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Figuring out the Duterte admin’s energy policy

By Denise Fontanilla

This article was originally published in GMA News Online

Earlier this month, Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi announced that his team was about to review the country’s energy mix, but in the same briefing also declared that the Philippines “can’t afford not to have coal.”

This declaration is not only presumptuous but dangerous—for the people and the climate, and even for the image of the new administration which has taken pains to win over investors.

Moreover, a national energy policy review and framework development was already launched last month, and for good reason. Cusi would especially benefit from reflecting on three major developments on the climate and energy front.

The first factor is the United Nations climate agreement reached in Paris last December and signed by the Philippines last April. Its main goal is to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, but our country led the Climate Vulnerable Forum of almost 50 developing countries in successfully pushing for 1.5°C to be recognized as the aspirational target. This crucial half degree can spell the difference on whether small island nations and other high-risk countries like ours can still survive sea level rise, extreme heat, and other climate impacts.

Unfortunately, a broad civil society review shows that the world is likely headed to a devastating 3°C or more based on the collective sum of countries’ climate pledges. It confirms that the commitments of all major developed countries fall far short of their fair share of efforts to reduce emissions and provide climate finance, which lends some credence to Duterte’s branding of these countries as “hypocrites” during a presidential debate.

But even the Philippines has its own fair share of climate action to take on. We would not be able to meet our pledge of 70% emissions reduction by 2030, however conditional, if the government does not cancel all 29 coal plants currently in the pipeline.

Secondly, renewables have been driving the nail in the coffin of fossil fuels worldwide. A record-breaking US$286 billion was invested in RE worldwide last year, including $500 million in the Philippines, according to a UN-backed report. Renewables, particularly solar and wind, are also becoming even cheaper, especially given better storage and other newer technologies. Bloomberg’s latest report foresees some $7.8 trillion being invested in clean energy this year until 2040, and zero-emission energy sources making up 60% of installed capacity in the same year.

On the other hand, Deutsche Bank recently joined other large banks and lenders in backing off from coal. Norway’s sovereign fund, the world’s largest at US$ 850 billion, denied access to AboitizPower and 51 other coal-heavy companies worldwide. The last two years also saw five major US coal companies going broke, including global giant Peabody Energy, which filed for bankruptcy last April.

Last but not the least are the improving business prospects for renewables in the country. In fact, a growing number of companies are also calling for the government to lead the way towards the clean energy transition.

Back in May, the Lopez group declared it is shelving coal and investing more into clean energy. The following month, Solar Philippines president Leandro Legarda Leviste led a group of solar developers and advocates in declaring that solar is already cheaper than coal. He also announced his plans to build the country’s first solar panel manufacturing plant.

The International Renewable Energy Agency stated that the Philippines is among the “most attractive” solar markets worldwide up to 2020, Moreover, the country has yet to explore its vast wind and hydropower resources. Ernst and Young ranked the country 22nd in its latest Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index.

These three factors alone are helping build a strong case for the Philippines’ swift and just transition to clean energy.

Fortunately, two of Cusi’s fellow cabinet members are more upbeat on renewables.

The day after Cusi defended coal, socioeconomic planning secretary Ernesto Pernia told reporters about his proposed Metro Manila solar program. Pernia said Cusi himself is open to the plan and emphasized that renewables are faster to build compared to coal plants.

You also have environment secretary Gina Lopez, a staunch anti-coal advocate who said in a recent interview that she will prioritize approving permits for renewable energy projects over those of coal and other fossil fuels.

Even President Rodrigo Duterte himself told the Green Thumb Coalition of civil society groups last April that he “agrees with the eventual phase-out of coal power plants and other plants that use harmful fuels and steer the country for more investments in [renewables].”

As he and his cabinet buckle up for the energy policy review, they should recognize that the Philippines can no longer afford to rely on coal and other forms of dirty and harmful energy.

They should also keep in mind that the previous administration promoted coal and only managed to launch the review two weeks before they took over the reins. The president was elected to be the change instead of the copycat; switching to clean energy is one big way his administration can prove it.

– See more at: http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/574159/scitech/science/opinion-figuring-out-the-duterte-admin-s-energy-policy#sthash.VrlD8Kts.dpuf

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