By Heherson Alvarez and Alexander Ochs
The Asia Clean Energy Forum organized by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in Manila last week, brought much-needed attention to the opportunities that exist for sustainable energy development in the region. Asia, home to more than half of the world’s population without access to electricity, is expected to double its energy demand by 2030 if no significant efficiency efforts are implemented. And unless a more concerted effort is made to rely on domestic renewable resources, this business-as-usual scenario will triple greenhouse gas emissions in Asia.
The result will be significant increases in global temperatures and severe impacts in countries such as the Philippines, deemed the sixth most vulnerable country to climate change. Accelerated climate change will substantially harm Filipinos by escalating the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as typhoons and heat waves. Floods, landslides, sea-level rise, and droughts will have serious consequences for agriculture, fisheries, tourism, commerce, and every other sector of the economy.
Fortunately, the Philippines has an enormous opportunity to demonstrate how integrated energy planning—based on energy efficiency, renewable technologies, and smart grid solutions—can make a significant difference in the 21st century. Any country in the world has great potential for at least one renewable resource, such as biomass, geothermal, hydro, ocean, solar, or wind. The Philippines has them all! It also has the human resources and technological know-how necessary for the transition to an energy system that is socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable. With the determined leadership of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, the Philippines can begin this dream into a reality in less than a generation.
With steady economic growth averaging more than 5 percent annually over the last decade, the Philippines has become a regional economic leader, with the potential to become the largest Southeast Asian economy before mid-century. To continue this success story, however, the country must address key challenges, such as the enormous price being paid for fossil fuel imports, energy shortage, energy insecurity, and vulnerability to climate change. This can only be done by developing the Philippines’ abundant domestic renewable energy sources, including the blue water potential, and by saving energy wherever it is possible.
In 2011, the Philippines launched its National Renewable Energy Program to encourage low-carbon development. Last year, it established a feed-in-tariff for renewable energy. These commitments demonstrate the country’s ambition. Already, the share of renewables in the
Philippines’ electricity sector (29.3 percent) surpasses that of neighboring countries and even the European Union. Nonetheless, the sector has room to grow. Almost all of the country’s renewable electricity comes from geothermal and hydro resources. Biomass, solar, and wind account for less than 0.5 percent of generation, despite their enormous potential and price competitiveness in many parts of the country. Geothermal power has actually decreased since 2000.
Even though the Philippines aims to triple its renewable energy capacity by 2030 (compared to 2010 levels), the numerous delays in crafting rules and mechanisms, such as slow implementation of the feed-in-tariff, have augmented the risk of losing over $2.5 billion in potential renewable energy investments.
Currently, the Philippines depends on imported fossil fuels for more than 60 percent of its power generation. In 2012, it spent close to every tenth peso of its GDP on these imports. At the same time, the burning of fossil fuels causes local air and water pollution, with enormous consequences for people’s health and well-being. Despite spending so much of its national wealth on imported fossil fuels, energy shortage still exists, with 40 percent of Mindanao and 22 percent of Visayas residents without access to modern electricity services.
Last week, we presented our plan for a Sustainable Energy Roadmap for the Philippines, at the Casa Roces, across Malacañang, which, if implemented, would help the country overcome its climate and energy challenges. The roadmap will focus on an integrated approach to examining the technical, socioeconomic, financial, and policy changes necessary for transitioning to an energy system that is based entirely on energy efficiency, intelligent grid solutions, and 100-percent renewable supply.
The government of the Philippines is concerned about the latest scientific reports that global warming has accelerated, and believes that the country must begin to program a path from low carbon to zero carbon, based on a broad partnership of public and private sector interests. Transitioning to a zero-carbon economy will not only help the Philippines to mitigate the impacts of climate change—which it will feel disproportionately—but also enable the nation to become an even stronger regional economic power, and a world model for sustainable development.
Heherson Alvarez, a former Senator and Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources of the Republic of the Philippines, is currently a Climate Change Commissioner. Alexander Ochs is Director of Climate and Energy at the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, D.C.
photo credit: PNEJ member Mau Victa