At its last meeting the Philippine Ambassadors Foundation Incorporated (PAFI) expressed concern over the recent announcement that the Philippine government has approved the building of 45 coal-fired plants. The country, it seems, will not just be maintaining but actually increasing its reliance on coal, the most polluting of all fossil fuels and the single greatest threat to the world’s climate. This will be contrary to what the world’s nations, including the Philippines, have committed to do under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change of 2016 which will be open for ratification ( by at least 55 of the highest carbon- emitting countries to take effect) this 22 April 2016.
The Philippine government action is certainly unexpected of the country that experienced in “Yolanda” the most ferocious and damaging typhoon the world ever saw and that has been listed at the top of countries most vulnerable to such and other calamitous effects of climate change. It is at the very least puzzling considering that unremitting global warming has already put the Philippines and its neighboring island countries in a precarious position raising coastal waters in these parts five times higher than the general average and promising even more severe typhoons in the future.
The terrible reality of the threats of climate change that “Yolanda” brought home has driven the Philippine to play an even more active role in international climate change conferences even as it has conferred on the country a moral leadership role in these conferences. At the 2016 United Nations Climate Change Conference, the forum of the most vulnerable countries chaired by the Philippines succeeded in including in the Paris Agreement a provision asking countries to endeavor to limit global temperatures even lower than 2 degrees Celcius above pre-industrial times to 1.5 degrees Celcius.
The Philippines evidently contradicts itself in wanting a strong agreement on climate change and allowing the proliferation of coal-fired plants in the country, and stands to lose its credibility and effectiveness in persuading the international community to reduce carbon emissions. Supporters of coal have pointed out that the Philippines is not a significant carbon emitter, and the crucial pledges should be made by the industrial nations. This is both poor reasoning and bad attitude. It is such arguments that have hindered efforts by the international community until Paris to conclude a truly global agreement on climate change. When the carbon emission reaches the atmosphere, it would be vain to identify its provenance. What matters is the additional harm it inflicts on the planet, and 45 coal plants over time can mean a lot of harm. Furthermore, developing countries today are outstripping industrial nations in carbon emissions.
Obviously the attractiveness of coal lies in its cheap price. But that is to be blind to the costs represented by its effect on the health of those working in and living around coal plants and on the future of the planet. A no less important disadvantage in the government’s move is the opportunity the country is missing to become the leader in Southeast Asia in the development of renewable energy. The country has a wealth of renewable energy resources. It is time for the country to invest more in shifting to renewable sources for meeting its energy needs, taking advantage if necessary of the assistance and cooperation offered by developed countries under the Paris Agreement in this endeavor. Relying on renewable energy is increasingly being proved as a desirable and affordable proposition, with countries and cities already achieving a zero-carbon way of life.
PAFI calls on the government and private sector to put the building of these coal-fired plants on hold and to review the country’s energy policies with the end of aligning them with the goals of and the country’s commitments under the Paris agreement. It also calls on the incoming administration to appoint competent and dynamic officials at the helm of the Department of Energy who are able to manage and plan for the country’s energy needs and are at the same time sensitive to the issues of the people’s health and the protection and future of the planet and environment.
Jaime J. Yambao is currently the Secretary-General of the Philippine Ambassadors Foundation, consisting of the country’s retired ambassadors.