Philippines Drags Feet on Renewable Energy

Although the Philippines has enacted a series of strong laws to mitigate climate change since 2010, including a disaster risk reduction act, a climate change act, a renewable energy act and a survival fund since the perils of climate change began to manifest themselves a decade or more ago, the problem is in implementation.

Take the case of the Renewable Energy Act of 2008. The Philippines has enacted this law seven years ago. However, as of now, the country hasn’t yet fully maximized the use of renewable energy according to Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (AGHAM), a Philippines-based NGO seeking to promote the sharing of science and technology information.

But while paying lip service to renewables, in less than two years, the Philippine government has approved the construction of 21 coal-powered projects despite President Benigno S. Aquino’s declaration in 2011 during the launch of the government’s National Renewable Energy Plan, that the Philippines intends to “nearly triple the country’s renewables -based capacity from around 5,400 MW in 2010 to 15,300 MW in 2030."

While the government has instituted benefits for companies to harness renewable energy, the business sector still chooses to do otherwise, because of the huge amount of profit generated by so-called “dirty energy," which is cheap. The demand for coal is tantamount to companies choosing to invest in coal over renewable energy because of the profit.

In fact, since the enactment of the Renewable Act of 2008, the Philippines continues to give the go-signal to construction of coal plants despite the continuous opposition of various groups from different sectors against the use of coal.

Walking the talk

The increased use of coal leads to carbon emissions which in turn harm the environment, according to widely accepted environmental science research. Already, marine resources are getting scarce, extreme drought is being experienced in some parts of Mindanao mostly agricultural areas – in part because of the effect of the cyclical climate phenomenon known as el Nino, yet the Philippines continues to invest in coal-fired powered plants.

While the Philippines has been touted as a leader in climate change policies, the country has also become the “face” of the impact of climate change and became the rallying point of other vulnerable and developing countries because of the “annual" fate we suffer from extreme weather events like Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda in 2013, which took the lives of 6,300 people and did US$2.86 billion in damage.

Countries like Germany and Denmark have pledged to transform their power supply systems to 100 percent fully renewables-based by 2050. Costa Rica announced in March 2015 that it was able to harness renewable sources of energy for the whole country. The world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, China, has committed to target at least 80 percent clean energy by 2050.

Yet the Philippines continues to tap mostly fossil fuels and has approved construction of coal-powered plants in the next decades. As of this year, only 28 percent of the total energy mix in the country is based on renewable energy. This is according to the Renewable Energy Management Bureau of the country’s Ministry of Energy.

If the Philippines wants to show to the world that our country is the rallying point against climate change, our government needs to walk the talk on renewable energy. Indeed, climate adaptation practices are not enough. We need to show other countries and lead the way towards climate mitigation and leading the path to sustainable development and use of renewable energy.

The current administration’s last year must be devoted towards transitioning the Philippines’ growth to become sustainable instead of only looking at profits and fiscal growth. On its last year, the Philippine government, particularly the Aquino administration, must leave a legacy of a government harnessing renewable energy and ensuring a low-carbon path to inclusive and sustainable development.

Aquino’s final State of the Nation Address, delivered yesterday, was found wanting in terms of clear and definitive commitments to renewable energy. It’s a race against time as vulnerable communities in the Philippines continue to suffer from extreme drought, impacts of abnormal weather patterns and extreme weather events.

The country’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to be submitted in the UNFCCC before October this year must take into account the country’s moral ascendancy to talk about climate justice and walk the talk in climate action. Investing in renewable energy is the first step. However, it requires massive political will.

Jed Alegado (@jedalegado) is a climate campaigner based in the Philippines. He holds a master’s degree in Public Management from the Ateneo de Manila University School of Government. (ASoG).