This December’s COP (Conference of the Parties) 21 conference in Paris, organized by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, will be attended by a number of ironies. Regrettably, one of them relates to the Philippines, which has been determined to be one of the two countries most vulnerable to climate change.
The irony involves the interplay between this country’s climate-change situation and its government’s strategy for dealing with the energy requirements of Philippine economic development. Given the determination of the Philippines’ high vulnerability, one would think that the Philippine government’s policy would be highly averse to anything likely to increase global warming and would embrace anything likely to reduce the level of carbon emissions in this country. But that does not appear to be the case.
Consider the Aquino administration’s attitude toward coal as a source of fuel for power plants. One does not have to be a recipient of the Nobel Prize for chemistry to be able to appreciate that coal-fired plants are comparatively the dirtiest sources of energy and pollute the air like no other energy source does. Coal may have fueled the Industrial Revolution—thereby placing today’s developed countries on the road to economic maturity—but times have changed in the last three centuries. Since the 18th century numerous other sources of energy—nuclear, fossil fuel, natural gas and renewable sources such as hydro, geothermal and solar—have taken their places alongside coal as viable energy sources to fuel the energy requirements of a country’s factories, offices and homes.
Despite this wide array of options—the present administration (1) has displayed no strong commitment to augmenting the Philippines’ energy supply principally with clean and renewable energy sources and (2) has manifested an inclination toward expanding the coal-fired component of that supply. My eyes could well have misread the figure, but I think I saw 36 as the number of proposals submitted to the Department of Energy for coal-fired power projects. The more prominent of those proposals, all situated in Calabarzon, have been generating much vocal and broad-based opposition.
The other major alternative energy sources yearn for government attention and support. Given the number of significant river systems in this country, the potential for hydropower development is still ample. In a Ring of Fire country like the Philippines, geothermal power is a major alternative power source. The potentials of solar and wind power—especially the former—await determined harnessing. And of course there is the 600-megawatt BNPP (Bataan Nuclear Power Plant), which has not yet convincingly been shown to be a hazardous proposition.
This brings me to the irony that is the title of this column.
To me it is nothing short of supremely ironic that a country that is known to be one of the world’s most climatically vulnerable countries should be engaged in energy-supply expansion mainly using fuel of a highly environmentally-unfriendly kind. True, the Philippines apparently accounts for only .02 percent of total world carbon emissions. But, surely, any contribution that this country can make, however small, counts, considering that the Philippines is in the direct line of fire of the worst disasters associated with global warming.
Without a doubt, because of “Yolanda” and other major typhoons that in recent years have visited this country with devastating effect, the Philippines will be one of the centers of attention in the forthcoming Paris conference. For that reason, the Aquino administration should do something serious about the irony presented by its policy of ambivalence and indifference toward coal-fired plants.
Otherwise, the Philippines will not really be credible in the French capital in December.