Alvarez on climate change/Zubiri on wind energy
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - January 25, 2016 - 9:00am

I had a long chat with former Sen. Heherson Alvarez during a “core group” dinner at a Chinese restaurant with former House Speaker Joe de Venecia and his wife Rep. Gina de Venecia. Our conversation led to the unloading on my desk at home the next morning of  numerous published articles on the topic closest to Alvarez’s heart – climate change. One of them was published in my paper. It’s worthwhile taking up the points he raised for the benefit of those who had missed reading it.

At the dinner, Alvarez, who is the Climate Change commissioner, was still agog, like much of the concerned world, over the signing by 195 nations of the Paris Agreement in Paris last month that seeks to address global warming.

Under the accord, as the Paris Agreement is also called, individual countries have committed to slash emissions and pledged to assist poorer nations to adapt to the damaging effects of a warming planet. It also sets a long-term goal of capping the rise in global temperatures to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, while calling on nations to try to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees C.

Alvarez said the accord is the culmination of more than two decades of international attempts to come to a collective agreement on how to tackle the global problem. The accord marked a major foreign policy success for US President Barack Obama, who has been quoted as saying the agreement is a “turning point for the world… We came together around the strong agreement the world needed. Together we’ve shown what’s possible when the world stands as one.”

Alvarez, one of the Philippine negotiators to the COP21, said the Philippines can now start formulating policies to prepare the country for a low carbon and, eventually, a zero fossil fuel economy.”This could be the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era. The transition to a low carbon economy is almost inevitable,” said Alvarez.

He said it took 22 years of continued conferences and debates and transparency to “achieve this convergence of understanding and begin to lick the scourge of climate change.”

In his article in the Philippine STAR (Jan. 12, 2016), Alvarez wrote that to rise to the challenges of the Paris agreement, the country’s political and economic leaders must begin to undertake effective capacity building. He touched on capacity gaps and needs that must be resolved in order to integrate climate strategies in our development plans and investments.

First is a low-carbon program that is an essential strategy for stimulating the economy, creating more jobs, and moving us rapidly to a clean energy future.

Second, a low-carbon path must be attractive to investors. Congress can begin to legislate appropriate tax structure on carbon emissions. To make coal and fossil fuels reflect their true cost to society, pollution must be made an expense rather an externality, Alvarez said.

Governments across the globe have been subsidizing fossil fuels by $400 to $500 billion per year, thereby encouraging extraction of coal and fossil fuels that we are seeking to diminish. Despite remarkable strides in renewable–energy technologies, Alvarez said,  the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy sources is being “blocked by cheaper market prices of coal and oil – prices that do not include the costs of carbon pollution.”

Alvarez wrote that President Aquino has responded to the accord by mandating that the Philippine intended nationally determined contribution (INDC) goal should be 70 percent cut by 2030. The president’s INDC “crystallizes the Filipino’s vision of economic and social transformation toward a low-carbon and more resilient society.” This is necessary, said Alvarez, as the Philippines is one of the three top nations battered regularly by disastrous climate change. On the average, we sustain some 20 increasingly powerful typhoons annually, including floods, storm surges, and intermittent drought.

Ironically, the President recently announced the operation of several coal-powered plants in the country, saying that these are necessary to keep the nation out of the dark. This development runs counter to the global challenge to reduce dependency on coal as a source of energy.

Alvarez wrote before the Paris agreement, that France argued for an ambitious target of a 4 percent reduction in greenhouse gasses by 2030 and of 60 percent by 2040 (from 1990 levels). He also said China and the United States, the two largest polluters, announced mutual plans to reduce their emissions. The US promised a reduction of 28 percent by 2025, while China agreed to slow its CO2 emissions around 2030 and then increase the share of nonfossil fuels in its energy portfolio to “around” 20 percent by 2030.

Alvarez expressed hope that the new leadership will be courageous, clear-headed, and climate-smart.

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On a climate-change related development, former Sen. Migz Zubiri announced that the Philippines is now the largest and fastest-growing producer of electricity from wind power among the 10 countries belonging to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

“Our wind farms now have an aggregate installed capcity of almost 400 megawatts (MW) – far more than our neighbors – and we expect this number to quadruple to 1,600 MWs in two to three years,” said Zubiri, author of the Renewable Energy Law of 2008.

The former legislator from Bukidnon who is seeking a seat in the Senate in the May 9 election, cited a study by the US National Energy Laboratory which said the Philippines has “some 10,000 square kilometers of land areas with good-to-excellent wind resources.” The best of these resources are in Batanes province, the north and northwest coast of Luzon; the northeast-and east-facing coasts of Luzon and Samar; the southern coast of Mindanao, and the straits between Mindoro and Panay, and Panay and Negros.

“Wind energy is highly beneficial because it is abundant, naturally replenished, widely distributed, and produces zero harmful carbon dioxide emissions during operation.”

Zubiri said the Renewable Energy Management Bureau has identified at least 44 potential wind energy projects that when combined, could produce another 1,168 MW of electricity. The 150-wind farm of the Energy Development Corp. (EDC) in Burgos, Ilocos Norte, is the largest in Southeast Asia.

More wind energy projects are on the way. The Philippine Hybrid energy Systems In. is putting up a 48-MW wind farm in Puerto Galera, Mindoro Oriental. Last week, the government awarded another four wind energy service contracts to private developers – two to EDC and two to Firstmax International Corp.

Zubiri is to be thanked for authorizing the Renewable Energy Law which accelerates the exploration and development of the country’s “green” energy resources. The law Republic Act 9513, aims to lessen national dependence on electricity generated from imported and highly pollutive coal and fuel oil.

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