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Laudato Si and Ecological Conversion in Energy Policy

 By: Fr. Edwin Gariguez  NASSA/Caritas

Philippines Executive Secretary

 

June 20,2016

 

We thank the Climate Change Commission for extending the invitation to us to participate in this important national policy review on energy. This is being pursued in view of the recently promulgated resolution No. 2016-001 calling for the “Development of a Clear Policy on Coal Fired Power Plants in Pursuit of a Low Carbon Development Pathway for the Philippines.”

We commend the Climate Change Commission for taking this significant policy shift in considering the prioritization and acceleration of renewable energy for the entire country. This is in line with the Philippine commitment for 70% carbon emission cut as expressed in our Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) submitted to the Conference of Parties meeting in Paris last December 2015.

We acknowledge that the commitment to reduce emissions by 70% is a positive initial step towards the right direction. However, we assert that the Philippine Government can do more than what it has pledged to accomplish in its INDC through interventions and changes in existing policies and programs that will create a truly climate-resilient and low-emission development paradigm at the national and local levels. And this policy review on energy is one major stepping stone toward that goal.

Our office, the National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA), also known as Caritas Philippines, is tasked to promote the agenda for integral development and ecological sustainability. We work in partnership with the 84 diocesan social action centers, to address the pressing socio-ecological issues and to empower the poor.

Many of the dioceses in the Philippines have pronounced its strong opposition to coal mining because it will make our country contribute more to climate change, endanger ecosystems, as well as the health and lives of our people. Our ecumenical gathering of churches has often led the struggles against dirty energy. In my hometown of Atimonan, Quezon, for example, more than 1,500 protesters led by church leaders staged a demonstration against a proposed coal-fired power plant. Similarly, Catholic priests in Batangas, together with their bishop, are at the forefront of the fight against the construction of a new coal power plant. Some months ago, about 300 priests held a prayer rally ahead of a committee hearing that discussed the project.

Our country is becoming more heavily dependent on fossil fuel-based energy, largely coal. There are 19 existing coal-fired power plants operating across the country and 20 more will be operational by year 2020. To support and sustain this number of coal power plants, an extensive coal extraction has to be put in place. We have allowed the increase of coal mining projects to 118 by 2012 and most likely even more by this date. Worse is, these coal projects are located within the peripheries of communities that are traditionally home to millions of Filipinos and are supported by rich ecosystems and bio-diversities.

The recent encyclical of Pope Francis, Laudato Si, highlights the adverse impacts of coal on the poor and most vulnerable. The encyclical is very unequivocal in its critique of dirty energy: “We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay.” (LS, 165)

The Pope’s critique of today’s destructive, fossil-fuel dependent economy will not go down well with the powerful interests that benefit from today’s status quo. But we, the Church and the people of the Philippines, will stand alongside the Pope as strong allies in the struggle for a socially just, environmentally sustainable world that we dream to have.

There is absolutely no reason for the Philippines to be unable to execute unconditional mitigation actions: a moratorium on all coal-fired power plants in the pipeline should be a concrete step to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Coal has been touted as the dirtiest, climate busting energy source in the world – that is why more and more of the international institutions globally have started the process of curbing its use – like the World Bank, the Asian development Bank, and many others. Even big private banks and financial institutions like the Norwegian Pension Fund and Bank of Americas, to name a few, have divested away from this dirty energy.

Most of the countries across the globe have started shifting away from coal – the US, European countries, and even China and India. In fact the developing countries, led by China and India, last year have outpaced the developed world in their investments on renewable energy.

Coal is not just a dirty energy but also an energy source that is slowly becoming unattractive and costly. Just recently, one of the biggest coal mining company in the world – Peabody went bankrupt, and can no longer recuperate. Many of the other coal companies are also experiencing difficulties. Economists from across the world have expressed their concerns on still investing on coal as it is now touted as a risky investment, and will only be a riskier one in the near future. Some economists and bankers have already put coal investments as liabilities and stranded assets.

Coal is not just a burden to the climate, health and environment, but it is no longer economically sound as an energy source for the future.

Change is coming, as the newly elected administration professes. Indeed, we need implement policy shift to clean energy. The transition to renewable energy is also strongly advocated by Pope Francis in Laudato Si (no. 26): “There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy.”

Even without new dirty and harmful energy projects, the country can still fulfill its energy demands by building alternatives. As of September 2015, a total of 682 renewable energy projects have been approved with a potential generating capacity of 13,574.68 MW while 242 more contracts are still pending for approval. Encouraging more public investments on renewable energy will allow us to pursue sustainable development that is for all, with less emissions and less harmful impacts to the health and livelihood of our communities.

Globally, the alternative to coal and fossil fuels – renewable energy’s price and cost of investments is dramatically going down and will only go down. In other parts of the world, solar is already at less than P2, while coal in the Philippines is at P4. It’s is no longer true that coal is cheaper than solar or renewable energy.

Coal is also a risk in terms of energy security as most of our coal supply comes from Indonesia, as well as taking into consideration that coal is finite, and affects further host communities in coal mining sites in Indonesia and the Philippines like in Semirara.

To end, I would like to reiterate the challenge for ecological conversion in energy policy as a way to protect and sustain our common home. Pope Francis’ Laudato Si is believed to have been issued to provide an advocacy platform for the Climate Summit in Paris in December 2015. A papal encyclical is an extraordinary way to send a powerful message to nations and world leaders whose actions to date lag far behind the scale of the response that is necessary. It clearly affirms the need for urgent and collaborative action to avert the worsening ecological crisis.

For the faith-based groups and our government leaders, the challenge of Laudato Si is resounding very clearly, as articulated by our dear Cardinal, Luis Antonio Tagle: “As members of the human family, we all have a role to play in this ecological revolution to which Pope Francis has invited us. We must strengthen the ties among our organisations so we work better together. By pooling our resources, sharing information and supporting one another we can show that it is possible for people of good will to restore hope together.”

The speech was delivered by NASSA/Caritas Philippines Executive Secretary Fr. Edwin Gariguez during the Launching of the National Policy Review and Framework Development on Energy in the Malacañang Palace  last June 16.

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