By Rene Ofreneo – October 11, 2018
Jobs or environment? The firm answer by environmental advocates is both. One can clean up the environment while preserving existing jobs or creating new and better ones.
And yet, the public is told–by some economic technocrats or vested interest groups – that it is an either-or situation. For example, mining in hazardous areas, done large scale or small, is justified in the name of employment and the survival of poor mining communities.
Another is the Philippine implementation of the 2008 Renewable Energy law, which mandates the government to embrace the renewables (hydro, geothermal, wind, solar) and phase out the nation’s energy dependence on coal and carbon-emitting fossil fuel. The opposite is happening. More and more coal plants are being built based on the seductively simple argument that coal, which is being abandoned worldwide, is a lot cheaper. The country’s highest official even cuts the ceremonial ribbon in the inauguration of the new coal plants.
Still another good example, the lack of progress in the realization of the 2010 Organic Farming law. Estimates by some UP Los Banos agricultural experts indicate that the total agricultural land devoted to organic farming is a measly two percent or so. There are, of course, no government officials openly opposing the shift to organic farming. The problem is that there is no decisive national effort to make the shift happen. Modern organic farming requires more science and, incidentally, more labor inputs. It is, therefore, job-creating. However, chemical agriculture, which requires larger and larger doses of chemical inputs produced by the big corporations, is easier to promote, policy-wise. The national administrative and infra machinery in support of agriculture leans heavily on the propagation of chemical agriculture.
So how does one reconcile job creation and environmental protection? The Center for Energy, Ecology and Development (CEED) has just come up with a good answer – “Just Transition in the Philippines”. It is a term used by the UN development agencies such as the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) to mean the realization of a green or greener economy while sustaining the jobs and welfare requirements of society.
According to CEED, the term “just transition” was coined by trade unionists after the end of World War II, when governments around the world had to face the challenge of creating millions of jobs for those displaced by the war. Today, the trade unions use the term to mean “the transition towards a low‐carbon and climate‐resilient economy that maximizes the benefits of climate action while minimizing hardships for workers and their communities” to be affected during the transition.
For CEED, this necessitates the formulation of a truly “Just Transition” development framework, where the affected workers and groups that are at the forefront of the transition are able to maintain or acquire jobs while gaining a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the employment-environmental nexus at the community and national levels. Just transition means there should be full identification of the affected workers and communities in “transitioning sectors” and creation or development of alternative jobs and livelihoods with living wages for the displaced workers and communities; and government guarantee of universal and equitable access of all to basic energy and electrification requirements. As to host communities hosting fossil fuel projects such as coal plant, just transition means a full-scale program of economic diversification.
Thus, based on the foregoing, CEED is asking: Where is the just transition for the jeepney drivers and operators affected by the ongoing Public Utility Vehicle (PUV) modernization program of the country? How can these drivers and operators afford the stiff price tag of P1.6 million for each e-vehicle meant to supplant each jeepney? As it is, most of the drivers and operators understand the importance of the environment and the need for the nation to get liberated from fossil fuel dependence. However, there is no just transition program in place. No subsidy program for those being asked to make a shift to a greener transport system. As such, the PUV modernization program has become an example of an unjust transition program arbitrarily imposed by government officials on the poor drivers and operators – in the name of environmental protection.
At the macro or national level, CEED is asking the government to be more decisive and forthright on its plans on the renewables and how the nation can get out of its dependence on carbon-emitting fossil fuels. Some specific demands of CEED:
- No new fossil fuel projects to be approved,
- Phasing out of existing projects based on a clear target year (e.g., 2040 or so),
- Formulation of a comprehensive plan for the retirement of the fossil fuel industries (this in accordance with the national commitment to the global target of maintaining the average global temperature below 1.5 degrees from pre-industrial levels),
- Adoption of policies against other harmful energy projects such as nuclear and waste-to-energy incinerations, and
- Full implementation of Renewable Energy policy mechanisms to expedite the development expansion of clean and affordable renewable energy.
Are the DOE and DENR listening to CEED? Do they understand, in the first place, the meaning of just transition?
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