Text by Francis Joseph Dela Cruz
Photos by Homer Anthony Medici/ICSC

My colleagues and I participated in the just-concluded second Renewable Energy (RE) Congress in Cebu, which was organized by the Center for Empowerment, Innovation, and Training on Renewable Energy (CentRE) in partnership with the University of San Carlos – Center for Renewable Energy Systems and Technologies.

While I was there, I reflected on recent events highlighting the climate crisis that could have provided the context for the discussion of various political, technological and financial issues around renewable energy development.

Last September 20, more than four million citizens took part in the first day of the Global Climate Strike, where we saw a record number of 6,100 actions in 185 countries calling for political action on the climate crisis. Three days later, on September 20, political leaders gathered in New York for the United Nations Climate Action Summit. And on September 25, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its Special Report on Oceans and the Cryosphere, which was authored by more than 100 scientists from 30 countries.

The events of this last week alone are quite demonstrative of how the climate discourse is happening: Citizens, this time led by more young people, are sounding the alarm and calling for political action on the climate crisis. Politicians nod in agreement and applaud the statements by Greta Thunberg and Pope Francis, but are not able to see beyond their terms of office.

Scientists have to fight for attention among policymakers and business leaders so that they will be guided in making decisions that would affect our lives.

Recently concluded RE Congress in Cebu City

I was quite anxious when I was preparing for my part in an RE Congress panel discussion on “Just Transition and Energy Democracy.” I wanted to discuss how a transformative shift to RE must be able to address the need for energy that is sustainable, secure, and equitable. However, to do that in ten minutes is a tall order. So, I just slogged through these points on how the energy transition could look like:

Renewable energy should displace coal and fossil-fuel power, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. RE can grow and not make a dent on our GHG emissions.

Energy Undersecretary Wimpy Fuentebella happily announced that RE is growing, but he did not mention that coal has grown quicker in the same period. We have to wean ourselves away from fossil fuels, especially coal, to renewable energy sources on the basis of the economic benefits of doing so. The risk of stranded assets in coal is too big to be ignored, and the potential positive impact of RE on the environment is a big plus.

Renewable energy will be supported by reforms in the procurement of supply by distribution utilities for the captive market, by mandating a competitive selection process for power supply agreements. There should be fair competition between coal and other fossil-fuel power and renewable energy, and between RE sources.

We need to move from centralized to greater distributed generation because that will make our communities more resilient, and bring power to the communities, in both senses of the word.

The government as a big power consumer should champion renewable energy in its programs, activities and plans. Government can set ambitious targets to deploy RE in in its national, regional and local centers. The Build, Build, Build program must integrate renewable energy and energy efficiency early in the design process.

The Department of Health can look at RE in hospitals and the Department of Education can look at RE in schools. The Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board can require developers to make their housing projects RE-ready.

However, the burning question is, how much time do we have for the energy transition to qualify as climate action? What are we prepared to do so that the initiatives that the RE Congress bring together will matter?

To answer this, I had to borrow words from Greta Thunberg. She said “the most dangerous misconception about the climate crisis is that we have to ‘lower’ our emissions. Because that is far from enough…. The fact that we are speaking of ‘lowering’ instead of ‘stopping’ emissions is perhaps the greatest force behind the continuing business as usual.”

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian takes a selfie group photo during the second Renewable Energy Congress in Cebu on September 27, 2019. (c) Homer Anthony Medici/ICSC

Francis Joseph dela Cruz is the partnerships and advocacy advisor of the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities.