Time to Act is Now on Energy Transformation
What could possibly be so urgent and life-threatening to drive leaders of people from a small and barely reachable island off the coast of Mindoro to leave their homes and travel 285 kilometers by land and sea over the period of five days just to reach Metro Manila? On November 27, a day before the biggest climate justice march in the country, they have reach the Presidential Palace.
If Semirara sounds like a familiar name to you then chances are you may have heard about the island on the news and are familiar with its single greatest threat: coal. 97% of the country’s locally-produced coal is mined by a single corporation alone. The Semirara Mining and Power Corporation has been operating since the 1970s and aside from taking the lives of coal miners and causing numerous human rights violations, coal extraction has caused irreparable damage to the health, environment, and livelihood of all who reside in the island. Until decisive and earnest actions are duly taken, who knows how long they will continue this unregulated exploitation of life, environment, and livelihood?
And so it comes as no surprise that the people of Semirara have finally decided to personally elevate their fight to the National Government. They were joined by several communities from Mindoro, Batangas, Quezon, Laguna, Bataan, and Zambales who share the same plight and call, the People and Environment Against Coal-based Energy or PEACE Caravan aims to generate wider public support for the clean energy movement and compel the Aquino Administration to a dialogue in order to discuss clear solutions to this pressing matter. As the Administration that has approved the greatest number of coal projects in recent history, 59 new coal plants and 42 new coal mining permits, President Aquino needed to hear the firsthand account of what these dirty energy projects are doing to the people.
The entire life cycle of coal generates massive externalities that are forcibly being shouldered by our poorest and most defenseless communities. Without regard to their safety and well-being, corporations and the policies that favor them must be done away with if we are to avoid further damage to our country in the form of stronger and more frequent storms and heat waves among others.
A global call for a moratorium on all coal mines is already being propagated by Kiribati President Anote Tong. As the leader of one of the most vulnerable countries to rising sea levels, Tong does not take the matter of climate change lightly. The possibility of Kiribati being completely erased off the map is no longer a matter that he can put off in the future to address.
The similar threats and dangers posed to the many island nations in the Pacific due to excessive greenhouse gas emissions are also similarly looming our country. In fact, we have already experienced some of them and have not yet reached a point where we can say that we have truly recovered. Preventing further damage by mitigating climate change is a necessity if we are to ensure our survival and that of our children and grandchildren. This isn’t just for us, it’s for them too.
The all-too familiar narrative of preserving fossil fuel dependence in order to achieve economic development and progress is no longer working for us. It has not translated to less poverty and inequality and it never will. Coal has been and will continue to be harmful and detrimental to our survival as a country and as an entire race.
It is no coincidence that the communities leading the caravan to the Presidential Palace are demanding for a dialogue with the President days before he flies to Paris for the annual Conference of Parties (COP21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Philippines has pledged to a 70% reduction in emissions from business-as-usual levels by the year 2030 pending international financial support. While this is commendable and sets an ambitious precedent as a starting point, it will fall short if the government does not put forward an unconditional part of its pledge. These intended contributions must be backed with concrete policies that will truly enable our country to shift to a low-carbon economy. We cannot afford not to.
From our perspectives, the 70% reduction can only be made possible by three major components. One, to rescind all 59 coal plant project permits, and declare a moratorium on new coal plant projects. This initiative alone could reduce 60Mtonnes of CO2 every year from 2020 to 2030. Second, to put into reality the tripling of the country’s renewable energy target which should be at 15GW by 2030, along with the push for demand side management efforts or the 10% energy efficiency initiative across energy demand sectors by 2030. These two government initiatives could already reduce our emissions at around 11% by 2020 and 25% in 2030 compared to the business as usual trajectory. Three, the country needs a phase-out plan on all coal project facilities and an ambitious push for 100% renewable in the country. This ambitious target is not far off, as the country once enjoyed more than 95% of renewable energy before the 90s. With more than 200,000MW renewable energy potential according to the government, the dream for an affordable and accessible 100% renewable energy system is practically reachable.
These measures will not only put the Philippines in a moral high ground to put forward more ambitious actions in the global arena necessary to keep the global temperature increase at below 1.5 degrees, it will also be beneficial to our communities, environment, and our economy. Global and local market prices of renewable have been radically reduced since its entry into world market, and current market trends indicate that it will continue to go down due to the growing global demand. Once these new coal plants get constructed and go on line, we are locked into not just an environmentally destructive, health hazard, climate buster type of energy source, but in the long run, an economically costly one.
There is no better time to act but now. The world needs the Philippines to act on the side of the growing global effort to shift away from fossil fuels and address in concrete terms the impending climate crisis.
The time to act was yesterday. The time for fundamental and meaningful changes is now.
Gerry Arances is the National Coordinator of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ), and also the National Convenor of Power for People, a national broad campaign network resisting coal expansion and pushing for renewable energy transformation in the country.