Is everything lost?
IYO ANTOY - Loren Legarda (The Philippine Star) - October 26, 2016 - 12:00am

Coal is burned to generate electricity and its by-product, in the form of ash, is either recycled into cement or construction products, stored or disposed in dry or wet landfills. Leakage from these landfills can contaminate ground and surface water with arsenic, cadmium and lead, just to name a few.

The World Health Organization (WHO) concluded in 2014 that air quality in most cities worldwide “fails to meet WHO guidelines for safe levels, putting people at additional risk of respiratory disease and other health problems.”  This study covered 1,600 cities across 91 countries. It had attributed the air quality decline to a host of factors, including reliance on fossil fuels such as coal- fired power plants.

The United Nations estimates that 26 percent of global mercury emissions come from the combustion of coal in power plants.

Beyond the health impacts of coal-based energy production lie the severe and irreversible impacts of climate change across the world.

Two of the major greenhouse gases contributing to climate change are produced by coal combustion — carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. As concentrations of these gases in the atmosphere accumulate, global temperature increases, setting in motion absolute consequences of climate change.

Now I wish to ask: Is everything lost?

The Philippines is a country rich in renewable energy — the amount of sun and wind is more than enough to power our entire country many times over. We have the Renewable Energy Law of 2008 and though we may not totally ban coal, we should have a good energy mix where there is a bias for renewables.

The nation can no longer afford to have short-sighted and myopic plans. We must rethink socio-economic development beyond expediency and short-term gains.

Taking the path of low carbon development is the just and right way. It presents enormous opportunities for green growth, green jobs and ensures a sustainable, secure and resilient future for all.

The Philippine Development Plan should define clearly how the country will tread the low carbon development pathway and how our sectors will pursue the transition our sustainable development goals entail.

It is on this note that I laud the world’s first climate change and human rights petition in the Philippines against the Carbon Majors or the world’s biggest polluters, including the largest fossil fuel companies, which are responsible for an estimated 65 percent of all anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions between 1751 and 2013. The petition was filed by environmental groups and individuals led by Greenpeace Southeast Asia-Philippines before the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) of the Philippines.

The CHR sent copies of the petition to the Carbon Majors last July 27, 2016. The companies are expected to submit their reply to the Commission within this month.

In the Philippine Senate, I have filed a Resolution calling for an inquiry in aid of legislation on the alleged detrimental and health impacts and human rights infringements arising from the operation of coal-fired power plants in the country.

We seek to determine the viability of imposing a moratorium on the issuance of Environmental Compliance Certificates for the construction of additional coal-fired power plants and the development of a clear policy towards a low carbon economy in light of the Philippines’ international commitments.

I have likewise urged the Philippine Senate to lead the conduct of an environmental audit of relevant national agencies and local government units in relation to their compliance to and enforcement of environmental laws. Our goal is to introduce measurable indicators and targets, identify where implementation can be supported, and encourage public accountability of all government officials. (To be continued)

(Keynote speech at the Third Asian Judges Symposium on Law, Policy and Climate Change, Sept. 26. Continued from yesterday.)


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