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Aquino government’s dependence on coal is costing the Philippines its climate

A Greenpeace report shows how coal fuels more extreme weather events

July 25, 2014

QUEZON CITY – The Philippine government’s continued fixation with coal-fired power plants as our main energy source will push the country to more climate catastrophes that will cost the economy, as well as endanger the lives of present and future generations of Filipinos. This was the pronouncement of Greenpeace as it launched the second volume of The True Cost of Coal Volume 2: Costs of Climate Change in the Philippines.

“Our country is at the forefront of climate change-influenced extreme weather events and we’ve seen it happen more frequently, with typhoons becoming more intense and more deadly like Yolanda,” said Reuben Andrew Muni, Philippine Climate and Energy campaigner from Greenpeace Southeast Asia. “While we cannot prevent super typhoons from entering the country, we can address what causes these storms to be stronger and more frequent, and we tag coal as the culprit- the main driver of climate change.”

Worldwide, coal-fired power plants are the biggest source of man-made carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions which causes global warming. In 2011, globally, coal was responsible for 44% of carbon emissions from fuel – a higher percentage than oil (35%) or natural gas (20%). This makes coal energy the single greatest threat facing our climate.

In 2012, the Department of Energy (DOE) reported that power generation in the Philippines was still dominated by coal at nearly 38.76%. With 13 operational coal-fired power plants that already burn coal to produce electricity, the Philippine government plans to bring online another 45 coal-fired power plants. Operating 45 new coal-fired power stations would increase the Philippines’ CO2 emissions by over 64.4 to 79.8 million metric tons a year. Increasing our CO2 emissions will greatly damage the Philippines’ credibility in fighting for a good climate change treaty from which we could benefit greatly.

The second of three-parts, the True Cost of Coal Volume 2 (TCC) examined the country’s historical climate data and found that manifestations of climate change are now more evident. Increasing trends in annual mean temperature have been noted and extreme weather/climate events, like increasing number of hot days and warm nights and intense 24-hour rainfall, are being seen to be more frequent. These are not unusual anymore and are becoming the norm.

TCC Volume 2 also listed climate vulnerability rankings, all of which tag the country as a “climate hotspot” and highly vulnerable to climate change. The report underscored how super typhoon Yolanda, the strongest typhoon ever recorded to make landfall and the costliest in Philippine history, was not a rare occurrence given how the Philippines was previously devastated by typhoon Sendong (2011) and super typhoon Pablo (2012).

“As global temperatures continue to rise, the waters surrounding the Philippines will continue to get warmer and could trigger more tropical cyclones and causing sea levels to rise,” said Lourdes Tibig, Climate Specialist and one of the lead authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change AR5 WG3. “In fact, sea level rise has been occurring significantly faster in the Philippine Sea than elsewhere around the world, with increases in excess of 10mm/year. Higher sea levels in turn trigger higher storm surges, which mean that more water is pushed farther inland.”

This amplifies the damage done by tropical cyclones to people, housing and infrastructure. But beyond extreme weather events and sea level rise, climate change triggers temperature shifts, high rainfall variability, flooding, landslides and droughts – all have extreme negative impacts on country’s agriculture as well as on health.

The country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would also suffer. The report estimated that without expanded climate change mitigation or adaptation, the Philippines could suffer a mean loss of 2.2% of GDP by 2100 on an annual basis, considering only market impact (especially agriculture and coastal zones). The mean impact could be 5.7% of GDP each year by 2100 when including non-market impact (mainly health and ecosystems). This amounts to 6.7% of our nation’s GDP if catastrophic risks are taken into account. In the end, climate change and other weather-related calamities pose huge economic costs for the Philippines.

Given the economic, social and environmental damage that climate change has wrought upon, and will continue to threaten the Philippines, embracing coal is a dangerous policy. Greenpeace is deeply concerned about the DOE’s pronouncement in asking President Aquino to declare a state of emergency to address the country’s dwindling power supply.

“Addressing power scarcity needs a holistic approach. Government’s first order of business should be to promote energy efficiency and introduce more Renewable Energy sources in the power mix,” added Muni. “The short-term benefits of coal to a few elite players in the Philippine economy pale in comparison to the billions that coal is costing the Philippines as a nation, with respect to climate change impacts alone. The Philippines should be part of the global solution to climate change by promoting clean, renewable energy as the long-term solution to the country’s growing power needs.”