AS THE climate talks in Bonn conclude, the Philippines will play a key role in achieving further progress when it comes to the operationalization of the Paris agreement. While issues such as loss and damage and climate justice have been at the forefront given recent worldwide events, reducing greenhouse gas emissions remains the most critical issue to be tackled.

On the issue of mitigation, the Philippines stands with other developing nations to receive enhanced support from developed countries to achieve lower carbon emissions. This support refers to the delivery on the commitment on the means of implementation (i.e. climate finance, technology transfer and development, capacity building) under the international accord.

In its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) under the treaty, the country aims a 70 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, with aid from developed nations. Current plans consider having five percent of these reductions to be enacted without such assistance. The NDCs are pending submission to the United Nations and then to be institutionalized to be an official part of national laws.

Toward an undesirable path

The impact of the outcome of these negotiations on the Philippines' ability to reduce its emissions cannot be understated. Despite the Philippines contributing less than one percent of the global carbon emissions as of 2013, it is the 39th biggest emitter among all nations. This places the country in a position to implement strong mitigation measures, especially on sectors with the highest emissions.

Currently, the Philippines has 18765 MW of installed capacity, with two-thirds of the national energy mix coming from oil, coal, and natural gas. Renewable energy mainly comes from hydro (19 percent) and geothermal energy (10 percent), and solar, wind, and biomass energy constitute only five percent.

With the increase in infrastructure building and production capacity in the next few decades, the country aims to create an additional 43765 MW of energy capacity by 2040. Higher temperatures will also lead to increased electricity consumption. In 2016, a higher use of cooling systems, especially during the El Niño months, contributed to a 9.4-percent increase in electricity consumption.

To meet this target, the National Government is looking to rely on fossil fuels. Current plans will see oil (35.4 percent), coal (29.6 percent), and natural gas (12.4 percent) have an increased share of the primary energy supply by 2040.

The current project pipeline is dominated by investments in new coal-fired power plants. The Philippines has 10423 MW of pending coal expansion, largely from imports that constitute 80 percent of its coal requirements. Collectively, these facilities will contribute to meeting the 70 percent base-load requirement by 2040. In contrast, current renewable energy projects only total 755 MW, mostly in the form of hydropower and solar energy.

With the projected massive increase in energy capacity, the country will place its future development on imports, which could be unreliable during times of political or economic crises. In addition, its carbon emissions are projected to be four times their current levels by 2050.

By placing its future growth on dirty energy contrary to the rest of the world, the Philippines is positioning itself to fall short of its 70 percent reduction target on carbon emissions by 2030 and render its climate negotiation efforts almost pointless.

Challenges to implementation

Nevertheless, this is merely one facet of the mitigation issue in the country. While the energy sector (36 percent) emits the highest levels of greenhouse gas emissions, the agriculture (31 percent), transport, (16 percent), and waste (10 percent) sectors also need significant interventions.

"Mitigation is not just on energy emissions reductions," said Rodne Galicha, branch manager of the Climate Reality Project Philippines and a member of the Philippine delegation to COP 23. "There are mitigation options such as what industries to focus on. Once the NDC is institutionalized, we will be bound by our own laws or policies when it comes to these measures."

Despite these challenges, attaining the NDC targets remain probable, per Galicha. However, it will take some changes in the priorities and attitude of the incumbent leadership toward mitigation, as well as increased collaboration among the national agencies, local government units, private sector, and local communities in implementing programs.

"Politically, it will need some policy reforms within our institutions for our NDC to be implemented. To strengthen our commitment, there may be a need for new policies to be institutionalized and implemented by our government agencies," he said.

One such change is an improved data collection and management system, which is vital for formulating mitigation policies. Higher resource investments in the science and technology sector and improved communication systems among government units and other sectors are needed for developing the appropriate actions in line with national targets.

Specifically, Galicha pointed out the need to update the national greenhouse gas emissions inventory to provide a clearer picture of which industries to focus on mitigation.

"How can you mitigate if you don't know your level of emissions? What period does our current data entail? It should be science-based, not only projections, but also probabilistic scenarios as well," he said.

As 2020 quickly approaches, the world is running out of time to achieve the 1.5-degree temperature limit under the Paris agreement. If carbon emissions are not stabilized by this point, there is no telling how the entire planet will be impacted by climate change.

Despite this, Galicha remains hopeful. "We hope that all the things discussed during COP 23 will be adopted and formalized. But it starts with countries recognizing the need to reduce their emissions and simply doing it," he said.

For the Philippines, this has never been a more urgent course of action. (John Leo C. Algo)