GLASGOW— The Philippines is among more than 40 countries at COP26 that have committed to shift away from the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel, a move that COP26 President Alok Sharma said put the "end of coal in sight."
The world’s largest emitters China, the US, and India were absent from the deal but major coal-using countries including Poland, Vietnam, and Chile were among those who signed the statement.
The agreement includes four goals:
- Rapidly scale up deployment of clean power generation
- Phase out coal power in economies in the 2030s for major economies and 2040s for the rest of the world
- End all investment in new coal power generation domestically and internationally
- Make a just transition away from coal power in a way that benefits workers and communities
Gov. Roel Degamo of Negros Oriental also signed the agreement as one of the five subnationals including the states of Hawaii and Oregon.
But a closer look at the fine print showed that signatories did not commit to every clause of the agreement.
Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, who signed on behalf of the Philippines, only endorsed clauses one and four.
Rodne Galicha, convenor of Aksyon Klima Pilipinas, slammed the Department of Energy's (DOE) position, which he called "half-baked."
“The agreement should have been a leverage and instrument to demand financing for energy transition towards greenhouse gas emissions avoidance,” he said.
Energy Undersecretary Wimpy Fuentebella, who is among the 19-person Philippine delegation to COP26, explained the DOE’s move saying the agency does not immediately commit to anything that does not fall into the strategies under the Philippine Energy Plan.
“We have to be certain on the impact to our consumers first before making a commitment,” Fuentebella said.
The Philippines declared a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants last year.
The DOE is aiming for renewable energy to account for 35 percent of the Philippine energy mix by 2030 but it still considers coal and petroleum to meet the country’s power needs.
New liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities are also expected to go online next year.
For Gerry Arances, Executive Director of the Center for Energy, Ecology and Development, this is where another problem begins as LNG is also a fossil fuel contributing to global warming.
“What is the economic life (span) of LNG projects? It's at least 20 years. So you can imagine us repeating the same mistake that we are in now on the massive coal expansion in the Philippines,” he said.
Retiring coal-fired power plants
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) on Wednesday launched a plan to speed up the closure of coal-fired power plants in Indonesia and the Philippines to help Southeast Asian nations bring their carbon emissions lower.
A first of its kind in Asia, the proposal called Energy Transition Mechanism (ETM) plans to build public-private funding vehicles to buy out the plants and retire them within 15 years to allow countries time to switch to renewable energy.
The partnership was endorsed by officials from the United States, United Kingdom and Denmark, as well as global financial institutions and philanthropies.
Japan also committed a grant of $25 million as initial seed money for the multibillion-dollar plan.
For ADB President Masatsugu Asakawa, Manila and Jakarta can “usher in a transformation in the battle against climate change in Asia and the Pacific.”
“Indonesia and the Philippines have the potential to be pioneers in the process of removing coal from our region’s energy mix, making a substantial contribution to the reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions, and shifting their economies to a low-carbon growth path,” he said.
Philippine Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and Indonesian Finance chief Sri Mulyani Indrawati joined Asakawa during the unveiling of the partnership.
Dominguez, Chairman-designate of the Philippines’ Climate Change Commission, heads the Philippine delegation to COP26.
Mindanao as pilot area of ETM
In his speech, Dominguez highlighted how the ETM can transform energy generation in Mindanao where the Agus-Pulangi hydropower plant is being rehabilitated to improve its generating capacity.
“As we increase its generating capacity, the ETM project will help us acquire coal-fired power plants on the island to repurpose them. This will shift most of our energy requirements in Mindanao to hydropower. There will soon be numerous investment opportunities for renewable energy in the region,” he said.
Cusi agreed with Dominguez that when the Agus-Pulangi plant is rehabilitated, there will be an excess of supply.
“What (Secretary) Dominguez is looking at is for the German Government to provide the funds for the Philippine Government to purchase STEAG power plant shares and decommission the same or convert it into a biomass plant," he said.
But Cusi reiterated that the country’s energy security should be prioritized.
“Our energy transition comes as a means to improve the lives of our people,” he said.
This may be a step into the right direction but civil society organizations raised concerns on the impact of the ETM to consumers
ADB said it would form an advisory group with non-government organizations and civil society groups to prioritize a just transition to clean energy.