Countries need to invest in disaster readiness & clean energy

The last three years will be remembered for deadly climate-related disasters:  great floods in Thailand, Hurricane Sandy in the United States and Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. The message for 2014 is clear: we must do much more to prepare for disasters before they strike and not only react after the fact. The Asian Development Bank says we need to rebuild better in anticipation, but such preparedness lags because these disasters still tend to be viewed as one-off acts of nature rather than systematic recurrences. Countries also need to help mitigate climate change, most importantly by shifting to a low-carbon economy. Investment in renewable energy is one answer, as the Philippines is starting to show. Read More

Bangkok Post (10 January 2014):

By Vinod Thomas is Director-General of Independent Evaluation at the Asian Development Bank..

The last three years will be remembered for deadly climate-related disasters, among them the great floods in Thailand in 2011, Hurricane Sandy in the United States in 2012 and Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013. The message for 2014 is clear: we must do much more to prepare for disasters before they strike and not only react after the fact.

The immediate priority after a disaster occurs is relief and recovery for the affected. At the same time, a crucial lesson is to recover with care and to rebuild better in anticipation of future events. But such preparedness lags because these disasters still tend to be viewed as one-off acts of nature rather than systematic recurrences.

Three factors make for more frequent repeats of these events globally: people’s exposure, their vulnerability and the intensity of the hazards. Rising populations have meant that more people are living in harm’s way, for example, in low-lying coastal areas.

Environmental degradation, for instance, deforestation, has left communities vulnerable. And global warming is amplifying the power of hazards everywhere.

Just as governments try to cushion financial shocks, so too should they invest in cutting disaster risk, as its consequences are just as grave. Thailand’s floods cost the economy an estimated $46.5 billion (1.5 trillion baht) in damages and production losses, showing how disasters can affect regional and global supply chains after flooding stopped production in computer and car factories. The estimated damage caused by Hurricane Sandy totalled $68 billion.

Yet dealing with natural disasters is still largely considered a cost to be borne after calamity strikes, rather than an investment to confront a growing threat. Disaster risk reduction accounts for just 40 cents of every $100 in total international development aid. For governments, one recommended level of spending in this respect is 1% to 2% of national budgets. More important than the exact percentages is promoting their effective use.

Among the most important investments is to make resilient the infrastructure for water, hospitals and evacuation centres. From Asia to Latin America, breaks in these lifelines are a major cause of the desperation that often follows weather disasters and earthquakes. The seismic retrofitting of hospitals in Sendai, Japan, enabled them to continue functioning after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake. Disaster-proofing hospitals by one measure adds less than a tenth to the cost of new hospitals, while rebuilding a destroyed hospital virtually doubles its initial cost.

Building and rebuilding activities need to consider better standards for disaster resilience. At risk are coastal cities in the path of typhoons, such as Tacloban in the central Philippines, devastated by Typhoon Haiyan’s storm surge, and flood-prone cities such as Mumbai, where record breaking rains in 2005 took several hundred lives in monsoon floods.

Countries also need to help mitigate climate change, most importantly by shifting to a low-carbon economy. Gains would accrue to economies at all stages of development, as all are under threat from climate change. For instance, Bangkok and Manila as well as Los Angeles and Tokyo are in the top-ten lists of cities at risk from different natural disasters.

Not one country typifies good practices, but there are examples to build on. Bangladesh spent $10 billion in the past four decades on cyclone readiness, including early warning, disaster resilient shelters, and embankment protection. So while over 300,000 people were killed in Cyclone Bhola in 1970, the death toll from an even stronger cyclone in 2007 was around 4,000. Capacity to respond is extremely vital as shown by the experience of Malaysia and Singapore with search and rescue. Thailand, in the wake of the 2011 floods, promoted catastrophe insurance for small businesses, while in Turkey earthquake insurance is compulsory. Investments to reduce risks have risen in Indonesia and the Philippines, where a high-level inter-ministerial council manages disaster risk reduction.

It is no longer far-fetched to think that Southeast Asia could see two events like the Thai floods in one monsoon season, or the 2009 Typhoon Ketsana which dumped more water on Manila in hours than normal in a month. Preparing for such scenarios means spending more and better ahead of disasters, combining preparation and prevention with relief and recovery.


DOE to add more renewable energy in grid by 2014

by  Pia Ranada (12 December 2013):


MANILA, Philippines – In 2014, enough renewable energy to power 126,700 households will feed into the National Power Grid, a first step for the Philippines in its pursuit of energy self-sufficiency and green energy.

During a December 3 press conference, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced it just approved various renewable energy developers to generate 633.5 megawatts (MW) of electricity which will make its way to the country’s power mix sometime in 2014.

Most of the approved projects are wind (339.5 MW) and solar (80 MW), types of renewable energy which do not exist or are negligible in the country’s current power supply. To date, only the Bangui Bay Wind Power Project in Ilocos Norte (33 MW) and the CEPALCO Solar Power Plant in Cagayan de Oro (1 MW) supply wind and solar energy to the grid.

The approval of these RE projects is to fulfill the Renewable Energy Act of 2008 which mandates that the government develop the country’s renewable energy resources to promote a shift to more sustainable, reliable and affordable energy.

The announcement comes a month after clean energy advocates criticized the DOE for its slow implementation of the Renewable Energy Act and approval of 17 additional coal-fired plants.

The approved renewable energy developers are now aggressively pursuing the construction of their projects to benefit from the feed-in-tariff (FiT) rates put in place by the DOE.

FiT rates are guaranteed fixed prices for RE energy applicable for 20 years that assure the RE developers they will earn and recover their expenses.

The DOE also activated other fiscal incentives to attract more RE developers to the Philippines, said Mario Marasigan, director of the Renewable Energy Management Bureau of the DOE.

“All RE developers are enjoying income tax holidays for 7 years and then when that’s finished, they pay an income tax rate of only 10%. If they procure your technologies from abroad, they get duty-free importation for 10 years. If before, 60% of the net income goes to the government, the RE law changes that to 1% of the gross income.”

RE is unlimited, clean and free compared to depletable, dirty and expensive fossil fuel energy.

The country’s dependence on fossil fuel energy has made the price of electricity in the Philippines among the highest in Asia. This is because we get our energy from imported coal and natural gas which exposes prices consumers pay to volatile international oil prices.

Prices for coal have more than doubled since 2010 and are expected to rise, according to the International Energy Agency. Around 67% of power in the Philippines is sourced from fossil fuels like coal and natural gas, which, aside from being expensive, are also depletable resources. One day, the world will run out of them.

Coal also has many costs which don’t figure in the electricity bill but are paid by society in other ways.

Fossil fuel energy is the world’s leading carbon emitting technology spewing toxic gases in the air. Air pollution costs the Philippine economy around P65.6 billion annually. Around 5,000 premature deaths may be due to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases from Manila air pollution alone, according to a study by Greenpeace.

RE has huge potential to create more jobs in the Philippines. It has already created more than 5 million jobs all over the world. A single 10MW solar plant hires 1,000 people for construction and 100 full-time employees while one geothermal plant alone hires 2,582 employees, according to a 2012 Greenpeace study. Seven biomass projects can generate around 78,000 jobs.


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