DOE: The Department of Dirty Energy?

The Department of Energy is opposing the move of the Philippines to ratify the Paris Agreement. In a letter signed by Secretary Alfonso Cusi, the DOE says that “upon extensive evaluation and vetting of the Paris Agreement on climate change, the DOE is constrained to maintain its reservation to submit its concurrence for the ratification by the President of the said agreement.”

The letter was sent to Secretary Yasay of the Department of Foreign Affairs. The DFA is where government agencies must submit their certificate of concurrence before it can be forwarded to the Climate Change Commission for processing, then to the Office of President for signing. The Department of Energy is the only government agency that has vocally opposed the climate treaty.

President Rodrigo Duterte has initially been apprehensive about the agreement, calling it “crazy,” “stupid,” and “absurd.” However, after a cabinet meeting last November 7, where cabinet members, “except for one or two,” voted unanimously to sign the climate treaty, the president said he is now willing to sign the said agreement.

However, while most government agencies and cabinet members have agreed to ratify the climate treaty, Cusi remains to be hard headed about the issue. Last July, he reiterated the DOE’s stand to “use whatever energy resources are available and affordable for power generation.” It is important to note that despite leading the call for a more ambitious global warming target of 1.5 degrees celsius inside the UN climate negotiations, the Philippine government has approved more than 30 coal-fired power plants which are expected to go online in the next five years.

Where and why Cusi is wrong 

We have heard time and again the president’s and Cusi’s excuses on not wanting to ratify the Paris Agreement. They say it in the name of “development.” We need to develop, they said. And therefore we need to pollute more, they said. Let us look into Cusi’s excuses and break down why they are wrong.

First, he says that, “The Philippine economy is still developing and its needs and effects of development are different with that of developed countries.” While it is true that the Philippines is a developing country with increasing energy needs, it is not true that the Philippines has to rely on dirty energy for its development. Sure, we cannot phase out our current coal-fired power plants all at once, but we can start investing in renewable energy instead of investing in more coal for our future energy needs.

A dirty form of development is not sustainable. The developed countries of today have done the same in the past and as a result, we are already seeing and reaping its effects. The world has already warmed at 1 degree celsius and even only at 0.8 degrees of warming, extreme events such as typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) has happened. Already, at current climate commitments, worst case scenarios point to 4 degrees of global warming above pre-industrial levels. Imagine if all developing countries of today decide to continue polluting in the name of development?

Second, he says that the Philippines “should participate in the discussions relevant to the threat of climate change without conditions.” Cusi may have been pertaining to the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC), our country pledges which we have submitted to the UNFCCC last year. The Philippines pledged a 70% emissions reduction by 2030, based on a business as usual model, which were all conditional in the first place. Meaning, the Philippines submitted climate pledges that we said we would only do if we are given support by other countries.

This already poses as a big problem because compared to other countries, even least developed ones, the Philippines’ climate pledges are already not ambitious. Ethiopia, for example, a least developed country in Africa where 76% of population still has no access to electricity, has committed to 64% emissions reduction by 2030. The difference? Ethiopia has said that even without financial help, “it will tap domestic resources to pay for some of its commitment and will undertake analysis to determine what can be accomplished without support and what will require international support.”

The Philippines, meanwhile, is 100% reliant on international support, without which the government is unwilling to do anything about climate change, despite being one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change.

Third, and hypocritically enough, Cusi says that the “DOE shall look primarily into adaptation and resiliency programs” and that the “DOE shall voluntarily support all climate change efforts by the country” but “without sacrificing its mandate to ensure quality, reliable, affordable, and secure energy for the Filipinos.”

So Cusi knows that the Philippines is a vulnerable country that needs adaptation and resilience and even says that the DOE is willing to support climate change efforts — only except when it comes to having clean, sustainable, renewable energy. Cusi is willing to build the Philippines’ adaptation and resilience but also willing to pollute more, as if carbon emissions isn’t to blame for climate change, as if climate change will choose to hit only countries who pollute more.

How ironic that a country who has been asking for other countries not to pollute is so willing to pollute. The Department of Energy should be renamed to Department of Dirty Energy, considering its energy preferences. And Alfonso Cusi, its Secretary, is clearly stuck in the era of dinosaurs.


Originally published at GMA News