By Atty. Joey D. Lina
Today is a momentous time on the final day of the forum at Manila Hotel for leaders of civil society, government and international community seeking ways to help the Philippines’ transition to a green economy.
The consultation forum for the “Philippine Tripartite Partnership for a Roadmap to fulfill the Paris Climate Accord” has gathered many of the best minds in our scientific, technological, academic, legal and legislative communities who “are ready to determine collective and coordinated adaptation and mitigation measures and to act fast towards a climate-smart economy.”
The historic event is graced by no less than Dr. Hoesung Lee, chair of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), whose leadership has newly focused on “innovative economic policies that not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also increase economic opportunity and raise millions of people out of poverty.”
The IPCC, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 together with former US Vice President Al Gore, is comprised of thousands of scientists whose exhaustive studies on climate change provided the rationale for the Paris Climate Agreement adopted in December 2015.
My good friend, former Sen. Heherson Alvarez — who used to chair the Climate Change Commission and is one of the forum conveners representing the Climate Institute and Earthsavers which are among the oldest NGOs tackling the challenges of global warming — says Dr. Lee’s insights “will be invaluable to the Philippines and the Asean region as we rethink our development plans and shape strategies to achieve our Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Climate Agreement.”
Dr. Lee focuses on the “science-based perspective of confronting the crisis of global climate change” while Sen. Loren Legarda, our country’s leading environment advocate, handles the “response needed within the local perspective of vulnerability.”
I believe it’s also worth mentioning that this tripartite conference to forge an inclusive climate-smart roadmap has become a reality mainly due to the tireless efforts of Heherson’s wife, Cecile Guidote Alvarez, UNESCO Artist for Peace and president of Philippine Center of the International Theatre Institute, who led the forum’s coordinating secretariat.
With President Duterte’s signing of the climate agreement’s Instrument of Accession and its subsequent ratification by the Senate, the Philippines has joined 196 other nations committed to the Paris pact aimed at significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions to keep the rise in global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
The climate accord to which the Philippines has set a goal of 70% carbon emission reduction by 2030, depending on financial, technological, and capacity-building support, was made possible partly due to our country’s leadership role as chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum that focused the attention of last year’s 21st Conference of Parties meeting in Paris on the plight of the poor and most vulnerable.
Our country’s commitment is a tall order indeed and is faced with difficulties, considering our extremely high dependence on the use of coal as a major energy source amid “scientific evidence that carbon dioxide from widespread coal use is the main culprit for global warming.”
As coal currently comprises about 40 percent of the country’s energy mix, 29 new coal-fired power plants were approved by the Department of Energy, with 12 of the plants already under construction. When completed by 2018, the new plants will require an estimated 10 million tons of coal per year. Last year’s imports of foreign coal reached a record 15.2 million tons for 17 existing coal power plants.
The health hazards from coal plants are enormous. A Greenpeace Southeast Asia report last year “revealed the health impacts of existing coal-fired power plants, estimating some 960 premature deaths each year due to stroke, ischemic heart disease, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.”
If the coal plants being built become operational, Greenpeace “projects premature deaths may rise up to 2,410 yearly – more than double the current number of people dying from coal-related pollution in the Philippines.”
With the threat to public health and the adverse effects of coal to the environment, it is therefore imperative to lessen dependence on coal and embark on carbon reduction programs, without hampering the country’s industrialization efforts.
The time for debate is over. Transitioning towards a green economy with the use of renewable and clean energy requires immediate action. Our leaders must now focus on realigning development and investment priorities in energy, transportation, infrastructure, and other vital sectors.
Time is truly of the essence. Mother Earth is getting overheated with global warming as climate change wreaks havoc across the planet, causing cataclysmic storms, droughts, and other calamities that jeopardize food security and deepen poverty especially in the most vulnerable countries. And let’s not forget that the Philippines is among the most vulnerable.
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