PH banks should divest from coal
September gives many of us opportunities to reflect on our relationship with the environment and our fellow human beings. This month, Filipino Catholics celebrate the Season of Creation, recognizing the “Web of Life”: the shared interest of all forms of creation in protecting our common home. Similarly, youths across different nations will be mobilizing in the millions as part of the Global Climate Strike, to call on global leaders to end the age of fossil fuels as a response to the worsening climate crisis.
This era is not just of catastrophes, however, but also of a renewed appreciation for the environment. In 2015, Pope Francis called on leaders and citizens in his encyclical “Laudato Si” to act as responsible stewards of our common home through concrete changes in policies and lifestyles. In that same year, many Islamic leaders, Evangelical leaders, the Orthodox Church, have also reiterated their calls for action toward caring for the environment in light of this ongoing crisis.
Yet, while unprecedented unities are being formed around the world, it seems it still pays to abuse and destroy the environment. In the Philippines, it seems as if it is even encouraged.
Despite the President’s pronouncement to reduce coal reliance, the Department of Energy still defends its continuation and expansion, arguing that it is still the cheapest, most reliable form of energy available. Yet we see its real cost in the diseases suffered by host communities, in the destruction of natural resources and ecosystems around coal plants and mining operations, and in the warming of the planet.
Coal is not cheap. We just pay in other ways.
Sadly, the wellbeing of the people is rarely considered in economies whose priority is economic growth. As long as business and government policies value profit over people, coal dependence will continue to prosper. Coal investors will still be encouraged to take their business here because of the incentives given by the government and the financing provided by banks. This, despite many different countries already abandoning coal and developing more renewable sources of energy.
This is why we call on Philippine banks to divest from coal.
Last July 16, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines released its pastoral letter, “An Urgent Call for Ecological Conversion.” One of the concrete ways we committed to live the spirit and calls of “Laudato Si” is by disallowing the resources of our Catholic financial institutions to be used for coal plants, waste to energy and destructive extractive activities. The letter stressed that the Church must divest for the sake of sustainability, and invest instead in practices that honor and safeguard our common home.
We have extended this call to Philippine banks, especially BPI, BDO and Metrobank, which have been found to have the most money lent to and lodged with the biggest coal companies in the Philippines. As Christians, we know that where our resources lie, there also lie our hearts. By continuing to finance coal, Philippine banks will only muddle the conscience of their many depositors who love the Earth and their fellow Filipinos.
We laud the initiative of some Philippine banks in increasing their funding for renewable energy projects. Yet there are still no categorical pronouncements from these banks that they will transition into completely abandoning coal. No target dates have been made for such abandonment.
Globally, many banks and financial institutions, including HSBC and ING, have stopped funding coal projects, yet remain profitable. This was mostly done by shifting toward cleaner, more sustainable renewable energy. There is no reason Philippine banks can’t succeed without coal. This is a time to prove their slogans true—that we’re “in good hands,” and that they “find ways” to “make it easy.”
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Bishop Broderick Pabillo is auxiliary bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Manila.
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