THE era of fossil fuels must come to an end.
If that was not already evident after all the disasters in the past two decades, the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made it clearly undeniable.
This assessment presents how greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions continue to increase, despite widespread knowledge of the climate crisis. Around 64 percent of this pollution comes from burning fossil fuels that produce and release excessive carbon dioxide into our atmosphere and oceans. Should temperatures increase by at least 1.5 degrees Celsius, which is likely in the next two decades, climate change impacts may become irreversible.
Every country must do its part to mitigate the climate crisis. The Philippines is no exception to that.
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As one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change impacts, the Philippines has much at stake in ending the fossil fuel era. Extreme weather events cost the country over P506 billion in the past decade, over 98 percent of all losses and damages recorded during this period.
As a champion of climate justice during global conferences, the Philippines also has a moral imperative to avoid following the same fossil fuel-heavy modes of development used by the richer nations, which are the highest historical emitters of GHGs and caused this crisis in the first place.
However, the country underwhelms in moving away from dirty energy. Since 1998, the share of renewable energy (RE) in its energy grid has been decreasing, despite having a law passed in 2008 that should enable its growth. Instead, the government has opted to favor the expansion of the coal industry, which currently supplies more than half of power generation nationwide.
Recent conditions such as expensive electricity rates and issues with power supply have forced the government to finally start reducing the nation's dependency on coal. Yet instead of committing to RE, many officials and some aspirants in the upcoming elections have proposed to focus on the growth of the natural gas industry or even revive the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant.
Neither would fit with the Philippines' pursuit of low-emissions sustainable development. Per the IPCC report, to likely limit global warming to 1.5 C, coal must be virtually phased out by 2050 and the use of natural gas must be cut by 45 percent. Energy systems worldwide would be fueled mostly by RE, coupled with improved energy efficiency and conservation, demand-side management, and grids that are more responsive to times of crisis. Even the government itself has observed that a 50 percent RE share by 2040, or even earlier, is possible.
Given our exposure to climate-related hazards such as typhoons, future energy systems should also be physically resilient. The security risks, along with those of high initial costs of construction and political agendas, would cause impacts that are ultimately shouldered by citizens, making nuclear power unsuitable over RE in the Philippine context.
On the financial aspect, the IPCC provides even more evidence to break free from fossil fuels. Limiting global warming to 2 C would result in up to $4 trillion of stranded assets associated with coal, oil and natural gas by 2050, with coal assets worldwide at risk of being stranded before 2030. A 1.5-degree target would lead to even higher costs, which ideally should dissuade more investments in dirty energy.
Yet at the present, financial flows for fossil fuels still outpace funding for climate solutions. Many banks in the Philippines still provide funds for unsustainable energy. This is why it is important for public and private leaders to promote the divestment of these institutions from fossil fuels and other environmentally harmful industries.
While the likes of the Bank of the Philippine Islands and the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. have already announced targets and timelines to stop financing coal within the decade, more assets need to be withdrawn and reinvested into RE development.
Furthermore, the country also needs to secure means of implementation such as finance, technology transfer and capacity-building from developed nations. These means, which should be in the form of grants instead of loans, are needed to achieve its goal of reducing GHG emissions by 75 percent for the period 2020-2030, as stipulated in its first Nationally Determined Contributions.
The just transition away from fossil fuels is inevitable. This years-long process will not be easy, especially if our current and future leaders keep finding any excuse to delay the growth of RE. Yet it is needed for us to achieve national sustainable development.
There is simply no future that exists when the Philippines can remain addicted to dirty energy and still avoid extreme impacts of the climate crisis. It is time to invest in our future. And as science tells us once again, it starts by accepting that the era of fossil fuels must come to an end.
John Leo Algo
Aksyon Klima Pilipinas