Duterte told to end ‘coal addiction’ in the Philippines

Climate advocates on Friday asked the Duterte administration to ban new coal projects and prioritise the national energy policy review that was launched by the Climate Change Commission last month.

cancelcoal philippines
Activists in an anti-coal march in the Philippines, October 2015. Worldwide, 2,440 new coal-fired power plants are planned, a potential financial investment of over $5 trillion. Image: 350.org, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Climate advocates on Friday asked the Duterte administration to ban new coal projects and prioritise the national energy policy review that was launched by the Climate Change Commission last month.

Representatives of local church groups and national climate networks renewed their calls to stop the proposed 600-megawatt coal plant of JG Summit in the city and to review the existing Renewable Energy (RE) Law, more than a month after the 10,000-strong Piglas Batangas, Piglas Pilipinas anti-coal march last 4 May in Batangas City.

In the forum “Prospects for the Fight Against Dirty Energy Under the Duterte Administration,” representatives of Piglas Pilipinas, a nationwide campaign for the Philippines to break free from fossil fuels, shared insights on the current anti-coal struggle in the Philippines.

Former Batangas City Councilor Kristine Balmes, who is also a member of the Lipa Archdiocesan Ministry for the Environment (AMEn), underlined the efforts of different sectors, including the Roman Catholic Church, in the ongoing struggles against coal projects.

“In Batangas City, a recent decision by the City Council has allowed the construction of a 600-megawatt coal plant near the Verde Island Passage, a center of marine biodiversity in the country and the world,” Balmes said. “Despite this, the community as well as people from civil society and the Church, continue to be vigilant in its opposition against the project and has recently found an ally with the provincial governor who has vowed to oppose the project.”

Meanwhile, Ian Rivera of Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ) noted that while there are 29 proposed power plants adding to the 15 already existing in the country, a number of significant developments have been achieved by the anti-coal resistance in the country.

“With the Climate Change Commission subjecting proposed coal projects to reviews within the coming 6 months, as well as the pro-renewable energy pronouncements expressed by the newly-elected President and his Environment Secretary Gina Lopez, we can say that the movement for a more sustainable, people-centered energy system is only getting stronger,” said Rivera.

According to Rivera, in order for the Philippines — one of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change — to keep its intended nationally-determined contribution (INDC) to reduce emissions and combat climate change, it must begin the transition away from the largest contributor of global warming-inducing greenhouse gas: carbon dioxide, which comes mainly from coal.

The Philippine government has pledged to reduce its emissions by 70 per cent by 2030 in its INDC, but this pledge is dependent on international climate financing and other support mechanisms. According to the civil society network Aksyon Klima Pilipinas, the Philippine government should not only offer conditional pledges, but should also offer unconditional targets based on its fair share of the global efforts.

“We support the Philippine INDC, however we call on the government to show seriousness on the targets by defining the extent of what the country can do on its own and what more it can do when enabled.Marching orders should be issued to all agencies to adjust plans, projects, programs and activities, with meaningful consultations with, and participation of, all stakeholders to make sure that we are on target by 2030,” said Ruel Cabile, Aksyon Klima Pilipinas national coordinator.

Another highlight of the forum tackled the global shift from fossil-fuels to renewable energy that is currently gaining momentum as the largest financial institutions are starting to dump coal from their investment portfolios and moving their investments to renewable energy, causing the bankruptcy of the world’s largest coal companies, such as Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private-sector coal producer, which filed for bankruptcy in April 2016, as well as Arch Coal, which owns the second-largest U.S. coal reserves behind Peabody, and which filed for bankruptcy in January 2016.

The Norges Bank Investment Management has also denied Aboitiz Power and other coal companies access to its Government Pension Fund Global, the world’s largest sovereign fund worth US$ 850 billion, as a result of coordinated campaigning between local and international movements that are calling on institutions to Immediately freeze any new investments in fossil fuels.

According to Gerry Arances of Center for Energy, Ecology and Development (CEED), the international movement is increasingly shifting public opinion against the proliferation of coal projects across the globe, “In the past few years, many countries, like Norway, Denmark and even the United States, have stopped funding coal projects as a response to the growing pressure from grassroots movements.”

“A recent study from Oxford University has found that coal power plants are more and more becoming ‘stranded assets,’ meaning they are likely to be kept running in spite of the technology being obsolete and unprofitable economically,” Arances stated. “This means that while renewable energy sources are increasingly becoming affordable, countries like the Philippines will end up being bound to an outdated, costly and destructive energy source,” he continued.

“We should not subject Filipino consumers to this costly and dirty energy,” Arances asserted.

The Philippines is at a crossroads as to whether it will pursue the previous government’s high-carbon path, or change course to tap the large potential of renewable energy in the country and align itself in accordance with its commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement to limit global warming to below 1.5 degrees. The challenge lies in engaging all levels of government and business, to be able to push for the common goal of shifting power away from coal, and moving it towards renewable energy that benefits both people and the planet.

The forum was held at the monthly Kamayan Forum organised by Green Convergence for Safe Food, Healthy Environment and Sustainable Economy together with Sanib Lakas para sa Inang Kalikasan.

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