The Coal-Free Movement Heats Up in the Philippines

The Coal-Free Movement Heats Up in the Philippines

Coal is the worst of all fossil fuels and we burn eight billion tons of it a year.

First of all, what are fossil fuels? Fossil fuels are the natural sources for energy formed millions of years ago. These materials are non-renewable because it takes another hundreds of millions of years for these energy sources to fossilize again. The primary examples of this are oil, coal and natural gas. These fossil fuels emit pollutants such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, lead, particulate matter, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides which cause climate change. 


Burning coal emits hazardous air pollutants that can reach hundreds of kilometres. Over 800,000 premature deaths worldwide are attributed to coal burning every year. That’s because being exposed to this toxic air pollutants pose a lot of health risks like cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases and skin diseases, to name a few. Those who suffer most from these illnesses are children, the elderly and pregnant women.

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Fossil fuels combustion contributes greenhouse gas emissions that propels global warming. Aside from the melting ice from both ends of the Earth’s poles and heat waves reaching record high temperatures, the mining and burning of coal for energy imposes other environmental issues: land degradation, air pollution, water pollution and releasing of toxic and poisonous chemicals.

Philippines’ Dependence on Coal

The fact remains that 40 percent of the world still uses coal for electricity as it is the most abundant and cheapest among all energy sources. Philippines relies heavily on fossil fuels for electricity with coal having the highest contribution to its power generation mix; 44.5 percent of the country is powered by coal.

There are about 32 coal-fired power plants across the archipelago, mainly located on the islands of Luzon and Visayas. Despite Philippines being ranked third in air pollution deaths, it is expected that 25 more coal-fired power plants will be built by 2030. 

Coal Free Movement

In Limay, Bataan where a San Miguel Corporation coal-fired power plant operates, 649 health complaints were reported; high numbers of villagers suffering skin and respiratory problems. Villagers are protesting to have the plant closed, asking the country’s Environment Secretary Gina Lopez to weigh in on the issue. Despite the escalating matter, San Miguel Corporation, in partnership with electric power distribution company Meralco is investing in a P99 billion 1,200 Megawatt coal project in Mariveles, Bataan. The project is expected to be completed by 2020. The irony of all this is that Philippines is a signatory to the Paris Agreement; one of the country’s climate change commitments is to reduce fossil fuels emissions by 70 percent to lower than the expected levels by 2030. How then will this be achieved if the country is moving forward with building more coal-fired power plants?

The upside is, there are more and more provinces in the Philippines that are joining the Coal Free Movement. The first province to commit to going coal-free in the Philippines is Ilocos Norte followed by Guimaras, Sorsogon , Negros Oriental  and Masbate. Negros Occidental and San Juan, La Union recently joined in; the banning of building coal-fired power plants in these provinces was approved just last month.

In the coal-free province of San Carlos City, Negros Occidental, a Provincial Renewable Energy Council will oversee the implementation of renewable energy programs in the province.

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Coal Free Movement Heats Up in the Philippines

Meanwhile, in San Juan, the Manila Surfers Association mobilised its members to prevent their beach turf and surf havens from being destroyed by Global Luzon Energy Development Corporation who planned to build a 670 megawatt coal plant in La Union, known for being the north’s surfing capital. The San Juan municipality passed an ordinance on March 11, declaring the region to be coal-free.

These feats have sparked a forward momentum in the coal-free movement, inspiring yet another town in La Union to declare itself coal-free; on March 20, Aringay, La Union joined in, banning the construction of coal plants to preserve the region’s biodiversity and protect the health of its residents.

Philippines contributes just 0.39 percent to global greenhouse gas emissions, but this is set to rise as the country executes its plans for development. The quicker the country transitions to renewable and commits to coal-free, the greater the chance it will achieve its climate targets.

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All images via Philippines.


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