Fossil fuels are the single biggest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the world. Statistics show that fossil fuels suffice for about 80 percent of the world’s energy demands, with coal accounting for about 13 percent.
Coal is one of the available energy sources that is utilized and accepted in countries worldwide. In the Philippines, coal accounted for 84.6 percent, or 26.1 M metric tonnes (MT) of the country’s energy demands.
While it is the cheapest fuel option, coal is still considered by many as the most polluting one as it releases various toxic gases such as Sulfur Dioxide, Nitrogen Dioxide, Carbon Dioxide, and other particulate matter. Adverse effects, among others, also include pollution, fire, sludge, and environmental destruction.
Although cleaner and cheaper alternatives, such as renewable sources of energy, are being pushed forth for consumption, coal remains to be the favored option for the country on the basis of energy generation, subsidies, financial incentives, and other forms of support and benefit the industry is granted.
THE COAL INDUSTRY IN THE PHILIPPINES
As the country imports about 22.1 M MT of its coal supply for power generation from countries such as Indonesia, Russia, and Australia, it exposes the country’s electricity system to political unrest, price volatility, and the risk of unfavorable foreign exchange rates.
While President Rodrigo Duterte addressed the fast-tracking of renewable energy development and reduction in the dependence of coal, he inaugurated a new coal-fired power plant and expressed his interest for more similar developments in the future; thus, becoming an attractive proposition for power companies.
However, not everyone was on board of these advancements.
AN UNHAPPY AUDIENCE
Various environmental groups were alarmed with the continued support for coal from the government; they argued that these actions will be crucial in determining whether the country can comply with low-carbon development path needed to address the global climate crisis.
“While the rest of the world is moving away from fossil fuels and shifting to clean renewable energy, the Philippines is moving in the opposite direction, largely because of pro-coal government policies that allow energy companies to keep building coal facilities despite their documented negative impacts on the climate, the environment, and communities,” Greenpeace Campaigner Khevin Yu was quoted as saying in a report.
According to a 2016 report by Greenpeace, coal plant emissions could kill up to 2,400 Filipinos per year due to stroke, heart disease, and other cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.
Earlier this year, groups representing the country’s Catholic church and other non-government organizations called on institutions to focus more on renewable energy instead rather than on coal-fired plants.
The research institute Center for Energy, Ecology and Development (CEED) also called on Filipino legislators to reduce the country’s coal consumption due to its harmful effects on the environment.
Moreover, it was documented that the Power for People Coalition (P4P) led environmentalists, residents of coal-affected communities, church groups, and other stakeholders in holding massive protests in the Philippines, demanding a moratorium on new coal plants.
The Green Thumb Coalition was also reported to have called for the cancellation of the proposed coal power plant project in Palawan
Crucially, organizations have asked Duterte to issue an executive order for a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants, an audit on existing ones, and a clear policy to accelerate the country’s transition to renewable energy.
“We pay for coal with our money, our health, our environment, and our future. In return, we get unreliable energy and fat profits for owners of power companies. We want things to change, and we want it to change now,” P4P Convenor and CEED Executive Director Gerry Arances stated in the report.
THE PEOPLE’S CALL
Beyond the advantages of using coal for energy generation are a handful of disadvantages to the environment and the community. A few years from now, the country’s dependence on coal may result in higher cost of electricity, air and water pollution, global warming, and high mortality rate for individuals caused by fumes and hazardous emissions.
In a 2019 report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), it was stated that the construction of coal-fired power plants has slowed worldwide, but the trend remains in developing countries in Asia.
“The vast majority of power projects in the pipeline are coal-fired, (which means) that (as) the rest of the world begins to become more conscious of the environment and the cost of fossil fuels, the Philippines is going in the other direction,” Arances was quoted as saying in a BusinessWorld report.
Thus, people are strengthening the call to reduce the dependence on coal and switch to renewable energy sources instead.
According to a report, renewable energy sources are cleaner, more reliable, and more affordable than coal. That is why, at present, various groups are calling to ban, revoke, and even reject firms’ applications to establish a system of coal plants in various provinces in the country and are pushing for renewable energy instead.
All the while, the national government is doing a commendable job in striving to come to a compromise to appease anti-coal and pro-coal advocates as well as balancing the needs of the country.
“[Former] Environment Secretary Gina Lopez’s move to fast-track RE projects proves that the Duterte administration wants a win-win energy solution for the Filipino people. It shows it is possible to merge her vision of sustainable and clean energy with Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi’s own vision of affordable power,” Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities Executive Director Red Constantino was quoted as saying in a BusinessMirror report.
“The main problem we are facing in the country is the denial of some decision-makers on the reality of our capacity to shift from dirty, big coal to cleaner-energy sources, such as hydropower, geothermal, wind and solar. Let’s put a price on denial, let’s put a price on every ton of carbon dioxide emitted by the energy sector. This kind of tax can be refunded to the energy producer as renewable investment,” Rodne Galicha of the Climate Reality Project stated in the report.
In theory, it is asserted that the country can achieve a balanced mix of energy generation sources that can be both beneficial and sustainable for the nation and the economy. However, the long-term impacts of this dependence on coal, may it be positive or negative, is still in question.
Given the facts, information, and data, what can you say about the situation?