[Opinion] Renewed call against coal plants

The campaigns group Greenpeace Southeast Asia hosted a National Anti-Coal Summit. It was attended by environmental protection and renewable energy advocates from different places in the Philippines.

The Summit was a venue to share stories on the impacts of coal plants in their respective localities and to chart a common effort for the future. The participants issued a reaffirmation against the push of the national government for the establishment of more coal-fired plants this time under the Aquino administration and embodied in the “People’s Declaration Against Coal-fired Power and in Support of Renewable Energy”.

We have come together to claim our rights to a healthy environment with clean air, water and soil, and demand that the state protect our rights to “a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature.”

The reaffirmation stands on the foundation that coal plants are a danger to the well-being of our families and our environment.  We denounce proposals to build more of these polluting power stations which bring us more harm than good.

Coal is a highly polluting energy source.  From mine to thermal power plants, from extraction to combustion, coal pollutes every step of the way.  The use of coal for energy results in grave environmental,  health and social problems,  the  impacts  of  which  fall  most  seriously  on vulnerable communities around such dirty energy plants, and especially on women and children.

Aside from carbon dioxide emissions, burning coal releases toxics such as sulphur dioxide (SO2) which causes acid rain, the greenhouse gas nitrogen oxide (NOx), and heavy metals including mercury (a powerful neurotoxin) and arsenic (a carcinogen) as well as lead and chromium.  These chemicals contaminate air, water and soil several kilometers around the power plant or the coal mine.

No coal-fired power plant is truly “clean” or “green.” There is no such thing as “clean coal,” and no commercially available technology can remove mercury or the carbon emissions from coal plants.  “Clean coal” methods only move pollutants from one waste stream to another which are then still released into the environment.  They can be released via the fly ash, the gaseous air emissions, water outflow or the ash left at the bottom after burning.  Ultimately, they still end up polluting the environment.

Coal use also carries severe social impacts.  The presence of coal plants cause the displacement and disintegration of nearby communities who also suffer losses in their traditional livelihoods.  Fishing and farming are disrupted by land degradation and water pollution caused by coal plant operations.

Investors, financiers and developers of coal industry promise widespread, sustained employment for communities. But the reality is that no community that has hosted a coal plant has reaped these promises and are now even in much worse conditions.

Coal is a major cause of climate change.  It is the dirtiest, most carbon intensive of all fossil fuels.  Climate change is the greatest humanitarian and environmental threat the world faces today, endangering lives and communities with increased intensity and frequency of extreme weather events such as floods, droughts and storms, sea level rise, water scarcity, decline in agricultural output, proliferation of pests and diseases, and the extinction of species.

The coal affected communities declared that coal energy threatens our hopes for a sustainable future for our children.  Coal is not cheap and imposes intolerable costs on the Filipino people.  It is unacceptable  that  we  continue  to  suffer  the  harmful  effects  of  coal-fired  power  plants and  the impacts of climate change with the knowledge that environmentally friendly solutions in the form of clean renewable energy are widely available and readily deployable.

We demand that the Department of Energy take immediate action to protect the well-being of our communities by: immediately cancelling all new coal power and coal mining projects and phasing out existing coal facilities; implementing and enforcing the Renewable Energy Law; and increasing the country’s renewable energy targets to facilitate a massive uptake of clean sustainable energy in the country.

Solutions are available to reduce our dependence on polluting, dirty and deadly coal energy. Now is the time to embrace clean renewable energy. The Philippine government must realize that its task is to ensure the country’s sustainable development with a future powered by clean, peaceful, renewable energy.  This way, further human and societal damage, as well as ecological degradation and devastating climate change impacts, can be avoided.

The government must likewise prioritize and support green investments which will help put the country on a low-carbon growth pathway, instead of pursuing investments which are harmful to society, peace and order and the environment.  New interventions are needed to secure the island’s sustainable future. This requires technological leapfrogging, bold policy innovations, and a new solidarity across social classes and generations.

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