge
 Greenhouse Gas Inventories for Urban Operations in Southeast Asia: Challenges and Opportunities, ADB, June 2015
 Data from DENR-EMB on issuance of ECC for Coal-fired power plant.
 Key Coal Trends: Exceprts from Coal Information 2015. International Energy Agency.
 Ateneo de Manila. Striking a Balance: Coal Fired Power Plants in the Philippines' Energy Future, A Policy Brief.
 World Health Organization. News Release 7 May 2014. Geneva.
 Pacyna J, Sundseth K, Pacyna E, Panasiuk ND. Study on Mercury Sources and Emissions Analysis of Cost and Effectiveness of Control Measures:" UNEP Paragraph 29 Study." 2010 November. UNEP (DTIE)/Hg/INC.2/4:17.
 Green is Gold: How Renewable Energy can save us money and generate jobs, Greenpeace, 2014
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