5 Challenges before Deep Decarbonization May Happen in the Philippines

Elpidio V. Peria
12 July 2014

The well-known economist–turned-ecologist Jeffrey Sachs of Sustainable Development Solutions Network has recently submitted last 8 July 2014 an interim report to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon entitled Pathways to Deep Decarbonization, where it suggested steps for all countries to “de-carbonize” or in essence, cut down their greenhouse gas emissions, based on three pillars – 1) energy efficiency and conservation, 2) low-carbon electricity and 3) fuel-switching. These three pillars, according to the report, must be implemented in a coordinated manner and should result in a very significant transformation of a country’s energy systems.

Energy efficiency measures are referred to in the report as technical improvements of products and processes while energy conservation points to a broader set of measures, including structural and behavioral changes, that lead to lower levels of energy consumed per unit of GDP. Examples of both energy efficiency and conservation measures include : improved vehicle technologies, smart urban design and optimized value chains (for passenger and goods transportation); improved end-use equipment, architectural design, building practices, and construction materials (in residential and commercial buildings); improved equipment, production processes, material efficiency and re-use of waste heat (in industry).

Low-carbon electricity is the replacement of uncontrolled fossil fuel based generation with renewable energy (e.g. hyrdo, wind, solar and geothermal), nuclear power and/or fossil fuels (coal, gas) with carbon capture and storage (CCS).

Fuel-switching involves changing end-use energy supplies from highly carbon-intensive fossil fuels in transportation, buildings and industry to lower carbon fuels, including low-carbon electricity, other low-carbon energy carriers synthesized from electricity generation or sustainable biomass, or lower-carbon fossil fuels.

These three pillars of deep decarbonization, according to the report, will be realized through the deployment of new low-carbon technologies to transform a country’s energy production and consumption patterns. This will, in turn, require accelerated research, development, demonstration and diffusion (RDD&D) of these emission-reducing technologies to make them reliable, cost-competitive, and widely available in a country that will implement a deep decarbonization pathway.

Many of these technologies for deep decarbonization are already technologically mature and commercially viable, the report says. Examples of these technologies include renewable energy-based electricity generation technologies such as hydropower, wind and solar photovoltaic and concentrating solar power; ethanol production from biomass-derived sugars and starch; power and heating technologies based on hydro-geothermal resources; fuel-efficient, hybrid, and battery electric light-duty vehicles; natural gas, electric hybrid and hydrogen fuel cell-powered buses and fleet vehicles; and a wide range of energy-efficient lighting, heating, cooling and process technologies in the building and industrial sectors.

But, according to the report, these technologies alone will not achieve deep decarbonization. New energy supply and end-use technologies will be needed, requiring various levels of RDD&D in order to achieve wider uptake. Examples of these technologies include:
a) Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) – this refers to the capture of CO2 at large stationary point sources such as coal and natural-gas fueled power plants, refineries, cement plants, and steel mills that emit exhaust gases with a relatively high concentrations of CO2.. After the CO2 is captured at the point source, it is transported by pipeline to an appropriate geological site for storage underground, typically in saline aquifers more than 800m below the surface.

b) Energy storage and grid management – this involves technologies that store excess energy from renewable energy sources such as solar and wind energies, for delivery during periods of lower supply; grid management involves the coordination and control of electric demand so as to coincide with power availability.

c) Advanced nuclear power – also described as fourth-generation nuclear power, which refers to a range of nuclear fission energy technology advances that involve the modularity of production systems, smaller-scale units, alternative systems for fuel reprocessing, alternative (e.g. thorium) fuels, as well as improved, automatic and passive safety systems.

d) Vehicles and advanced biofuels – these are cutting-edge technologies such as high-performance batteries, hydrogen fuel cells, and advanced biofuels such as bioengineered organisms (e.g. algae and bacteria) and artificial photosynthesis which produce fuels directly from sunlight, water and carbon dioxide without using biological organisms.

e) Industrial processes – this involves electrification of industrial processes such as cement production, steelmaking, oil refining and distillation processes or the production of heat through hydrogen-based cells, which are zero-emission.

f) Negative emissions technologies – this involves the integration of biomass energy with CCS

While this effort by Jeffrey Sachs and his study team may be a useful input to the current negotiations for the 2015 deal in UNFCCC, applying these concepts, principles and technologies in the Philippine context will have to hurdle the following challenges:

1)The country, with the 2015 deal in mind, still has to undertake a serious discussion on its development trajectory, beyond 2020.
The 2015 deal is the putative climate agreement under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) where developing countries are expected to make binding commitments to mitigate its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions after the year 2020. This task of undertaking mitigation commitments means a country has to figure out its development trajectory such that it will know which economic activities it will have to sacrifice, if at all, to achieve these mitigation commitments. It is not clear if the Philippines is aware it will have to do this figuring out exercise, or if the National Economic and Development Authority, the country’s economic planning agency, is taking steps to at least study the implications of this kind of commitment as it prepares the next iteration of the country’s PhilIipine Development Plan. With this talk of deep decarbonization pathways becoming commonplace in development circles in the coming weeks, this discussion and debate will have to start, whether the country is prepared to make mitigation commitments in Paris or not.

2)Pnoy does not seem to be bothered by climate change issues, if at all

It is understandable at this time that Pnoy will be preoccupied, in the twilight years of his administration, with defending himself and his underlings with the recent Supreme Court ruling declaring unconstitutional his Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), but it is uncertain if he can figure out a different meaning to the words DAP and turn it instead into “Decarbonization Actualization Program”. This President hasn’t had the sense of urgency and long-range thinking when faced with climate change concerns; it is not even clear if he believes in climate change as a problem, given that there seems to be a smattering of climate skeptics in his Cabinet. Faced with the consequences of Pablo and Yolanda, his response is to treat it like a massive disaster rehabilitation program, which is what is should be, but to confine the government response to this kind of mindset only risks squandering the opportunities to undertake long-term structural changes in the way these things should be dealt with, and this is where the concepts of climate change adaptation and more recently, loss and damage, should be in his vocabulary. Perhaps if he will finally call a meeting of the Climate Change Commission, which he heads, his education on this topic should at least commence.

3)There is no climate technology roadmap that is in place at the moment

If one surveys the efforts of government agencies on climate technology transfer, one can be certain there are initiatives and programs currently being done but they are not put together in one masterplan or roadmap or document, though of course, we have the National Climate Change Action Plan and there is supposedly, but still not published, a Philippine R&D Agenda on Climate Change. Still, these efforts are uncoordinated and without clear timelines and objectives, that is underpinned by clear developmental considerations and imperatives. Now we have this notion of deep decarbonization and its three pillars to transform a country’s energy systems, perhaps this is an opportunity for the country to examine what it needs and what is acceptable to its people, considering that some of these technologies, such as CCS, nuclear technology and even bioengineered organisms, will have serious problems as to their viability, effectivity and social acceptability. These things should also be taken into account when establishing the country’s climate technology roadmap.

4)The DOE has to step up its game on energy efficiency while reining in coal-based power plants

According to the Final Report dated November 2012 on the Peer Review on Energy Efficiency in the Philippines (from http://aperc.ieej.or.jp/file/2013/7/23/PREE_201211_Philippines.pdf, accessed 12 July 2014), while the Department of Energy (DOE) has an energy efficiency program dating back to 2004, the challenge is that “while communication/cooperation of DOE among relevant departments should have been occurring regularly, in some cases the activity is on an ad -hoc basis only. Meanwhile, several activities of the department entail a lot of local government involvement. Its far reaching goals could be achieved should there be closer coordination between central government and local governments.” In addition, the review also noted : “the department is likewise constrained with the lack of the necessary resources such as personnel and budget . So much activity could have been implemented should the equivalent budget and manpower are available. Lastly, It may be worth noting that there’s a need for scaling-up and institutionalize efforts to maximize energy saving and cost saving in an integrated manner.”

In addition, the Department of Energy needs to rein in its greenlighting of various coal-fired power plants all over the country which will lock-in the country to these types of technologies, making it difficult for the country to transition to the cutting-edge technologies mentioned in the report on deep decarbonization.

5)Financing of these technologies for large scale deployment is not present

All these technologies necessary to achieve deep decarbonization will require a lot of money. It’s good the authors will further work in developing this part of the report since this should serve as a wake-up call to policy-makers and financiers to get a sense of what levels of financing will be needed for this deep decarbonization pathway to be realized.
Over at the UNFCCC where official discussions on financing of these efforts are underway, what is clearly available for now for developing countries making requests to the UNFCCC Climate Technology Transfer and Network is US$250,000 for a response project, which, if one looks closely at how much will really be needed for climate technologies to be deployed in a country, is a puny amount or a pittance, this amount seems to be only sufficient to pay for consultants who will develop a full-blown project proposal which will have to be in the millions.

What is not clear in the emerging picture of financing for technology transfer projects is who will pay for these types of projects. It seems countries will be fried in their own cooking oil, if one translates into English the apt Filipino aphorism for this situation, such that if there is no fundamental change in the way financing of climate technology projects will be funded, it appears that to be able to get these technologies, countries will have to spend their own money or incur loans for these projects to materialize, to benefit them in the long-term.

If this is the way things will turn out to be, then it may be useful for countries to start thinking now how they may pursue their own path of self-reliance and self-financing, for their efforts in this area.


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