​Environmental advocates challenge presidentiables: Unite with the People to end coal!

With the national elections happening in less than three weeks, environmental advocates, communities from coal-affected areas and members of civil society issued a challenge to presidential candidates, urging them to reveal their position on the continued use of coal as an energy source and to profess their agenda on energy transformation if elected.

Led by Sanlakas Partylist, along with other members of civil society, faith organisations and sectoral groups comprising the Power for People Campaign Network, the “War on Coal” challenge was issued in a pressconference held Tuesday, April 19 in the Quezon Memorial Circle, Quezon City.

The press conference featured the “Green Avengers,” RE Man and Kapitan Pilipinas, leading the leaders from different sectors in the chant: “United, we stand. Phase out and end coal!”

“As part of the commitment agreed upon in the Paris Climate Talks last December 2015 – which will be signed this week on Earth Day, April 22 – the Philippines is set to contribute to keeping the global average temperature at 1.5 degrees, through various means including full decarbonization,” said Sanlakas Secretary-General Atty. Aaron Pedrosa.

“In spite of our position as a leader in the campaign for climate justice internationally, the Philippines seems to be left behind in terms of shifting away from fossil fuels, particularly coal. Far from steering the country from coal, the Government is locking us in further dependence on coal.,” he added.

Pedrosa cited  Batangas, Cebu and Ozamis, three of the prospective areas for new coal plants, as the most recent battlegrounds in the fight against coal, saying: “Despite growing opposition from host communities and stakeholders, the Government remains undeterred in its blitzkrieg of new coal plants even as red flags have been raised not only over health and environment impacts but also the Government’s Paris commitment in combating worsening climate change impacts.”

At present, an additional 27 coal-fired power plants were greenlit by the Aquino administration with 118 coal mining permits in the pipeline, to the dismay of environmental groups who have continually lobbied to shift from dirty energy towards a renewable energy path.

“The Renewable Energy Act of 2009 has explicitly mandated energy transformation, supposedly increasing the share of renewable energy in the power mix from 34% in 2009, but at present in 2016, renewable energy in the mix has even decreased by 5%,” said Gerry Arances, Executive Director for the Center for Energy, Ecology and Development.

“Based on this current trajectory, our present dependence on coal will increase from 39% to 50% in 2021, with renewable energy will drastically decrease to 24% in the same year,” Arances added.

As energy transformation away from coal and fossil fuel sources has proved to be a key solution to the climate crisis, large countries like the European Union, China and states governments from the USA have started to phase out coal. This is in total contradiction to the energy policies pursued by the government.

Batangas City Councilor and mayoralty bet Kristina Balmes, representing grassroots communities affected by coal power plant projects, insisted that the Aquino government and those vying for the position of president base their positions and platforms on the cry of those suffering from the adverse effects of coal.

“We know that big money comes from coal corporations funding local and national candidates to ensure that their interests will be secured in the coming elections, making the shift to cleaner energy difficult and costly for politicians. The plight of the coal-affected communities throughout the country should be persuasion enough for any political aspirant to support the call to end coal and transition to renewable. We urge all candidates to heed the call.” said Balmes.

“Now is the time for the presidentiables to choose their side: whether they will choose to continue the Aquino administration’s path of condemning  millions and millions of Filipinos to a life of poverty and destruction brought about by coal, or they will side with the Filipino people in shifting towards a cleaner, more sustainable renewable energy path,” Pedrosa concluded.