In 2011, the Philippines topped the list of most disaster prone countries in the world. The distinction is confirmed by the series of weather-related calamities endured by the nation last year, which claimed over 3,000 lives, affected 15.3 million Filipinos, and resulted in economic losses of over 26 billion pesos.
2015 is the crucial period where greenhouse gas emissions need to be curbed to avoid the catastrophic and irreversible effects of climate change. Developed and developing countries around the world are beginning to develop and mainstream renewable energy systems in their commitment to phase out coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel.
In 2008, the Philippines boasted of having the most comprehensive and forward looking renewable energy laws in the world. Almost four years have passed, the law still remains promising, but only on paper. While lack of political will to fully implement the RE Law is locking the Philippines again into dependence on coal, our neighbouring countries such as China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Thailand have now overtaken us in adopting the feed-in tariff system, one of the mechanisms under the RE Law.
Since the law was passed, there have been 281 RE projects on the pipeline waiting to be developed. However, the Department of Energy, mandated to implement the provisions of the Act – to accelerate the exploration and development of renewable energy – is dragging its foot and introducing more coal into the country’s energy mix. Energy Secretary Jose Rene Almendras has been sitting on the fence making pronouncements on renewable energy, but on the side, he has been securing and courting coal investments for the. In fact, in the two years under the Aquino administration, Secretary Almendras has given the green light for six coal-fired power plants equivalent to one thousand seven hundred megawatts. On top of that, in the recent trip of President Noynoy Aquino to the UK and the US, together with Secretary Almendras, they negotiated a $1 billion investment for two more coal plants in Bataan province scheduled to be operational by 2015.
Between 2009 and 2010 alone, the percentage share for coal in power generation increased from 26.6% to 34.4%. Unfortunately, this trend share is set to increase in subsequent years, because of the several coal power projects in the pipeline.
Increasing coal investments means lost investments in renewable energy. Since the RE Law was passed, the Philippines has lost around $5 billion worth of potential RE investments.
The power crisis in Mindanao represents the microcosm of the grim future the rest of the Philippines will have to face if the Government does not implement the RE Law. Instead of investing in coal-fired power stations that take three to four years to complete and which continue to perpetuate our dependence on finite and price-volatile fossil fuels, the country would be better off making the decisive transition to renewable energy systems now. Compared to coal plants, such systems take less time to build, and their fuel supply is virtually free and limitless. They are moreover exempt from the instabilities of a fluctuating market.
Renewable Energy is the victim of dirty coal if the government continues to renege on its commitment to advance development of clean and renewable energy. It is ironic that the Philippines talks about development and implementation of renewable energy law in the country when the officials mandated to act on it are stuck in a time warp from when the law was conceived.
Coal promotes climate change, and by tying ourselves deeper into the abyss of this finite and volatile resource, we will not be able to attain energy independence and security. Despite the passage of the RE Law, coal never had it so good in the Philippines, thanks to our DOE officials and President Aquino who seem to be fixated on perpetuating our reliance to the dirtiest and destructive energy source, rather than advancing renewable energy which is the key in paving the way for a clean and greener future.
In international climate negotiations, the Philippines has one of the strongest voices demanding climate justice. It is worth mentioning that globally, the Philippines has the best laws in climate change. Justifiably so, the country needs additional funding assistance to help our people and communities adapt to the impacts of climate change. The moral power of that position is however severely undermined by our decision makers’ myopic obsession with coal.
We have a real opportunity to set things aright. We need strong, strategic and visionary leadership to advance real solutions instead of impetuous decision-making that exacerbate the roots of the climate crisis.
President Aquino should rid his cabinet not just of corrupt officials, but of polluting officials alike. If he wants to leave a glowing legacy to the Philippines, he his focus during his remaining four years in office is transformational change that will bring about energy security and independence to the Filipino people. In the final analysis, this is a moral choice that President Aquino has to make.
Anna Abad is Climate and Energy campaigner for Greenpeace South East Asia - Philippines. Follow her updates on Twitter via @annagabad.