Another turnaround?
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - October 18, 2019 - 12:00am

ROME – At the second day of the Biofuels and Bioenergy Green Energy and Expo 2019 being held here in the capital city of Italy, international experts on renewable energy (RE) technology focused on issues and challenges in global commitments to reduce carbon emissions by the year 2050. This is, of course, in reference to the “zero emission” target set forth in the Conference of Parties (COP) that was spearheaded by the United Nations (UN) and was signed in Paris, France in 2015. 

The Philippines is among the first batch of nations that signed the COP agreement during the previous administration. It was subsequently ratified by the Philippine Senate, a move that binds our country to this international pact. As of this year, 196 states that include the European Union (EU) signed up and 183 ratified the COP. This Paris Agreement requires all country-signatories – rich, poor, developed and developing – to do their part to slash “greenhouse gas emissions.” 

For somebody who has openly scoffed at climate change conferences to address possible mitigation measures to save planet earth from much dreaded extinction, it was a pleasant surprise that our very own President Rodrigo Duterte has personally taken up the cause. This he did in a speech during the conferment rites of an honorary doctorate degree on him last Oct. 5 at the Moscow State for International Relations while he was on an official visit to Russia.

In that speech he read before the academic community in Moscow specializing on international diplomacy, President Duterte stressed the need for the Philippines and the rest of the world to address the impact of climate change in the most concrete terms and not just by talking about it in conferences. “It (climate change) is aggravating existing divides within and between nations and even as it creates new ones. Hence, we have to work together to find solutions that are effective, fair and beneficial to everyone,” President Duterte urged.

It was not known why the President who has demonstrated his aversion on this subject matter shifted his views on the issue of climate change. But he gave the most persuasive reason why he obviously took a change of heart. “Climate change is threatening the very survival of our planet. Disruptive weather patterns with stronger intensities deliver punishing blows on our archipelagos like the Philippines year-in and year-out,” President Duterte pointed out.

Whenever climate change issues cropped up in his speeches in the past, President Duterte has consistently expressed his belief that highly industrialized countries are responsible for largely causing the global warming that threatens the survival of entire mankind. The Philippines, as far as he sees it, is just among the developing and small countries around the world that are victims of climate change that these industrialized nations must pay for in terms of providing the funds for climate change mitigation and adaptation to help its victims. 

He previously deplored the climate change agreements have been crafted in favor of the rich countries instead. Though he did not identify them, he was apparently dishing digs anew at climate change advocates from the European Union (EU) member-states which are also the same countries that have been attacking his administration on human rights issues in alleged extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.  

It was a clear sign that President Duterte, though perhaps reluctantly, has decided to embrace the reality that climate change is really upon us.

This is a turnaround as far as President Duterte is concerned. At least, he did not follow another climate change non-believer American President Donald Trump who withdrew the United States from the COP in June 2017.

Although the US is out of the COP, the superpower country remains as one of the world’s biggest producers of greenhouse emissions still heavily contributing to global warming, along with China, Japan, and EU countries. This was highlighted at this joint event on Global Experts Meeting on Frontiers on the “Green Energy” conference that officially started here last Monday. 

Abhishek Asthana, director of Hallam Energy, the energy research group at Shetfield Hallam University, disclosed at the “Green Energy conference the projected RE consumption in the world is expected to increase by almost 30% over the period from 2018 to 2023. It will cover 40% of global energy growth, Asthana cited. Based from the current RE markets in the world and present forecasts for growth, he noted, China – unlike the US – will continue to lead in the deployment of new capacity coming from solar, hydro and wind power sources.

India, according to Asthana, is next to China in doubling its RE capacity deployment while Germany, France, Spain and several other EU member-states have been deploying additional RE from onshore wind power and solar photovoltaic (PV) sources. Asthana noted with concern the South East Asian (SEA) region, where the Philippines belong, has been “lagging behind” in RE additional capacity deployment.

When I pressed him why, Asthana pointed to “no government policy drivers” to push the RE deployment coupled by lack of infrastructure to interest investors to put up RE power plants in the Philippines. 

President Duterte earlier admitted that coal and oil power plants are considered cheaper to build but it causes more damage to the environment. “You cannot have it all. You get one, you lose one. You have a cheap power plant, coal, oil, but the carbon, the fossil fuel leaves a lot of carbon footprint in the country and I do not know how it would impact on the next generation,” he conceded.

But only last Tuesday, President Duterte led the switch-on celebration of the 500-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Mauban, Quezon Province as additional energy supply to the Luzon grid under his administration’s Build, Build, Build infrastructure program.

Is this another turnaround from his new found advocacy for climate change? Hopefully, it’s not the case.

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