The Paris agreement is, in many ways, a turning point in the global campaign against climate change. For the first time, virtually all nations recognized climate change as caused by human activities and committed to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius.
Does this historic agreement mean the end of the fossil fuel industry in the Philippines?
“Ideally, I think the Paris agreement should almost kill the fossil fuel industry by 2050. But it really depends on what happens on the domestic level. It’s really based on the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) for how much they are going to reduce emissions,” according to Socorro Rodrigo, a youth representative of the Philippine delegation to COP 21.
The Philippines committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 70% relative to its business-as-usual scenario by 2030 in its INDC to the United Nations last year. These emissions will be taken from the energy sector, the largest source, along with the transport, waste, forestry, and industry sectors.
Despite the drop in global prices of wind and solar energy technologies, this trend has yet to catch up to the Philippines. More than half of installed electricity in the country is produced from coal and oil. Coal-powered technology, in particular, remains the cheapest and most accessible option available, which influenced the outgoing President Benigno Aquino’s approval of the construction of 29 new coal-fired power plants within the next two decades.
Adding these to the 17 currently operating coal plants would increase the country’s dependence on coal to 70% from 2030 to 2050 without intervention. This would lock the national economy in a technology that is outdated and being phased out by cleaner renewable energy across the globe, even in developing nations such as Bangladesh and Kenya.
Political will and climate change
The Philippines finds itself in an interesting political dilemma. Despite playing a key role in the climate negotiations at COP 21, the commitment of the administration of presumptive President and Climate Change Commission chairperson Rodrigo Duterte to fulfilling the country’s obligations to the Paris agreement is now in question.
Duterte, a staunch supporter of coal, previously called out the United Nations as hypocrites for making a minor contributor like the Philippines cut down its emissions, ignoring the equitable role of all countries in emissions reductions as written in the agreement. Civil society groups are anticipating a difficult time pushing for the end of the fossil fuel industry in the Philippines, considering the President drives policy action at the national level.
“If he’s pro-coal – and that’s a strong position – and there’s currently no other option, we cannot just tell him to stop because he has a responsibility to keep the industry going and generating revenues,” said Jessica Dator-Bercilla, Senior Advocacy and Policy Office for Asia and the Middle East for Christian Aid.
The Philippine economy, the 39th largest in the world, has experienced a 5.6% growth in its gross domestic product (GDP), mainly due to the growth of its industrial and services sectors powered by fossil fuels. With further industrialization to come, the urgency of meeting the increasing energy demand pushes government policy lean towards coal, making it more difficult for the nation to fulfill its obligations under the Paris agreement.
The most effective way to reduce the impact of the fossil fuel industry in the Philippines is to convince investors to shift their investments from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Research must be done to identify significant renewable energy sources and locations to fuel sustainable development. The government must also provide subsidies to the private sector to stimulate the shift without sacrificing their long-term profits.
“The only way to convince them is to have an economic analysis that will say it will be a losing end for them to explore fossil fuels. Because they will lose money, we need to have a good narrative for the private sector,” Bercilla said.
She further emphasized that the people themselves need to put the pressure on the national government to work towards fulfilling its committed INDC. They need to increase their awareness regarding the activities of the fossil fuel industry and willingly change their lifestyle to bring about this shift.
“Are you willing to give up some of your cars or will people be willing to walk? Can we organize ourselves so that we don’t have to drive long distances to do our jobs?” Bercilla asked.
Rodrigo adds that some of the fossil fuel companies in the country will be naturally phased out by emerging economic trends.
“You let the market do it on their own. Recent analyses are saying it’s not enough to make people realize if they shift to green energy, they will make more money. I believe certain industries will naturally realize clean and ecological means will make money for them, but some of them will be extinguished,” she said.
Time is certainly not on our side. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that the 1.5 degree Celsius limit may be reached within just 5 years for current emission rates, which is supported by other analyses that current pledges may instead result in a 2.5 to 2.7-degree global warming, higher than either the 1.5 or 2 degree target.
The Paris agreement has yet to enter into force, which requires 55 countries that produce at least 55% of the global greenhouse gas emissions to ratify it. Nonetheless, it may be enough to put a decisive end to the fossil fuel industry.
“It was not a perfect agreement, but the mere fact that you recognize that it is human-induced and caused by greenhouse gases is already enough to give us traction to move forward,” Bercilla said. – Rappler.com
John Leo Algo is a graduate student and climate researcher who also volunteers for WWF Philippines, the Haribon Foundation, and the Manila Observatory. He recently completed the Climate Reality Leadership Corps training hosted by Al Gore from March 14 to 16 in Manila.