Saving our symbols

palawan islandClimate change is upon us, but it is not the problem. It is merely a symptom of an unsustainable world paradigm

Let’s start with the sobering reality. Climate change is upon us. But it is not the problem. What we see around the world today is a complicated mix of environmental, social, economic, and political crises. Climate change is merely a symptom of an unsustainable world paradigm.

The Philippines, one of the most biologically diverse nations on Earth is becoming one of the major hotspots of ecological dysfunction. Its national symbol, the Philippine Eagle, an endemic bird, is on the verge of extinction. Its national memorial, the monument of Dr Jose Rizal, is getting scarred by construction of a high-rise condominium which is already providing an ugly picture of the skyline of Metro Manila. Its last frontier, the spectacular island of Palawan is now threatened by the plans to introduce a coal fired power plant.

National symbols are supposed to be lasting and enduring, not only because they serve an emblematic purpose, but because they represent the heart of our culture, heritage, and legacy.

It’s time to reflect on saving these dear symbols.

The Philippines is an archipelago composed of 7,107 islands and as such, providing power and electricity to all the residents in majority of these islands is a daunting task, to say the least. The Philippines is considered a fossil fuel deprived country with very few coal and oil resources and just a bit of natural gas. Fortunately, however, it has been blessed with plenty of renewable energy resources, generating a little over 25% of its total power from renewable energy. Our own Department of Energy (DoE) likes to call this the Bigshow, which stands for Biomass, Geothermal, Solar, Hydro, Ocean and Wind energy of which we have plenty of. These resources are likewise not merely symbolic; they represent real solutions.

It is ironic why the Philippines, after spearheading the push for renewable energy for the past three decades, is now riskily shifting towards reliance on coal, which it has very little of.

What is equally surprising and incredible is when this is done at the expense of a national symbol such as the unique island of Palawan.

Palawan is located in the western part of the Philippines and sits at the top of the coral triangle. It is home to several endemic species and rich marine and terrestrial biodiversity. The island is blessed with plenty of renewable energy resources in the form of hydro, biomass and solar energy but with poor grid connectivity and has been primarily reliant on diesel to meet their power needs for the past decades.

With the current demand of electricity about to exceed the supply, new power projects are needed and unfortunately, a coal plant was the first choice pushed rather than exploring the indigenous, cheaper, renewable energy options on the island.

Currently, WWF is working with the the DoE, local government of Palawan, the local electric cooperatives, and other stakeholders in crafting a long-term energy master plan for Palawan that would optimise the use of renewable energy on the island for years to come that would hopefully, prevent the need for a coal plant on the island. But the first answer to the anticipated power demand is immediately fossil fuels. Is this a manifestation of progress? Perhaps not.

The reason why we talk of Palawan is because it has come to represent a larger, global problem.

Fossil fuels are still the predominant source of energy for most of our world, when renewable energy as an alternative solution is now readily available and increasingly affordable. Fossil fuels are also symbolic. Our dependence on fossil fuels has been resoundingly identified as the largest source of our carbon emissions that are causing global climate change. It is the exemplar for the kind of development that has pressured the planet, widened the gap between rich and poor, and undermined social wellbeing.

To avert the climate crisis, the world needs an urgent global shift of investments into renewable energy and decreased investments in fossil fuels.The Philippine situation proves that the right policies and planning is crucial to back such a transition to clean, renewable energy. That’s exactly the core message of WWF’s Seize Your Power campaign which calls for urgent and significant investments in renewable energy worldwide.

Everyone and everything is needed to solve the current climate crisis. As we march on towards the make-or-break 2015 deadline to craft a new climate agreement in Paris, the world must seize the moment and usher in a new era of transformation.

In the face of the escalating impacts of climate change, building better communities and better nations are crucial. Fostering a massive global transformation is at the heart of this undertaking. It is not just about saving our symbols; it is about embracing a paradigm that will save people and humanity. It is not an option. It is the only way.

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