• ‘Political will’– does it exist?‘



    California has set a target to use renewable energy for 50 percent of the state’s needs within 15 years. California’s electricity needs are about 296,000 GWh/year (Philippines 73,000 GWh/year).

    Now 20 percent of that is produced from renewable sources which increases to 26 percent if hydropower is included (which it rightly should be). The target has been set and publicized by the Governor of California Mr. Jerry Brown, now on his fourth term as state Governor.

    Japan is reported to be researching the possibility of a national solar array to substitute for its nuclear power which prior to the Fukushima melt down was targeted to produce 40 percent of national electricity needs.

    The European Union despite its rather tediously bureaucratic proceedings and procedures is setting a mandatory target of 20 percent of electricity to be produced from renewable sources by 2020, Germany plans 45 percent of electricity from renewables by 2030.

    The arguments for renewables over fossil fuel are well and frequently stated; climate change, health effects, environmental effects, cost, energy security and it is not my purpose here to repeat them!

    In the random examples cited above it can be seen that the drive for the increased use of renewable energy is a matter of political will. Political will being the strength of conviction of government that a law despite its upsetting some members of society will be implemented and enforced as it is believed to be for the best interests of society as a whole, and is shown and well justified to be such.

    The Philippines is a nation in which it is difficult to effect and sustain political will in matters which will benefit society as a whole due the risk that they may prejudice the business interests of the oligarchy.

    “Regulatory capture” and “political capture” are terms much bandied about and given the empirical evidence surrounding the failure of so many initiatives which appear to be in the best interest of society as a whole, not least the endless controversies over renewable energy’s fossil fuel, the “capture” claims have to have some validity.

    I have little doubt that the targets for renewable energy in California, the European Union, Germany and Japan will be met, or if they are not met then there would be a clear and credible explanation as to why not.

    The Renewable Energy Law of the Philippines passed in 2008, is a good law and well justified, but it seems that the political will necessary to override the objections of those with whose business interests it conflicts, or is thought to conflict, is lacking.

    I have heard statements from the coal lobby criticizing Germany’s progress in renewables implementation on the basis that the Philippines already with its hydro and geothermal power has a higher percentage of renewable power that Germany’s target of 20 percent at the time the comment was made.

    A good way in which to derail any initiative requiring a dose of sustained political will is to cause confusion over the issue and the lesser the knowledge of those charged with executing the matter and the more torturous the procedures for actually making anything happen, then the greater will be the effect of misinformation, superficial objections, and “drum beating” not to mention the informal lobbying that goes on behind closed doors.

    Add to this a lack of understanding of the actual issue by the objectors, who often seem not to know what they are talking about, or if they do they keep that knowledge well hidden.

    It gets all knotted up into a terribly difficult unraveling challenge, people lose interest or move onto the next fire to fight and the initiative just ends up dead in the water until some other catalyzing event occurs needing it to be revived and then the whole business just starts all over again.

    There are many opinions around (including those in this column!) and you simply cannot please all of the people all of the time. To emulate the target setting and high probability of their achievement by the advanced economies, and the Philippines wants to believe itself to be at some stage a contender for that group, then there has to be within the whole of government a better focus and strength of political will to do what is right for society despite the objections of the powerful.

    Mike may be contacted at mawootton@gmail.com.


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