Development Need Not be Dirty

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For a long time now, climate justice groups have taken tremendous efforts to put climate talks on the government’s agenda. Finally, the first State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Rodrigo Duterte stirred the discussion on various climate issues of the country today.

While this may be recognized as a good move from the President, climate justice groups continue to stand firm on a number of reservations.

Earlier on, President Duterte expressed his refusal to honor the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which aims to keep the increase in global average temperature below 1.5 °C, reason being that rich countries had messed up the climate by way of their industrialization, and that they should be the ones adjusting their emission levels. Given that rich countries have already burnt so much carbon in the atmosphere, which led them to where they are now, President Duterte thinks that it is unfair for developing countries to not be entitled to the same.

The President disagrees with limiting the country’s carbon emissions, as he deems that doing so would “stymie our industrialization.”1 These statements alarmed climate justice groups because it seems like the President is implying that development demands pollution. What is more troubling is the possibility that he is referring to “clean coal” technology when he mentioned in his SONA that, “If you’re using the state of the art technology… then we will consider it, because we need the energy to power our industrialization.” He is probably referring to the use of circulating fluidized bed combustion technology (CFBT), which is, in fact, more harmful than ordinary coal plants, since it emits four times more coal ashes.

Climate justice groups may be in the same page as President Duterte when he mentioned that industrialized countries, being the largest contributors to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, should have higher ambitions in their mitigation targets. As stated in his SONA, “addressing global warming [should be based] upon a fair and equitable equation.” However, this does not mean that developing countries have the right to pollute. Climate justice groups firmly believe that development need not be dirty. There is a pathway to development that is climate-friendly. Clean coal technology remains a dirty lie.

Why 1.5°C?
Why aim for a 1.5°C temperature increase limit in the first place? Studies show that climate change risks will become unacceptably high if average increase in global temperature exceeds 2°C above pre-industrial level. In order to prevent this, countries must further limit their temperature increase to 1.5°C. However, the fulfillment of this ambition will require profound changes from all countries around the globe.

Taking into consideration the fact that rich countries have long emitted high levels of carbon emissions, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change highlights the concept of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities (CBDR-RC), which is based on a country’s historical responsibility, and capacity to take climate action.

Highly industrialized countries such the United States, Russia, Japan, and other European countries, have to be fully de-carbonized by 2030; and by 2050, all countries, including developing ones, should then achieve full de-carbonization. Failure to do so will lead to climate catastrophe, which will make us further suffer from global sea level rise, forest fires, heavy precipitation, strong weather events and long intense droughts.2

Energy System Transformation
Central to addressing the threats brought about by climate crisis is energy system transformation. The role of coal in power industrialization must end, and be replaced with clean and safe renewable energy. The Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ) has long been campaigning against coal-fired power plants (CFPPs), as these incur huge costs to people and the environment. Harmful pollutants produced by coal mining and combustion processes have led to serious health problems, and even deaths of many Filipinos who leave near coal plants. In a recent study by Greenpeace and Harvard University, if new CFPPs are allowed to operate, the number of people dying from coal-related pollutions is expected to double in the next 15 years.

This is equivalent to 2,400 more Filipinos dying.3 We also cannot deny that coal mining activities pose a huge threat to the protection of our forests and watersheds.

Yes, it is true that we need energy to develop, but coal dependence is not the way to it. Contrary to popular opinion, development and pollution are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to produce and utilize clean and sustainable energy. How? The age of coal has to end now.

First, it is necessary that the Climate Change Commission (CCC), the Department of Energy (DOE), and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) conduct an Energy Review as soon as possible. This will be vital for the country’s energy transition plan.

DENR, upon reviewing coal plant permits, is expected to close down coal plants that are violating health and environmental standards. DOE, on the other hand, should fast track issuances of RE projects so that RE capacities can meet the energy demand, as a result of the cancellation of CFPP contracts. Legislative members, with the help of these agencies, should review and repeal Republic Act 9136 or the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA).

Although energy planning is within the hands of the government, EPIRA mandates the private sector to have the power over building capacities. By reviewing and repealing EPIRA, the government will be empowered to install and set-up energy capacities.

Second, there should be a moratorium on all new CFPPs and coal projects, including coal mining. Allowing proposed CFPPs to operate will lock the Philippines into coal dependence. This will leave no room for renewable energy (RE) sources; hence, the inability to secure a just transition to a safer, more affordable, and more efficient energy source in the future.

Finally, NEDA is urged to present a specific and just Energy Transition Plan, as well as an updated energy mix proposal, that would take into account the Philippine government’s commitment to shift to RE, and to reduce its carbon emission to 70% by 2030. In this pursuit, DOE should aggressively start processing projects that ensure setting up of RE capacities.

More and more countries around the world are already phasing out coal – a manifestation that industrialization can still be pursued beyond climate change. This is a proof that development need not be dirty. Why can’t the Philippines do the same?

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