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Opinion

Climate change: the next global challenge

BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez - The Philippine Star

As the current chairman of the ASEAN Committee in Washington (ACW) an organization composed of ambassadors of ASEAN member-nations in Washington – we have organized a list of activities aimed at elevating the concerns of Southeast Asian nations and further strengthening the political and economic ties with the United States.

Last Wednesday, we chaired the ASEAN committee meeting at our embassy where we invited former State Secretary, now Special Presidential Envoy on Climate John Kerry, to discuss climate change and its inherent consequences affecting the world which could be equated with COVID-19.

Secretary Kerry gave us a rundown on what the US wants to accomplish together with other countries – the reduction of carbon emissions and a commitment to phase out fossil fuels such as coal, petroleum and natural gas. President Biden has pledged to cut US greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent (based on 2005 levels) by 2030, create a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035 and a net zero emissions economy by no later than 2050.

According to Secretary Kerry, we have less than 10 years – by 2030 in fact – to get the world on the right path and avoid a potential climate catastrophe. He believes we can reverse the dangerous warming of the planet by limiting the rise in our temperature to that level of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Secretary Kerry spoke about the upcoming 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland this November where leaders are expected to step up on their commitment to reduce carbon emissions. Each country that signed up on the 2015 Paris Agreement committed to a target known as a Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez, the chairperson-designate of the Climate Change Commission, will be our representative to COP26, but perhaps Secretary Teddy Locsin may be joining him at that important two-week summit with an estimated 30,000 delegates that include world leaders as well as scientists and environment advocates.

All eyes will be on the COP26 (which was postponed from last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic), acknowledged as the biggest and most important climate conference and dubbed by many as “the world’s best last chance” to keep the worst consequences of the climate crisis at bay.

A major factor in helping countries move forward in the goal to reduce their carbon footprint is new technology, such as “green hydrogen” using a chemical process that extracts hydrogen from water using electricity from renewable sources, which can be a replacement for fossil fuels. Secretary Kerry discussed opportunities for alternative sources of energy – green energy – which can be a driver in reversing the impact of global warming and climate change.

He mentioned the technology that develops small, modular nuclear reactors as sources of renewable energy that require smaller investment capital plus greater scalability. In fact, Bill Gates – who authored “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster” – founded TerraPower, an advanced nuclear innovation company that aims to develop carbon-free small modular reactors, the first of which will be built in an abandoned coal station in Wyoming.

Scientists have long been saying that nuclear energy can combat climate change because it is low carbon, and power plants do not emit greenhouse gases during operation. In the Philippines, one of the most passionate advocates of nuclear energy is former Pangasinan Congressman Mark Cojuangco, who has been calling for the revival of the Bataan nuclear power plant to boost the supply in Luzon and avert a power shortage as it could add 600 megawatts of reliable power.

Mark believes reviving the BNPP will help provide consumers with a stable source of electricity at a lower cost. He also cites NEDA estimates that the Philippines will need 13,000 megawatts of electricity to cope with the rising demand, and small modular reactors with a capacity of up to 300 megawatts could address this rising need in the electricity grid. This is something that we should continue to study and, hopefully, the next administration will seriously look at alternative sources of energy as the only way to go.

During our meeting with Secretary Kerry, I precisely asked him about his thoughts on nuclear energy. The secretary was very clear: he was a firm believer in nuclear energy. As I said, the United States is already developing a safe modular type of nuclear energy power plant that will be ultra-safe and can be easily installed in many countries. The US plans to share this technology as soon as it is fully developed.

To this day, the impact of Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) can still be felt, with people in low-lying coastal areas getting distressed every time strong rains start pouring. A few days ago, Severe Tropical Storm Maring (Kompasu) battered several provinces in northern Luzon, dumping more than a month’s worth of rain that submerged many towns, with damage to agriculture estimated at P1 billion.

While the COVID-19 pandemic is a global concern, climate change is an “existentialist threat” that also poses the “greatest threat” to global public health, increasing the number of heat-related deaths and illnesses, causing a rise in infectious diseases and impacting the mental health of people, with lives and livelihoods lost due to droughts, floods, fires and other disasters.

As Secretary Dominguez noted, the pandemic is a problem – but climate change issues that we have faced and will continue to face will impact the next generation. Hopefully, leaders – especially those from the G20 economies – will deliver on their climate change commitments because the time to act is now, not tomorrow.

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Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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