With President Aquino ending his six-year administration by the end of June, environmental and climate-justice advocates are hopeful that the next administration will give a closer look at the country’s energy policy of shifting from fossil fuel-based to more environment-friendly renewable-energy (RE) sources.
Faced with the challenge of sustaining economic growth, the next administration is also faced with an even tougher challenge of fulfilling an ambitious target to reduce the country’s carbon emission by 70 percent by 2030, a promise made under the country’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution that was submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in the Paris conference in December 2015.
On April 22, highlighting the country’s celebration of Earth Day, Environment Secretary Ramon J.P. Paje signed the Paris Agreement in New York in behalf of President Aquino, affirming the country’s commitment to reduce its carbon footprint to help limit global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, or at least to 1.5°C, at best, in the next 14 years.
While plausible, environmental and climate-justice advocates seriously doubt that such carbon emission-reduction target is achievable, considering the current procoal-energy policy. They are pinning their hopes on the next administration for the country to break free from coal and shift to RE.
Arguably, they said coal may be cheap and quick to put up, but the cost to people’s health and environment makes it the most expensive source of energy, far worse than the cost of putting up RE plants, such as hydropower, geothermal and, perhaps, the most cheapest and supply abundant, solar plants.
On May 4 a nationwide campaign against coal kicked off in Batangas City. About 10,000 marchers echoed calls against coal and the shift to clean RE. They called out the country’s next leaders to take the lead for a more environment-friendly development paths, starting with sourcing clean energy and scrapping fossil fuels.
The event, organized by Piglas Pilipinas, a coalition against coal, was part of the global Break Free from Fossil Fuels 2016 campaign to keep coal, oil and gas in the ground.
The local campaign aims to enjoin people in affected communities to make a stand against coal-fired power plants, highlighting its adverse impacts on people’s health and environment vis-à-vis the threats of climate change, which are considered by scientists as the most serious threat to human existence.
Organizers vowed to launch similar activities in the next few days to rally the people in areas with existing, expanding and approved coal-fired power-plant projects as “a show of force” against coal and other sources of dirty energy.
There are 19 existing coal-fired power plants in the country, and 27 more are in the pipeline. After a law promoting renewables was signed on December 16, 2008, the share of RE in the country’s energy mix had decreased by 5 percent. In the next six years, this is expected to further shrink by 5 percent, with its share being eaten up by coal—unless the next administration takes a bold step to reverse the trend, the group’s organizers said.
Piglas Pilipinas 2016, which is composed of religious leaders, environmental and climate-justice activists, told the BusinessMirror on Thursday the successful Batangas City event highlighted the growing opposition against coal-fired power plants, particularly against the proposed 600-megawatt coal plant of JG Summit Holdings in Barangay Pinamucan Ibaba, Batangas City.
Organized by the Archdiocese of Lipa, led by Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, the event called “Piglas Batangas, Piglas Pilipinas” kicked off a series of anticoal peaceful protest actions in the Philippines and other parts of the world.
In other areas, similar events were scheduled within 12 days by environmental and climate-justice advocates from six continents as part of Break Free from Fossil Fuels 2016. Mass actions are scheduled until May 15 in other countries, including Indonesia, Nigeria, Brazil, the United States, Germany and Australia.
In Indonesia people will troop to the presidential palace in Jakarta on May 11 to express their resistance to coal projects. Indonesia is one of the world’s biggest producers of coal. The Philippines imports 70 percent of its coal from Indonesia. The mobilization hopes to convince Indonesian President Joko Widodo to revise his ambitious 35,000-MW energy plan by moving away from coal and embracing RE.
In South Africa, on May 12, protesters will gather in Emalahleni, one of the most polluted towns in the world, to speak out on the effects of climate change on communities. It will also feature a photo exhibit that shows the poison behind coal mining to people and the environment.
Between May 12 and 15, protesters, including Greenpeace, in the US, will target six key areas of fossil-fuel developments, including Washington, D.C., and Colorado. The event on May 12 is in protest of the Bureau of Land Management plan to auction off public lands in Colorado for fracking. In Washington, D.C., they will demand President Barrack Obama to stop all new offshore drilling in the Arctic, Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico.
On May 14 protesters will gather in Vancouver, Canada, to oppose the proposed Kinder Morgan Transmountain tar sands pipeline, surrounding the Westridge Marine terminal.
In Spain cyclists will take over the city and project large-scale messaging for the shift to RE on public buildings powered by bicycles at Plaça Saint Jaume.
The fishermen in Batangas City and the organizers of Piglas Pilipinas fear the proposed coal-fired power plant in Barangay Pinamucan Ibaba will aggravate air, water and land pollution.
Coal-affected communities from Quezon and other parts of the country, as well as people’s movements and civil-society groups from Metro Manila and other provinces in Southern Luzon, took part in the event, calling on the next administration to impose a moratorium on coal-fired power plant-development projects, including mines, and phase out the 19 existing coal plants.
“Coal-affected communities from Batangas and other areas joined the call to stop the project. Piglas Pilipinas is a grassroots movement of people in communities [that] are against dirty energy from fossil fuels,” Greenpeace Southeast Asia’s Angelica Carballo Pago told the BusinessMirror in a separate interview.
The 20-hectare project site now has a perimeter fence, according to the organizers, but communities are not losing hope that the next administration will cause the cancellation of the project. Pago said the event gathered people in affected communities and shared their sad experiences.
“There is one individual who used to experience asthma attack once or twice a month. But because of the coal-fired power plant in their community, the asthma attack became more frequent. It became once or twice in a week,” she said. Piglas Pilipinas, she added, wants to show that people in affected communities are demanding to stop the projects, because they are first to suffer from health and environmental problems caused by the operation of coal-fired power plants. There are also testimonies from small fishermen who complain of diminishing fish catch because of water pollution caused by coal.
JG Summit’s response
In response to the BusinessMirror’s inquiry to the protest against its coal project, JG Summit Petrochemical Corp. said in an e-mail statement that it respects Piglas Pilipinas’s advocacy and assures its commitment to the people’s well-being and to protect the environment.
“We respect the advocacy of Piglas Pilipinas for a cleaner environment for all. As we pursue our plans to participate in providing for the future energy requirements of our country and people, we would like to assure everyone that, over and above full compliance with all existing, relevant laws and regulations, we will work closely with the communities where we operate so that they remain fully informed, confident and assured of our commitment to their overall well-being, as well as to the protection of the environment.”
Climate-justice advocate Denise Fontanilla of the Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development said that, while demanding climate justice from developed countries for their historical responsibility, developing countries, like the Philippines, small as it is, should also be responsible for its carbon emission, no matter how small. “We need to stop emitting greenhouse gases and contribute to solving climate crisis. Unfortunately, we have 19 existing coal plants and 27 more in the pipeline, which is disappointing, considering that even in the Paris climate conference, the Philippines was the head of the so-called Climate Vulnerable Forum, which pushed for tipping the global-warming target below 1.5°C. And we are a signatory to the Paris Agreement,” she added.
Fontanilla said under a business-as-usual scenario, even with all the commitments under the Paris climate agreement are done, the world is still on track to at least 3°C of warming, which, she lamented, is “not acceptable.”
“Even now that we are just experiencing almost 1°C of warming, the Philippines is already experiencing super typhoons of horrifying intensity and frequency. There are links of how climate change is also making El Niño worse; what more can we expect? [There would be] more sea-level rise and coral bleaching if it rises to 3°C,” Fontanilla added.
She said the next administration should order a moratorium in the implementation of all coal projects in the pipeline, phase out existing coal-fired power plants and start a swift and just shift to 100-percent RE.
A continuing campaign
Chuck Baclagon of the group 350.org East Asia, one of the organizers of Piglas Batangas! Piglas Pilipinas event, said the Batangas march aims to escalate the fight against coal by the sheer number of people who marched against the project.
He said there will more “show of force” against coal events in other parts of the country. “This campaign is a national campaign network against fossil fuels.
It will be a continuing fight against coal. Our call is for a moratorium on all proposed, expansion, new-build coal-fired power plants and call to just transition from coal to renewable,” he told the BusinessMirror.
A just transition from coal to RE, he explained, is needed for the welfare of workers in coal-fired-power plants who may end up losing job. He said it will ensure that no worker will be laid off or lose his or her job without a safety net with the eventual closure of coal-fired power plants.
While shifting to RE, Baclagon underscored the need to sustain the gains of massive reforestation to protect the country’s forests.
He said RE should be qualified based on what is most appropriate for a specific area. It must be community-managed and should be put up outside protected areas or away from identified key biodiversity areas to protect the country’s rich biodiversity.
Piglas Pilipinas believes it is the end of the road for coal and it’s time to break free from dirty energy.