Written by John C. Leo Algo.
The Philippines took a major step towards a climate-resilient future after it ratified the Paris agreement last March. The country must fulfil its commitment to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 70 percent relative to projected business-as-usual levels by 2030, as stated in its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC). Achieving this target would contribute to accomplishing the agreement’s goal of limiting the global temperature increase at 1.5 degree Celsius above pre-industrial level.
However, this milestone is merely the beginning of a long, difficult road towards sustainable development. The Philippine government needs to take the lead in implementing solutions that would ensure inclusive economic growth, environmental conservation, and reduced vulnerability to disasters for Filipinos over the next century.
Poor Track Record
The Philippine government needs to show that its ratification of the Paris agreement is not merely a political move to boost its image to the international community. For the past few decades, the country has shown a lack of full commitment to protecting the environment and its citizens to extreme weather events. This has led to the occurrence of some of the worst disasters in history, including the onslaught of typhoons Ondoy (2009) and Yolanda (2013) and the devastating El Niño-induced droughts in early 2016.
The road to ratification of the Paris agreement also reflected a style of leadership that may not be fully behind supporting climate mitigation and adaptation. Prior to signing the agreement, President Rodrigo Duterte first refused to sign the treaty, saying he believed that industrialized nations would hinder the growth of developing countries by imposing limits on their greenhouse gas emissions.
His statement showed a lack of understanding on the part of the country’s national leaders about the mechanisms of the agreement and the decades-long negotiations that led to its creation. This dearth of focus on environmental issues is currently reflected in Environment Secretary Gina Lopez’s scientifically inaccurate remarks to push her anti-mining agenda, which has drawn immense criticism from environmental advocates.
In contrast to its commitment of drastically reducing its emissions, the Duterte administration is still pushing for the establishment of more than 20 coal-fired power plants as a short-term solution to maintain the national baseload energy supply. Instead of investing in cleaner renewable energy, the government is sacrificing its long-term development for short-term economic gains dependent on dirty energy. Such a mentality would prevent the country from reducing its emissions and helping to slow down the worldwide temperature rise.
Renewable Energy is Key
Even though the Philippines is a minor contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, being one of the most vulnerable nations to the impacts of climate change necessitates its commitment to reducing its own emissions. To help achieve the 1.5-degree target, the country needs to implement strong mitigation and adaptation measures while maintaining its economic development.
The Philippines must strongly commit to developing its renewable energy resources, especially its wind and solar power. The country is in an ideal position for generating renewable energy. Its tropical, archipelagic setting along the monsoon belt in the western Pacific provides the country immense potential for greener energy. The Department of Energy (DOE) reports a technical potential of 7404 MW of wind energy and nearly 300,000 sq km of land for solar energy throughout the Philippines, which would be sufficient for the country’s baseload requirements.
Given this tremendous potential, the Philippines must capitalize on attracting investments in its renewable energy sector, which grows faster than any other source. As rising temperatures threaten the country’s water bodies and its hydroelectric capacity, it is especially important to promote its wind and solar power industry. While solar, wind, and biomass energy production has increased nearly four-fold from 2014 to 2015, it still comprises only 1.5 percent of total energy production.
In contrast, developing countries worldwide are investing in renewable energy to fuel their long-term growth. In fact, the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century reports that 54 percent of nearly US$200 billion worth of renewables investments in 2015 took place in developing nations such as China, India, and Brazil. China and India, in particular, are two of the leading solar and wind energy producers. In Bangladesh, the government is actively supporting the installation of solar home systems in rural areas, which is the fastest-growing system of its kind in the world. Kenya, another developing country, is one of the leading African nations in terms of developing its wind energy by 2030.
Challenges and Opportunities
Gradually transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy presents plenty of roadblocks for a developing country like the Philippines. However, strong and efficient action from the national government through proper planning and coordinated policy execution can help the country overcome such obstacles and attain its emissions reduction targets.
For instance, the generation of renewable energy requires specialized equipment that is not locally manufactured. As a result, private stakeholders involved in the renewable energy sector must import such equipment from other nations before commencing their operation of renewable power plants in the country. Due to the high import costs and lack of incentives from the government, private companies often avoid being involved in the country’s renewable energy sector.
In response to this issue, the government should implement measures to establish more public-private partnerships (PPPs) for renewable energy. Creating such partnerships would allow the government to offload investment costs and utilize the expertise of the private sector player, who in turn can give more efficient services and assets pertaining to renewable energy while generating profit from such ventures.
To propel more PPPs in the Philippines, appropriate legislation may be passed to increase incentives for private firms investing in renewables or remove economic restrictions to attract more foreign investors to the country. Opening the market to new local and foreign players, especially during the bidding process, may spur further development of cleaner energy resources. This can also lead to a decrease in local renewable energy production costs for consumers, which has long been cited as one of the major obstacles against its development. It must also make the bureaucratic process for approving projects more efficient and transparent, considering that the country ranks low in the ASEAN on foreign direct investments.
In addition, the Philippine government should finally invest in developing its local science and technology (S&T) sector. By providing financial and logistical support to research conducted by local experts regarding green energy technologies, the country is establishing a strong foundation to propel its long-term development. It also reduces the need to import equipment and tools from other nations, reducing the costs that prevent some private sector players from investing and working in the renewables sector. This is a crucial solution for a nation whose vulnerabilities and weaknesses would be greatly worsened in a world warmer by 1.5C.
The Philippines should also seek technical advice from nations that have successfully implemented large-scale renewable energy projects. It would be beneficial to analyse cases of foreign states that overcame financial or logistical issues similar to those that the Philippines faces. For instance, countries such as Japan and Italy are among the world’s leading solar energy producers despite having similar total land areas with the Philippines. Thus, they can provide innovative solutions to overcome another potential obstacle to solar power growth in the country.
For a nation that will continue to suffer from the consequences of climate change over the next few decades, it needs its government to ensure its health and progress now more than ever. Whether to help slow global warming to 1.5 degrees or to survive in a changing world, it needs leaders willing to make calculated risks and take advantage of emerging solutions. Developing its renewable energy sources is perhaps the most reliable option for strengthening climate change mitigation and adaptation measures.
Luckily for the Philippines, the solution is found right within its boundaries. All that is needed to do is to make the obvious choice.
John C. Leo Algo is a young climate advocate and communicator, trained under the Climate Reality Leadership Corps Program and mentored by former US Vice President Al Gore. He is currently an air quality and climate researcher at the Manila Observatory and has published articles and papers advocating for climate action and environmental conservation. He tweets @sirjohnalgo. This article forms part of the IAPS Dialogue edition entitled “State & Society in the Philippines.” This article was originally published on Asia Sentinel and can be found here. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.