Saving the Earth, stopping use of coal

March 17, 2016

The Climate Reality Leadership Corps training led by former US Vice President Al Gore in Manila, drew hundreds of climate change activists. The event hoped to inform community leaders on limiting the earth’s warming and allowing communities to adapt to climatic changes that are already taking place.

At the three-day forum’s opening, Sen. Loren Legarda, UNISDR (United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction) Global Champion for Resilience spoke, about the road to the “decarbonization” of the Philippines.

“We are in the face of a climate crisis,” she said. “The Philippines’ geographical location makes it prone to natural hazards, and climate change is making it worse.”

There is injustice, she said in that the Philippines is a minor emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG) with only 0.3 percent of global emissions, but it is among the most vulnerable to climate change impacts. Ketsana or Ondoy in 2009, Haiyan or Yolanda in 2013 are just a few examples.

In last year’s climate change negotiations in Paris, the Philippines, as chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, led the call to limit warming to 1.5°C to be able to survive.

The senator said governments conveyed the message that they are determined to act to achieve the goal of limiting the world’s rise in average temperature to “well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”

While the 2015 Paris Agreement is a landmark agreement in this history of humankind, its aspirations will not happen on its own, she said.

Below are the senator’s thoughts:

Bending the global warming curve to 1.5°C is a moral imperative, because it means saving the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people; it means upholding the human rights of the poor and vulnerable; it means ensuring the integrity of our ecosystems.

Global warming has already breached the 1°C level with unprecedented warming in the past months. We have already borne countless tragedies and losses from recurring impacts of extreme weather events under a 1°C global warming. How much more with higher temperatures?

In fact, the 2°C warming above pre-industrial levels is no longer a prognosis but a reality, she said. Early this month, unofficial data show that average temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere likely exceeded 2°C above normal even only for a few hours.

In taking action, however, we face daunting challenges that confront us.

The sustainable development-energy nexus requires an urgent examination of how we can tap on the power of innovation and new technologies to provide for the energy we need in a sustainable and inclusive manner.

Energy production accounts for two-thirds of the world’s GHG emissions. The ADB projects that even by the year 2035, the majority of the region’s primary energy demand will still come from fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas.

Senator Legarda then pointed to the use of coal as a great contributor to the pollution of the earth’s atmosphere. The World Energy Outlook Special Report 2015 cited that over the past two-and-a-half decades, global carbon dioxide emissions increased by more than 50 percent. Since 2000, the share of coal has increased from 38 percent to 44 percent of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. She said:

The annual carbon dioxide emissions of the power generation sector increased by an average of 1.2 percent in the last decade of the 20th century. It has turned for the worst between 2000 and 2014, when the average annual rate of increase accelerated to 2.3 percent.

As so-called development loomed – with massive volumes of steel and cement being produced to build cities and industries – so did carbon dioxide emissions double from 1990 to today.

Clearly, the development we saw these past decades did not deliver us from the great economic divide that separates us from the more affluent countries. It has only drawn us closer to the menacing uncertainties of climate change.

By the year 2030, the Philippines would need an additional 13,167 megawatts of power capacity, more than half of which is expected to be generated from coal-fired power plants. In fact, 25 coal-fired power plants that have been granted Environmental Compliance Certificates are now either operational or under construction.

Philippine consumption of coal has been on the upswing, which increased by 27 percent between 2012 and 2014.

If global projections point to a decline in the share of coal in power generation, why is the Philippines taking the opposite track?

The explanation given is anchored on simplistic assumptions – coal-fired power plants are the country’s dominant power technology because economically, they are widely available and easy to build.

But, easy and affordable defy durable solutions.

“On the surface, one might be tempted to accept that this country’s continued struggle to provide electricity to four million households eclipses the seemingly mundane discussions of climate change. This may be so until one experiences its catastrophic impacts, with villages being washed away and thousands of young lives cut short by tsunamis.”

What the “easy and affordable” explanation fails to consider is the fact that there are external costs to coal, which, if considered, would render coal-fired power plants as one of the most expensive forms of power generation. Coal-fired power plants’ impacts on health, air quality, and climate, and life – above anything else – are more vital considerations.

There is a dearth of studies on the health impacts of pollution from coal-fired power plants in the Philippines, but the cases studied point to the unequivocal truth – coal-fired power plants have generated health concerns in host communities.

Before coal can be used in power plants, they must first be mined, washed, and transported. This process alone, without a single watt of electricity generated yet, already produces pollution.

Coal is burned to generate electricity and its by-product, in the form of ash, is either recycled into cement or construction products, stored, or disposed in dry or wet landfills. Leakages from these landfills can contaminate ground and surface water with arsenic, cadmium, lead, just to name a few.

The United Nations estimates that 26 per cent of global mercury emissions come from the combustion of coal in power plants.

Two of the major greenhouse gases contributing to climate change are produced by coal combustion—carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. As concentrations of these gases in the atmosphere accumulate, global temperature increases, setting in motion absolute consequences of climate change.

There is urgent need thus to switch to renewable energy.

Estimates from past studies by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory indicate that the Philippines has 246,000 megawatts of untapped renewable energy capacity—from sun, tidal ocean power, wind, geothermal, biomass, and hydro resources.

This is 13 times more than our current installed capacity. Failure to develop these capacities would be unforgivable.

The National Renewable Energy Program has set out aggressive targets on renewable energy development from 2011-2030, aiming to increase RE capacity to 15,304 megawatts by the year 2030.

With the onset of technological innovations in energy, achieving universal access to clean energy technologies is within reach.

Source: Philstar