‘Clean coal’ a false solution for Philippines’ climate crisis

As the world meets in Madrid, Spain for the 25th UN climate conference, Filipino advocates call for the phase-out of fossil fuels, especially coal, as a means to achieve national low carbon development.

Rodne Galicha, lead convenor of Living Laudato Si Philippines, said Filipinos should remain vigilant of businesses who conduct greenwashing, or misleading the public by claiming an environment degrading activity to be an eco-friendly one. He singled out those who are promoting “clean coal” to keep profiting at the expense of communities.

“There is no such thing as clean coal, the fact that it still emits carbon dioxide and other pollutants,” he said.

Galicha added that carbon capture and storage (CCS) systems attached to said facilities do not fully mitigate the environmental impact of coal. He said greenhouse gas emissions caused by coal plants do not account for other life-cycle activities, “including extraction, hauling, processing, and transportation.”

clean coal
Photo Credit: Vlad Chetan 

While no new coal plants have been built in the Philippines for the past two years, Galicha said the country remains dependent on dirty sources of energy. He then called on the Department of Energy (DOE) to forge the country toward a future powered by genuinely clean energy.

“Without clear, transparent and measurable transition measures from carbon-based development to a cleaner and sustainable one, this is just a fakery as the DoE leadership is still playing inside the jurassic park,” he said.

President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed in his most recent State of the Nation Address the need to fast-track the development of the country’s renewable energy sources to help deal with the climate crisis. However, DOE Secretary Alfonso Cusi has maintained his support for building more coal plants to address the Philippines’s growing energy needs.

Local context

Negros Island has been a recent hotbed of activism against fossil fuels. At the center of the most recent incident was a proposed 300-megawatt coal plant by SMC Global Power Holdings Corporation, which has been put on hold.

The plant would feature a circulating fluidized bed (CFB) technology, which could lower the greenhouse gas emissions produced. However, advocates claimed that it only mitigates the emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides and does not address the additional pollution that could be caused by discarded coal.

San Carlos Bishop Gerry Alminaza, one of the leaders of the anti-coal movement in Negros, stated the potential social and environmental costs of this project outweigh the benefits, making it a “false solution.”

“We are determined to prove together with other stakeholders that Negros is ready and capable to transition to 100% RE and will be sustainable,” he said.

Alminaza added that he and his allies would focus on monitoring the implementation of the executive order issued by former Negros Occidental Governor Alfred Marañon last March, which declares the province as coal-free. This involves campaigning for the development of the island’s renewable energy potential.

clean coal
Photo Credit: Pixabay

“We need to find ways to maximize the full potential of solar and geothermal plants in Negros to meet the energy supply demands of the island making coal plant unnecessary,” he said.

To maintain momentum, Alminaza remarked that “we raise the awareness of both our public officials and their constituency through traditional and social media to counteract the false propaganda of coal proponent groups and to sway public opinion to the truth about coal and the climate emergency.”

His group also intends to continue engaging in dialogues with current Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson regarding the proposed SMC coal plant. Lacson initially planned to allow the construction of the facility to push through before protests forced him to stop it last June.

“We plan to take full advantage of it by dialoguing with DOE regional director, our provincial governor, and city and municipal mayors and ask them to declare their cities and municipalities coal-free and will go RE,” he said.

This article was originally published on SunStar Manila.

John Leo Algo
John Leo is the Deputy Executive Director for Programs and Campaigns of Living Laudato Si’ Philippines, and a member of the interim Secretariat of Aksyon Klima Pilipinas. He is one of the reviewers of the IPCC Working Group II Sixth Assessment Report, and a COP26 observer-delegate.