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Saying NO to coal power: a Filipino Catholic responsibility

The world now has less than 10 years left to prevent climate change from worsening further. Not doing so would cause irreversible damage to all life on Earth, a moral failure of unprecedented proportions.
Published Jan 6, 2020

“We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that … we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22-23)

The decade of the 2020s is a pivotal period in human action against the climate crisis. The world now has less than 10 years left to prevent climate change from worsening further. Not doing so would cause irreversible damage to all life on Earth, a moral failure of unprecedented proportions.

Global leaders have recognized this crisis and are calling for immediate action, especially from rich countries and big polluters. Pope Francis has been one of the most active proponents for action, having declared a global “climate emergency” last June.

“Future generations stand to inherit a greatly spoiled world. Our children and grandchildren should not have to pay the cost of our generation’s irresponsibility.”

In his encyclical Laudato Si’, Pope Francis also recognizes the scientific consensus on the anthropogenic nature of climate change. Agreeing that the burning of coal and other fossil fuels is the primary culprit of the crisis, he remarked that:

“We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal,… – needs to be progressively replaced without delay.”

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has also voiced its support for phasing out coal to address the climate crisis. In its pastoral letter last year, it highlighted how coal projects “exacerbate the vulnerability of impoverished host communities in the Philippines already struggling to cope with the effects of the worsening climate”. This impact mainly occurs through either greenhouse gas emissions by burning it or environmental destruction by mining. 

On this matter, the CBCP called on the dioceses to live up to the spirit of Laudato Si’ by pushing “for an immediate transition to safe, clean, and affordable energy”:

“… Ensure just and fair transition to renewable energy sources and reject false solutions; support the use of solar power in our homes and institutions (dioceses, churches, schools, seminaries); promote, advocate and invest in renewable energy (solar, hydro, wind and geothermal power); join the campaign to immediately phase out coal-fired power plants and all other plants dependent on fossil-fuel, including coal mining.”

Currently, the Philippines gets roughly 25 percent of its energy from renewables. Despite being one of the most vulnerable countries to the climate crisis, around 20 coal plants are being proposed to be constructed to address the growing energy demand. Although the nation hosts tremendous untapped renewable energy potential, the Philippine government has failed to fully capitalize on developing this cleaner, more sustainable energy for its people. 

One of the ways to accomplish this is through divestment, or pressuring fossil fuel companies and their funders to shift their resources towards renewable energy development. The CBCP actively supports for this action:

Do not allow the financial resources of our Catholic institutions to be invested in favor of coal-fired power plants, mining companies and other destructive extractive projects. Divestment from such investment portfolios must be encouraged.

Everyone can be involved in pushing for fossil fuel divestment, even those without any financial investments in energy. This ‘practical divestment’ involves actions that reduce energy consumption from coal and other fossil fuels and increasing renewable energy use. The Philippines has a vast resources of indigenous renewable energy such as solar, hydro, wind and geothermal.

For instance, Catholic dioceses can take initiative in their respective communities through partnership with parishes, seminaries, and schools about energy conservation and efficiency. These establishments can implement activities such as a daily “Earth Hour” or turning off the lights one hour daily or keeping their buildings well-lit and ventilated to reduce energy usage. Institutions with more resources can initiate educational activities and proactive campaigning for renewable energy in their jurisdictions or even installing them in public buildings and houses to entice more people to do so. Catholic educational institutions can also focus their respective research efforts on renewable energy innovation and sustainability. At households, individuals can enact similar measures for their families and friends. 

Ateneo de Davao University leads Philippine Catholic educational institutions in embracing renewable energy (Photo: Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific)

Based on the report of Caritas Philippines, as of September 2019, 40 out of 85 dioceses and archdioceses in the Philippines have started the process of installing solar panels, however, all of the Diocese of Maasin’s 42 parishes have already shifted to solar power since August 2018.

Everyone has a moral responsibility to address the climate crisis within their respective capacities. Speaking through words and action against the greed of the few and the threat they created is an urgent and necessary step that we must take. We must have the courage to say no to coal, not only for our sake, but for the present and future of all life on Earth.  

Catholic communities and institutions publicly opposing coal power (list is still to be updated):

Archdiocese of Cebu

Archdiocese of Lipa (Batangas)

Dioceses of San Carlos, Bacolod, Dumaguete and Kabankalan (Negros Island)

Dioceses of Tagbilaran and Talibon (Bohol Island)

Diocese of San Fernando (La Union)

Diocese of Lucena (Quezon)

Diocese of Balanga (Bataan)

Apostolic Vicariate of Puerto Princesa (Palawan)

CBCP-National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA)/Caritas Philippines

Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines – Negros Island

Written by John Leo Algo
Living Laudato Si Philippines Logo
JL is an advocate of climate change education, just transition to renewables, promoting energy efficiency, nature-based solutions, cleaner air quality, sustainable lifestyles, and climate justice who has represented the Philippines and the youth sector in different capacities during the global and regional UN climate conferences since 2017. He is also a citizen journalist, writing climate and environmental stories that have been published in international and local media platforms such as The Huffington Post, Asia Sentinel, Rappler, Sun Star, and The Manila Times. He is a two-time fellow of Climate Tracker, the world's largest youth-led climate journalism network. He is one of the co-authors of the first Philippine Climate Change Assessment Report series, the local equivalent to the IPCC reports. He is the recipient of the Miguel R. Magalang Climate Leadership Award during the ceremonies in the Philippine Senate and named the SDG 15 Youth Champion by the 2030 Project in 2017. He earned his MS Atmospheric Science degree from the Ateneo de Manila University in December 2018.