Focus on the energy transition

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The coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic has brought out the sobering reality that the world is not as advanced and as resilient as we thought it to be. We have realized that our societies and economic systems are fragile and that we are only as strong as our most vulnerable. The only way to survive and move forward is to heed the science and make decisive actions toward staging a recovery that will pave the way for a cleaner, safer and more resilient world.

It has been said many times that as a developing nation, the Philippines needs energy to build the foundations of growth. I subscribe to a healthy energy mix but not the misguided axiom that our country should develop and acquire what it needs at all costs. The issue is not just about the security of energy supply. It is not just about reliability or affordability. It is about increasing clean energy and using it wisely and efficiently. Energy security that assails the safety of our people and the environment can never guarantee inclusive development.

The latest science conveys that for the world community to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius under the Paris Agreement, carbon emissions should fall 45 percent by 2030 from 2010 levels and reach net-zero by 2050.

Shift needed

A global energy transition is imperative. Failure to achieve the targets of the Paris Agreement will have enormous and lingering socioeconomic consequences many times larger than that of the ongoing pandemic. We are shifting to clean energy but as a developing nation we are aiming to strike a delicate balance between meeting energy demand and sustainability. I believe that the Philippines already has the laws and policies in place - some were underway - and we need strong political will to implement them.

RE transition a looming economic opportunity

Helping realize the goals of the Paris Agreement through our Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) will involve a preferential focus on the untapped and massive potential for renewable energy (RE) development. Our Renewable Energy law offers a wide range of incentives to spur growth within the RE sector. It is said that we have one of the best RE laws in the world and we adopted it long before other countries adopted theirs. We incentivized both foreign and local suppliers and we provided for a feed-in-tariff and a renewable portfolio standards policy.

RE, however, accounts for only 30.3 percent of our energy mix. Coal leads at 37.1 percent, oil-based sources take up 18 percent and natural gas is at 14.5 percent. This is quite alarming as the Philippine greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are expected to more than triple by 2030 and quadruple by 2050 if no mitigation actions are taken. The cost to implement mitigation actions in the Philippine Development Plan for the energy, forestry, industry and transport sectors alone is US$4.12 billion for 2015 to 2030.

The Energy Efficiency and Conservation law, meanwhile, institutionalizes energy efficiency and conservation as a national way of life and ensures a market-driven approach to energy efficiency, conservation, sufficiency and sustainability. Higher taxes were imposed on coal, which for decades enjoyed minimal taxes at P10 per metric ton. Taxes were increased to P50, P100 and P150 for the next three years.

Also, the National Renewable Energy Program has set out aggressive RE development targets for 2011 to 2030, aiming to increase capacity to 15,304 megawatts at the end of the period.

Our National Policy Review on Energy identified strategies and policy reforms on integrated energy system planning, RE development, energy efficiency and conventional electricity generation. It recommends the establishment of decentralized RE plants to provide access to the five percent of households without electricity connections.

A moratorium on endorsements for coal power plants by the Department of Energy and its support of allowing 100-percent foreign ownership of geothermal projects are game-changers - concrete steps to rapidly advance RE deployment and reduce the country's dependence on coal.

We also have a law that grants special tax deductions and duty-free importation of capital equipment for companies that help create a green economy. While there is no single job that promises unfettered security, we need to appreciate how jobs in the clean energy sector have grown significantly over the past years.

Need to deliver

These are all positive indicators that our NDC can help achieve the goals set in the Paris Agreement. The immediate challenge now is how to truly breathe life into policies and enable RE technologies to emerge from the current crisis with renewed momentum. It is vital that strong political and regulatory support be in place to ensure the energy transition. Ensuring universal access to affordable electricity by 2030 means investing in clean energy sources. For many developing and least-developed economies, accessing clean energy technologies will be difficult without financing options and capacity building.

The Philippines has committed to reduce GHG emissions by 75 percent by 2030. We may not be a major emitter of carbon dioxide but that does not mean we have no obligation to promote environmental sustainability. We need to deliver on our commitments. We can only achieve this if there is a radical shift in the way our country develops indigenous clean energy resources. If we look at countries with best practices, their transition to clean energy was supported by an environment where clean energy technologies did not face unfair disadvantages.

Growth is difficult to imagine without energy but energy that does not take into consideration the needs of future generations can only destroy. Development, progress and quality of life cannot be the exclusive domain of a few. Quality of life comes with a price tag that is not necessarily beyond our reach. Building livable cities and communities requires good planning. More importantly, it requires a genuine commitment to the ultimate goal of putting the Earth's and humanity's survival foremost over all other concerns.

The climate crisis presents the opportunity to promote green growth for the sake of humanity and the planet we call home. We must take hold of that opportunity so future generations do not suffer the irreversible consequences of inaction.

This article was originally published by Manila Times.