CAGAYAN DE ORO - A European Union assisted project aiming to provide the Philippines with low carbon energy sustainability was launched last 28 October 2019 in Xavier Ateneo.
Dubbed the Access to Sustainable Energy in the Philippines – Clean Energy Living Laboratories (ASEP-CELLs), the project is being implemented by Ateneo de Manila University (through the Ateneo School of Government), the Manila Observatory, ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability) a global network of more than 1,750 local and regional governments), the University of San Carlos and Xavier University – Ateneo de Cagayan (Xavier Ateneo).
Guests from the European Union, Department of Energy, among others, underscored the project’s research agenda in relation to national and local energy challenges of the country.
GIovanni Seritella, project manager for Environment & Climate Change, Delegation of the European Union to the Philippines said ASEP is an EU program which supports the Phil. Government’s target to provide 100% household energy access by 2020.
“The ASEP-CELLS project aims to advance the renewable energy agenda in the Philippines and support the transition to a low carbon energy path through three interrelated components or pillars: Knowledge Management to address needed policy reforms to push the RE agenda in the Philippines; Capacity Development which will support the knowledge and the skills of those who champion these reforms, and Advocacy to support the creation of the demand for renewable energy intervention in the country,” Seritella noted.
The program aims to provide innovative ways to respond to the challenge of climate change by supporting the access to renewable energy and support marginalized groups and communities which do not have access to energy.
The ultimate aim is to provide support for response to climate change. Over 750 local governments around the world have declared a climate emergency, he added.
“This project is important because it will help us create political space for evidence-based practices that will link global energy to political institutions and institutional capacity, as well as strategic planning for disaster resilience, energy delivery and technology.”
PH has Low Usage, High Pricing
Dr. Joseph Yap, Senior Technical Advisor of the Ateneo de Manila University School of Government, said despite the Philippines having the second lowest per capita energy consumption per capita GDP in the ASEAN, it has the second highest electricity rate in Asia behind Japan.
“The Philippines consumes less but pays more, and nine percent of our households have no access to electricity, the lowest among ASEAN member nations. These households are found mostly in Mindanao, specifically in Region IX and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
Thus, Yap said the two most critical energy issues facing the country in the future are adequate supply and the optimal energy mix, and the overall object of promoting energy security.
“Optimal is not limited to least cost. There has to be a balance among social, economic, financial and environmental goals. Policy has to be aware of possible conflict among components of Energy Security: Autarky, Affordability, Accessibility, Sustainability or the Energy Trilemma.”
Energy Usec. Felix Fuentebella noted that while the Philippines has been declared as the third country most vulnerable to climate change, it has been ranked first by World Energy Council on Energy Sustainability the last 4-5 years. As of June 2019, the country has attained 98% of electrification based on 2015 census while over 80% of the population expressed openness to new energy options.
The Jesuit Mission and Climate Change
In his welcome remarks, Xavier Ateneo Pres. Fr. Roberto Yap SJ said that as a Jesuit university, Xavier Ateneo strives to participate in Jesuit mission, an essential dimension of which is to collaborate in the care of our common home, as inspired by Pope Francis in his 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si’ in which he stressed climate change as a global 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. Its worst impact 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.” (LS, 25)
Fr. Yap said Pope Francis is clear that there is only one crisis which is both environmental and social.
“There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy. Worldwide there is minimal access to clean and renewable energy. There is still a need to develop adequate storage technologies.” (LS, 26)
The Mindanao Coal Dilemma
“I quote these very wise, challenging and disturbing words from Pope Francis to set the tone for the CELLs project. Situating this in Mindanao, we know that a few years ago we were suffering from power shortages, we had many brownouts which would last for several hours, then we were able to solve that problem,” Fr. Yap related.
“But unfortunately if we look at the many power plants that have been built these past few years and helped us become an energy surplus region now in Mindanao, most that have been built still use coal, the very models of production and consumption, and energy usage that is very much linked to the causes of climate change,” he stressed.
“Xavier is very proud and happy that we can contribute to policy formulation, through research, capacity building, technical assistance, that we can really address and promote the use of renewable energy. And I hope we will be able to show good examples, even small examples that really renewable energy is possible and sustainable and really beneficial to communities, especially for poor communities in the peripheries.”
“In the European Union we aim to have a 40 percent target reduction on greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and hopefully attain 45 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 emission levels,” Seritella noted. “Besides that, the EU last November has developed an energy policy that will allow EU to be climate neutral with zero gas emissions by 2050.”
Still, Fuentebella expressed the need to be circumspect in evaluating the implications of such projects, especially on their implications on the national treasury.
“We have to closely examine our engagement with the European Union because they are sincere in helping. But still, we have to be on guard for every detail: interest, where the product comes from, who really benefits from it, what are the terms and conditions. At the end of the day, it’s easy to make decisions, especially when it’s not our pockets which are involved. But when taxpayers money is involved, then we have to be extra careful,” he noted.
Fuentebella also admitted the difficulty of attaining an optimal energy grid for a particular area.
“Renewables mixed with fossil fuel are reliable but not easy to achieve. Even geothermals have environmental costs, and are capital intensive. Which is why DOE is not so keen on pushing renewables to consumers? We want you take your time. We want you to be detailed in your studies, because once you make commitments, you should be ready,” he stressed.
“The competitive selection should be well-rounded, it should be filled with details, and we have experts here who would give you advice, but we should never lose our dignity, always put the interests of our country first, and be meticulous. Just because it’s the current trend doesn’t mean we should adopt it,” he added.
Nevertheless, Roel Ravanera, Xavier Ateneo Vice President for Social Development, welcomed the project as timely and significant.
“ASEP-CELLs is a novel initiative that will have significant impact in ensuring inclusive development in the country, especially here in Mindanao. With its focus on rural electrification, it will provide basic services and more opportunities for people in the rural areas better chances of overcoming extreme poverty,” Ravanera said.
“Equally important is its bias for renewable energy that will ensure sustainable development amidst the worsening global climate crisis,” he added.
In closing, Fr. Yap said, “I pray that this project will be blessed by our Lord and that we will really work in cooperation with each other as we address energy poverty and security for an inclusive and resilient Philippines.”
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