Perils of coal dependency for PH, region | Inquirer Opinion
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Perils of coal dependency for PH, region

A London-based think tank has raised the alarm about the increased use of coal, the dirtiest fuel of all, and the failure to ramp up the development of renewable energy to meet the growing energy demands in Southeast Asia.

There are laudable efforts to develop renewable energy, but the Philippines is still one of the laggards in the race to wean the world from fossil fuel dependence. In fact, the Philippines and Indonesia are the two most dependent countries on coal in Southeast Asia.

Last Tuesday, the Inquirer reported that the reliance on coal for electricity generation in both countries rapidly grew in 2023, with both countries overtaking Poland and China in coal dependency (“Coal reliance growing in Philippines, Indonesia—report,” This disturbing report was based on a study by Ember, a London-based climate and energy think tank that aims to accelerate the world’s clean energy transition. (You can access Ember’s study here:

According to Ember, the share of coal in the Philippine electricity mix rose by 2.9 percentage points, from 59.1 percent in 2022 to 61.9 percent in 2023, compared with Indonesia’s 61.8 percent. The rest of Southeast Asia increased by 2 percentage points (from 31 percent in 2022 to 33 percent in 2023).


However, Ember fails to provide a wider context for the dependence on coal worldwide. Data from showed that in absolute terms, China is still the world’s largest coal dependent as it has comprised more than half of global consumption since 2011.

The Philippines and Indonesia are using more coal due to their growing electricity demand as their economies grow rapidly. The Philippine economy grew by 5.6 percent in 2023, becoming the fastest-growing economy in Southeast Asia. Vietnam registered a GDP growth of 5.1 percent, while Indonesia came in third with a 5-percent growth.

To curb the rapid growth of the Philippines and Indonesia’s dependence on coal, Ember suggests a sustainable way to stop this trend without compromising economic growth. “Faster renewable growth is needed to meet growing electricity demand,” said Ember, pointing out that the “slow growth in renewable electricity” is behind the increasing demand for coal.

The drawback of coal is that it produces more carbon dioxide when burned than oil or natural gas, resulting in more heat-trapping gases being generated.


Besides being the single biggest cause of global temperature rise, coal burning emits large amounts of toxic heavy metals such as sulfur dioxide (contributes to acid rain and respiratory illnesses); nitrogen oxides (smog and respiratory illnesses); particulates (smog, haze, respiratory illnesses, and lung disease); mercury and other heavy metals (neurological and developmental damage in humans and animals); and fly ash and bottom ash (pollution).

Diversified energy mix. Coal supplies about 62 percent of our country’s power needs, while renewables contribute only 22 percent to the power mix. But we’re finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel amid big business’ efforts to transition away from fossil fuels in line with the 2008 Renewable Energy Act and the 2015 Paris Agreement.


A case in point is AboitizPower Corp., which is diversifying its energy mix by including renewable energy sources such as solar, geothermal, hydropower, and wind.

By the end of 2023, together with its partners and in terms of installed capacity, it was the largest renewable energy operator in the country. With 72 percent of its capital expenditures in 2024 devoted to building more renewable energy capacity, it aims to achieve a 50-50 mix of renewable energy and fossil fuel in the next 10 years.

The pathway to developing clean fuel was set by AboitizPower in 2021 in response to the government’s goal for renewables to comprise 50 percent of power generation by 2040. But, like its counterparts in the energy sector, it runs several coal-fired power plants.

Suiee Suarez, the vice president for corporate affairs of AboitizPower, told this columnist the common limitations in producing renewable energy. One issue is variability (dry seasons’ impact on hydropower and cloudy weather effects on solar power performance), the logistics involved in transporting the rotor blades of large wind turbines up the mountains, and the insufficient transmission infrastructure.

But there’s a lot of demand for renewables from companies like Nestlé and Ayala Land. To achieve 100 percent renewable energy use, Suarez outlined three requirements: renewable energy generation that can meet all energy demands, cheap fuel storage, and carbon capture. From his responses, it’s evident that the full development of our renewable energy sources, which Ember claims are mostly untapped, is being seriously considered and pursued.


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