Heeding the Pope’s Call

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Heeding the Pope’s Call

Climate Change has taken the center stage as world leaders met in France for the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP-21) with the goal of producing an international treaty to address the effects of climate change.

The Pope has earlier admonished our leaders for being passive in addressing the issue of climate change saying “It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been. The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance.”

And perhaps it is appropriate for Pope Francis to remind all of us of our failure to protect our environment and take drastic measures to address climate change.  After all, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), climate change is “the defining issue for the 21st century.”

In the 180-page encyclical released last July, Pope Francis discussed thoroughly the effects of climate change and warned all of us of the possible consequences of our neglect on the environment. The Pope did not mince words and instead insisted that we all take notice of this problem.

Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”

Why is it essential for us to take the words of the pope to heart? Aside from being good Christians, there is also a practical utility for us to address climate change. Even the pontiff expounded the effects of failure to address climate change and even offered practical solutions to the problem.

According to Pope Francis, preserving our environment is a must, otherwise more people will end in poverty since climate change “will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades. Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry.

This assertion of the pope is echoed and supported by the data of WHO. In a report, the group said that:

“It is predicted that climate change will cause an additional 250 000 deaths per year from malaria, diarrhea, heat stress and under-nutrition between 2030 and 2050. Children, women and the poor in lower income countries will be the most vulnerable and most affected, widening health gaps.”

WHO’s report also stressed that the Philippines as a developing country is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change including sea-level rise, an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events and rainfall and rising temperature. The effects will result in higher incidence of infectious disease, population displacement, heat stress and frequent disruption of economic activities especially in the agricultural sector.

The pope offered a solution to the problem through replacement of harmful sources of energy with renewable energy.

“We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay. Until greater progress is made in developing widely accessible sources of renewable energy, it is legitimate to choose the lesser of two evils or to find short-term solutions.”

Unfortunately, we are the perfect example a country that is abundant in renewable energy sources and yet are unable to tap these God-given resources. And a major reason for this is self-inflicted: we have put in too many regulatory barriers.

Data from our Energy Department shows that we are still sourcing our energy mostly from coal and natural gas. In 2014, we have sourced 42.78% of our energy from coal and 24.19% from natural gas. On the other hand, the Philippines yet has to achieve a greater energy mix consisting of renewable energy since we only generated 13.34 percent of our energy from geothermal and 0.2 percent from solar and wind. This is unfortunate for us as we are the second largest geothermal energy producer in the world, and a tropical more fair country that experiences weather.

The Philippines’ slow progress in making renewable energy can be attributed to a variety of factors, but largely because what I already said – the barriers and hurdles of implementing a project here are unimaginable. I have been vocal in saying that major reforms are needed in our regulatory framework and system planning philosophy.

It is sad that a country as poor as ours are unable to produce more renewable energy for the benefit of all. When I was CEO of National Power Corporation, we were supposed to implement a renewable energy UPP program – 100 MW per year across all technologies, if I remember right. Unfortunately, it was never followed through in the subsequent administrations.  My idea then was for us to learn the different RE technologies so that when the time came, we would have the resources and the people to implement them.

That time has come. And we are really not prepared.

There is a need for us to develop other sources of renewable energy, especially that WHO’s data showed that inefficient and polluting forms of energy are drivers of climate change that lead to air pollution. Roughly seven million people have already died due to air-pollution-related illness, making it the biggest environmental health risk. And in the Philippines, 46 percent or roughly 12,700 child deaths are caused by acute lower respiratory infection from household air pollution in 2012 alone.

Given the consequences of climate change, its effects in our environment, lack of government support and failure of our leaders to make the necessary changes, it is up to us—the private sector and local communities—to find ways to develop renewable sources of energy. Even Pope Francis acknowledges the contribution of local communities in developing more environment-friendly sources of energy.

“In some places, cooperatives are being developed to exploit renewable sources of energy which ensure local self-sufficiency and even the sale of surplus energy. This simple example shows that, while the existing world order proves powerless to assume its responsibilities, local individuals and groups can make a real difference.”

Perhaps it’s time to heed the call of the Pope and be good human beings by becoming better stewards of our environment. Otherwise, future generations will be deprived of God’s gifts just as Pope Francis warned.

“We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth. The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes, such as those which even now periodically occur in different areas of the world. The effects of the present imbalance can only be reduced by our decisive action, here and now.”

I have built fossil fuel power plants and these plants have contributed greatly to our country’s economic progress. Times are, however, different now. The future is no longer based on fossil fuel.  For the first time we are hearing one single line from world leaders: build renewable energy.

Let’s roll up our sleeves and heed the Pope’s call.

References:

WHO calls on countries to protect health from climate change

Climate and Health Country Profile – 2015 Philippines

http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/statements/2015/climate-change/en/

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