You have to congratulate the brains behind “Clean Coal” for cleverly marrying two words that are not compatible, at least not yet. The word “clean” is not something that comes to mind when coal is discussed, and “clean” should definitely not be associated with acid rain, perilous mines, lung cancer, skin diseases, mercury contamination and climate change. "Defo not," as the kids say these days. Unfortunately, “Clean Coal” is so popular that it is discussed by politicians as if it already exists. The fact is, this is but a distant dream.

I understand the business logic of this campaign. I understand that there is a need to endorse the fantasy that coal is clean or has the potential to be because an illusion like that justifies the many coal-fired power plants that we now have in this country and those that are currently being built. Coal-fired power plants are springing up like mushrooms and this is not just happening in the Philippines but in many parts of Southeast Asia and the global south.

A Dirty Lie

The Asian Development Bank (ADB), an organization whose mission is to help improve the quality of life of its member countries’ citizens, is a staunch advocate of clean coal. Circulating Fluidized Bed (CFB) Combustion Technology is not clean at all. It does not arrest carbon dioxide emissions or prevent carcinogens and neurotoxins from mixing with the air we breathe.

According to the Request for Compliance Review submitted by Naga City, Cebu residents against the Visayas Base-load Power Development Project in May of 2011, plants that use the technology produce more coal combustion waste per megawatt of electricity. To be specific, the technology produces four times more waste than your conventional coal-fired plants. The Visayas Base-load Power Development Project is funded by the ADB to the address electricity shortage in the region.

Despite talks about decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, we are burning more coal by the minute. The ADB  is contributing to this mess. The organization invested $3.9 billion (P194 billion) in coal-fired power plants between 1994 and 2012 making it one of the biggest international financiers of dirty energy.

Cleaner Coal and Climate Change

Many talk about post-combustion carbon capture and carbon dioxide (CO2) removal before combustion as good solutions for coal-related emissions. It is very unfortunate that they are not as efficient as we’d want them to be and are also incredibly expensive. Some say that it’s better than nothing but take note of this. For post-combustion carbon capture to work, you would need a lot of steam to recover carbon dioxide. This makes power plants less efficient. For those in the energy industry, this isn’t exactly ideal. The bottom line, after all, is the priority.

Some of my scientist friends are pro carbon capture though. This may be the best solution yet but the bad news is, utilities won’t be too happy to monitor and maintain their underground carbon dioxide storage forever. Another bad news is carbon capture technology will only become mainstream in a few decades. We can’t wait for a few decades more because it will already be too late.

In fact, we may already be too late. The impacts of coal on the environment is now more frequent and extreme. Typhoon Haiyan, for example, resulted in billions of dollars in losses. Hurricane Sandy, on the other hand, cost the US an estimated $65 billion (P3.23 trillion) while the Plains Droughts that happened in the same year resulted to $35 billion (P1.74 trillion) in losses. The winter floods in the UK back in 2014 cost British insurers a whopping $2 billion (P99 billion).

It’s not just about the money. Coal accounts for about 72 percent of electric-related carbon dioxide emissions. Studies in the EU, the US, India and China also indicate that over 400, 000 people die prematurely per year because of these power plants.

Will Coal Fuel Development?

Governments keep saying that coal is needed to pave the way for faster economic development. While I know that clean energy cannot replace coal as fast as we’d want it to, it may be time to set our priorities straight. Do we want economic development at the expense of the environment and our children’s future? Or do we increase our reliance on clean energy to save the planet we live in?

What Should We Do?

Our call is very clear. We want public finance to stop funding coal and for financiers to invest in renewable energy.  Many financial institutions have already adopted policies that restrict banks from financing coal-fired power plants. In 2013, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the World Bank, and the European Investment Bank (EIB) did just that. The ADB  should do the same. 

Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the views of IBT Media.

Sigrid Salucop is a policy analyst and a fourth generation winemaker from Ilocos Norte. She built her wine company in 2014. Visit her Facebook page here .

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