Reducing our carbon emissions
"What are we doing to stop a problem that will kill our people and destroy our country?"In a month’s time, the governments of the world will be meeting once again for its annual conference on climate change. In Watowice, Poland, parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will converge to receive the special report on the implications and feasibility of limiting and exceeding by 1.5 degrees Celsius (since pre-industrial times) the increase in global temperatures. It will be a sobering moment as we will be told that time is running out to stop the rapid acceleration of climate change. It will be disturbing because we will be told that while difficult, it is doable to prevent catastrophe. Still we are moving towards an increase of 3 degrees to 4 degrees. Every country, some more than others, must do something. It is true that the Philippines emits less than 1 percent of global emissions annually, but that does not make us belong to the lowest emitters as more than 150 countries emit less than we do. We are still number 34 or 35 globally, in the top third. Of course, it goes without saying that the United States and China should take the lead in reducing emissions. The top 100 corporations that produce more than half of the world’s emissions also have a special responsibility. But there are no free passes on the imperative to reduce carbon emissions, and especially not for the Philippines who is its big victim. Last month, in the context of the passage of the TRAIN law and the debate now on additional tax reform packages, in a think piece I wrote for Rappler, I argued that carbon emissions should be the next target of tax policy. I also made the case that the revenue from making carbon emitters accountable should be used to support universal health care. As I observed in that article, energy produced by coal-fired power plants (CFPP) generates a significant amount of greenhouse gases, which in turn contributes to climate change. If the country’s planned CFPP projects all become operational, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources just issued an Environmental Clearance Certificate for still another plant in La Union, we will have an excess amount of energy generated from coal. But, since you can’t just shut off a coal-fired power plant when you don’t need the energy, they will continue to burn coal and produce greenhouse gasses at maximum capacity. That’s like a smoker continuously lighting up another cigarette before finishing the previous one. It’s unnecessary and wasteful, not to mention it has severe implications on our environment and our health. Coal, among all the fossil fuels such as gas and diesel, is perceived as cheap and readily available. Its true and actual social and environmental costs, however, are not accounted for. If carbon emitters all over the world were to pay for all the negative externalities, estimates put the global social cost of carbon at $40 per metric ton of CO2 emitted. In contrast, the recently passed TRAIN law levies an excise tax on coal of less than $1 per metric ton of coal in 2018—that’s equivalent to 34 US cents per metric ton of CO2 (MT/CO2)—far less than what it costs us to mitigate the impact of air pollution generated by coal power plants. Furthermore, the excise tax in this case is not at all meant to directly address the externalities caused by burning coal as a fossil fuel.
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