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Coal is king—no matter the cost

By Renee Juliene Karunungan

There is no point denying it: climate has changed. We experience it in our everyday lives — the heat has become unbearable and strong typhoons have extended their stay in the country. Our fisherfolk are having more difficulty in catching fish because of warmer waters while farmers are having a hard time re-learning which crops to plant since weather has become more unpredictable. 

The Philippines, in fact, has always been on the list of most vulnerable countries to climate change. Even those who do not know what climate change is feel its impacts. In the past six years we have experienced extreme weather events such as Ondoy, which battered Metro Manila, and Yolanda, which devastated most of Eastern Visayas. We have seen the photos, heard the news, and watched the videos, but the question is, despite being climate change vulnerable, why has our government approved more coal-fired power plants to be put up?

According to Commissioner Heherson Alvarez of the Climate Change Commission, in his article published in Responding to Climate Change (RTCC), “At the moment, a major difficulty is that many of our policymakers appear to be swayed by conventional macroeconomic goals dependent on coal and fossil fuels.”

Have we become so fossil fuel- and coal-dependent that we can no longer see a future without them, despite their environmental, health, and even human rights implications?

A coal power plant in Bataan operated by Petron has been reported by residents to have been bringing toxic coal ash in the area which has already caused skin diseases and respiratory problems. The expansion of coal power plants in the area being made by San Miguel Corporation has brought about land grabbing issues where 110 families face eviction from their own land.

So why do we keep on investing in dirty energy and in dirty companies instead of clean and renewable energy?

Has our government become so blinded by money that coal is supposed to bring in to the country? Has our government not counted coal’s real costs like environmental degradation, health hazards, and human rights violations? With more than 40 approved coal power plants in the country, our government has made its stand: coal is king — no matter the cost.

According to a report by the    UN-led Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), data from 1998-2009 reveals that in the Asia Pacific region, the Philippines already ranks as the second-highest in terms of the number of people exposed to storms and floods (12.1 million) and the fourth-highest in terms of GDP value losses ($24.3 billion).

So can we still afford a coal and fossil fuel dependent economy, given the climate impacts we have been facing? The answer is no. Coal and fossil fuel use has led us to our situation today where we face climate impacts we have not foreseen and where we will face a future of uncertainty. 

Other countries have committed in lessening their carbon emissions by investing in renewable energy, with ambitious targets. Morocco, for example, has targeted a 42-percent renewable electricity generation by 2020. But here we are, the Philippines, a country most vulnerable to climate change and a country that has been asking other countries to mitigate carbon emissions, investing in dirty energy.

By continuously investing in coal, we prove our insincerity in dealing with climate change. We also do a disservice to Filipinos who are dealing with climate change impacts. The government is digging the graves of their own countrymen, the people they promised to serve, their “bosses.”

Margaret Atwood, in her article “It is not climate change, it is everything change” in Medium, said, ”…in the coal energy culture — a culture of workers and production — you are your job. ‘I am what I make.’ In an oil and gas energy culture — a culture of consumption — you are your possessions. ‘I am what I buy.’ But in a renewable energy culture, you are what you conserve. ‘I am what I save and protect.’ We aren’t used to thinking like this, because we can’t see where the money will come from. But in a culture of renewables, money will not be the only measure of wealth. Well-being will factor as an economic positive, too.”

It is time for our government to rethink where it invests its resources. It is time for the government to prove that it is indeed sincere in dealing with climate change.


Renee Juliene Karunungan, 25, is the advocacy director of Dakila, an organization that has been campaigning for climate justice since 2009. She is also a climate tracker for Adopt A Negotiator.

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