Casting away coal addiction for survival
Heherson T. Alvarez (The Philippine Star) - December 3, 2019 - 12:00am

Climate Change Consciousness week is held through the proclamation by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo every November, through my recommendation as Presidential Adviser on Climate Change to raise awareness and generate action to respond to global warming threats. This year, its observance becomes even more significant because an Emergency Climate Alert for a higher ambition to fulfill the PARIS ACCORD has been underscored by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other well-acknowledged Science Research Institutes.

The COP 25 will be held from Dec. 2-13, in Spain due to certain political disturbances in Chile, Spain with the UNFCCC secretariat has generously provided the crucial global platform to form together a resilient and responsive global will to mitigate and adapt to the deepening climate change catastrophes.

It is imperative that the Climate Change Commission in defining our Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) provides a doable climate program that supports the administration’s job-creation, even industrialization programs. A joint congressional public hearing is essential for a fully transparent harmonized process with vital inputs from all concerned agencies and relevant civil society sectors.

One of the keys to the Philippines’ long-term industrial growth – sustainable development and resiliency, is a mix of energy sources which is job-creating, that become less expensive over time, and which also has fewer negative impacts on climate and the environment, that threatens food security, health, infrastructure, lives and livelihood.

We are entering a new era of grave disruptions that include increasingly destructive impacts of an overheating earth with climate change, of super typhoons, ocean surges and super drought, raging forest fires, landslides consequently deepening poverty and hunger. Carbon dioxide and fossil polluting gases have been the culprit of global warming. Fortunately, the rise of alternative clean energy technologies as solar, wind, hydro waste, and geothermal are readily accessible. UN Secretary General Guterres in the recent ASEAN meeting stressed the need to STOP our Coal Addiction.

It is auspicious that the President underscored his concern for Climate Change in his speech in Russia. In ASEAN, the President underscored the value of protecting biodiversity as we address climate change. He has also manifested political will in rehabilitating our polluted water bodies, in particular, Boracay and Manila bay. The President also expressed his openness to address the plastic crisis that identifies the Philippines as no. 3 in the list of the most guilty polluting countries. Cop 25 is particularly directed to the blue planet concerns, confronting global warming destruction of the corals, acidification of our seas, plastic pollution, sea level rise and ocean surges.

The enormous popularity of the President can provide the opportunity for him to serve as a caring guru to protect our highly vulnerable archipelago, and seek the Senate ratification of a UNESCO covenant for the underwater heritage protection.

What can be realistically accomplished within the remaining 2 1/2-year term of the Duterte administration focused on specific policies, actions and programs that are doable and achievable?

The twin pillars of eliminating the scourge of drugs and corruption while preventing further environmental degradation through decarbonization will lift the nation and its leadership to a rendezvous with destiny.

I. The basic problem

1. The Philippines is one of the top three countries most threatened by climate change. We need to CLIMATE PROOF our people against its inevitable impacts and risks, to take full advantage of new financing, technology and other job opportunities that it will create and attract green investments, clean technologies and green building.

2. We also need to manage properly the ongoing shift in energy technologies to minimize stranded costs, technology lock-in and other risks as well so as to take full advantage of the decreasing costs, lower pollution, more green jobs and businesses, and other benefits as well as opportunities these newer technologies will create.

To attain the administration’s “Ambisyon Natin 2040 (Malasakit, Pagbabago at Kaunlaran)” under this new era, the Philippine energy sector faces a fundamental dilemma:

• Should it continue to rely mainly on traditional sources and planning methods like coal and baseload planning, which planners are already familiar and comfortable with? or

• Should it adopt newer technologies and planning methods such as new renewables and storage, and flexible power plant planning which are cleaner, which create more jobs, and which are becoming increasingly cheaper over time?

Our energy sector today unfortunately inherited from the previous Aquino administration a bias for the first option, despite its disadvantages especially under the new alternative energy era. The previous administration’s Philippine Energy Plan 2012-2030 had energy efficiency and renewable energy targets that would have propelled the country toward this transition. Unfortunately, it failed to attain the energy efficiency and renewable energy targets, but overachieved on its coal targets instead, revealing its hidden bias. We will work closely with the Department of Energy on a climate-smart approach to the energy transition and seek to assist that the Duterte Administration does not repeat the egregious error of the Aquino Administration.

II. Addressing the problem

Our answer to the problem must be a two-track energy policy. One that does not disrupt our economic growth while it builds up national capacity for sustainable development through increasing reliance on renewable energy. It allows us to fulfil our commitments under the Paris Climate Accord based on CLIMATE JUSTICE and the principle of COMMON BUT DIFFERENTIATED RESPONSIBILITIES. It also allows us the resiliency to chart a low-carbon path according to our Intended Nationally Determined Contribution of Priorities (INDC).

This two-track policy will create jobs, pull down electricity prices, and provide ordinary people with a cleaner, healthier living environment. It will also avoid locking in our country for the next 40 years to power plants which are highly polluting and whose increasing costs can derail the industrialization efforts of the administration, over malnutrition and/or poverty reduction.

This can be accomplished by a simultaneous approach that builds on existing and committed (Construction on-going) conventional power plants to make them more dependable, more efficient and less polluting and builds up new power capacity for sustainable growth through gains in energy efficiency and increasing reliance on renewable energy.

III. Basic objectives:

1. To promote specific climate actions, policies, and programs (APPs) to help sustain a strong economy through job growth and lower electricity prices over the next five (5) years.

2. To use these APPs to leverage investment, technology and capacity-building in order to capture large-scale mitigation and adaptation opportunities for the country.

3. To bolster biodiversity conservation through protection of the forest and oceans as carbon sinks to help reduce greenhouse gases.

4. To increase via riverbank solar or river basins another 1.5 million hectares from the 6 million existing hectares of irrigable land. Currently, only 1.5 hectares are irrigated. By irrigating 1 hectare of land, it is as if you have 3 hectares harvesting 3 times a year instead of merely depending on rainfall.

 IV. Proposed response 

A. Mitigation initiatives: Reducing greenhouse gas emissions

The following prototypical mitigation projects can be prioritized for carbon capture and reduction to meet our international climate change commitments. They, at the same time in adaptation by creating jobs, alleviating poverty, enhancing food security, and promoting biodiversity conservation, confronting vector borne and climate caused respiratory, gastro-intestinal diseases, cancer and heart ailments. 

1. Expand a forestation and reforestation projects by another 1.5 million hectares, with improved monitoring and evaluation component and by stopping deforestation. Forests provide economic, social and environmental benefits. As a bonus, they also sequester huge amounts of carbon dioxide. Deforestation produces almost twice as much carbon dioxide as the energy sector.

2. Upscale low-carbon farming methods in irrigation systems nationwide such as organic farming, which eliminates the use of fossil fuel-based agro-chemical, and the system of rice intensification (SRI) which reduces agricultural methane by minimizing rice field flooding. These systems also improve farmers’ income and health.

3. Mandate segregation and recycling projects in municipalities and cities to control pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from solid and liquid wastes while turning them into source of local jobs and income.

4. Manage the ongoing energy transition from fossil fuels to new renewables to reduce carbon emissions and at the same time maximize flexibility, preserve potentially game-changing options, enhance job creation, and minimize the cost of electricity to consumers. Pilot proven energy efficiency and renewable technologies in government buildings and other structures, to set the example for the rest of the country. Solarizing a Malacañang building would be a model of inspiring Government offices to follow the lead of the Palace.

5. Acquire electric vehicles (EVs) for some government offices, to initiate the necessary infrastructure of charging stations that can spur other early adopters to shift to EVs.

6. Provide a comprehensive cultural, science-based communications and effective education with inclusive, transformative lifelong learning involving all disciplines of the arts and forms of media through a focused program with the support an interagency cluster of tourism, social welfare and NEDA including the rehabilitation of climate refugees.

7. Direct DOST, Department of Information and Communications Technology, Climate Change Commission and the Civil Service Commission to conduct a joint study to adopt internet protocol that will permit at least 35 percent of public and private employees to work at home, 3 days a week. This will help reduce transport traffic, cut pollution and improve efficiency.

8. Tax appropriately and fairly COAL to excise its hidden and overt subsidy to level the playing field as one of the incentives for the entry of renewable energy.

B. Adaptation Initiatives:

Preparing ourselves to cope with the risks of climate change

1. Direct all cities in NCR to propose 20 initiatives to protect and strengthen their cities, including three key actions: managing the risk of flooding, increasing areas for parks and vegetation, and improving water and energy efficiency. Proposals must be based on identified hazards and assessed risk of climate change impacts on the most vulnerable areas and infrastructure within their territories.

2. Implement job-creating agroforestry programs for enhancing the resilience of farms to climate impacts, reducing land degradation and improving soil quality and productivity to ensure diversified and secure food production in various parts of the country.

3. Provide special funding to highly vulnerable LGUs, like Cagayan de Oro and Ilagan and local universities Pagasa and nrrdc for the development and implementation of adaptation plans based on multi-hazard scenario-based assessment of risks and vulnerabilities.

4. For food security, direct the Department of Agriculture to include more resilient crops than rice and corn in its programs and enhance the adaptive capacity of small-scale agriculture especially in the Cordillera Region , the cagayan valley and parts of Mindanao.

5. Direct the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to promote and provide support for the cultivation of mangrove forests by coastal communities for protection from storm surges and opportunities for food, income and recreation.

6. Allocate appropriate fund and direct the Commission on Higher Education, the Department of Education and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) to implement nationwide roll out, information dissemination and training of teachers and students in integrating climate change and disaster risk issues in the K to 12 and other curricula. This can spark a nationwide trend for innovation and promotion of science-based solutions in communities and LGUs.

7. Require and assist DepEd and DOH to provide schools and clinics in distant barangays with supplementary power from local renewable energy sources. Incentives for installing and operating back-up RE power sources by government agencies and units, medical facilities and schools should also be provided.

8. Declare the 175-hectare Las Piñas-Paranaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area of NCR and similar critical areas as Climate Change Adaptation Projects and commit PAGCOR funding for their planning, beautification, and clean-up.

9. Support the call of LGUs for the reform of the People’s Survival Fund. The PSF was created in 2012 but remains generally dormant due to weak organizational mechanisms.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte supported the recent global strike on Climate Justice, Peace and Clean up kicked off in the Philippines by the Earthsavers UNESCO Dream Center, Climate Institute and its partners that created the unique Gallery of the Sea that was applauded by him in his message.

“This administration recognizes that armed conflict and climate change are among the greatest challenges our society faces today. I thus commend your organization for being our reliable partner in upholding our peace-building efforts and environmental conservation programs. I also hope that you will encourage others to take concrete steps in preserving our natural resources and leading a more sustainable and responsible lifestyle.”

The President therefore is in a unique position to initiate a cultural revolution to bring about a regime of plenty by protecting the nation from the ravages of inevitable, intensified extreme weather occurrence that will submerge our coastal towns, threatening the survival of our nation. 

(Heherson T. Alvarez is former Senator and Isabela Congressman who served as Secretary of Environment as well as Climate Change Secretary. He is the founder of Earthsavers honored as a UNESCO Dream Center and is currently Chairman of the Advisory Board of Climate Institute. among the oldest Internatiobal NGO based in Wahington. D..C Tel. 09158983947 Or 09178711161)

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