Speak out: The time is now to withdraw from coal

Bishop Gerardo Alminaza

THE decade of 2020s marks an important period in our history, as experts have predicted it to be the last decade we have left to limit global temperature rise before the impacts of climate change become too much to be effectively mitigated. This could only lead to further degradation of our Common Home and the suffering of billions, especially the poorest and the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters.

Never before has the urgency to act on the climate emergency been more evident. People of all class, nationality, age, and faith, are all called to be stewards of Creation and prevent its further destruction in ways we were enabled to.

For far too long, the banking sector has played a major role in environmental destruction in the Philippines. This involves their financing of the fossil fuel industry, especially coal-fired power plants. Billions of pesos have been spent on coal projects that claimed to want to simply provide energy and improve the quality of life for millions of Filipinos. Instead, these endeavors heavily caused the pollution of land, water, and air due to emissions, in addition to marring the face of the Earth because of destructive mining to extract coal.

Money could be an instrument to drive inclusive growth, a means to an end that places the dignity of life and integrity of Creation first. Instead, it has become the ends for many financial institutions, ignoring the long-term risks in reckless pursuit of short-term profits. In recognition of the urgency to solve the climate crisis, we reiterate our call on the major Philippine banks to divest from fossil fuels, especially coal.

Globally, many from the banking sector are heeding the call to divest from coal and other fossil fuels. As of 2019, over USD12 trillion worth of assets have been divested from fossil fuels through the initiative of 1200 institutions and nearly 58 thousand individual investors who were moved by the voices of those calling for coal's end. In fact, the past five years have seen most rapid growth of the divestment movement in history.

Slowly but surely, some of the world's biggest banks have announced or already begun their shift away from dirty energy. Last November, the European Investment Bank, the world's largest public bank, committed to stop financing most oil and coal projects by 2021.

Given these developments, there is no excuse for Philippine banks not to make commitments that are just as strong or even greater. Now more than ever, we need these banks to make crucial reforms in their policies and become responsible to the welfare of their depositors and investors.

First, Philippine banks must commit to long-term timelines and targets for divesting from coal. These strategies must be aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which envision a healthier world similar to that called for by the Holy Father Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si'. These must prioritize a fair and just transition to renewable energy development, of which the Philippines has a tremendous yet unrealized potential.

We, as leaders and servants of the Church, also stand by our collective declaration for divestment. As stated in the pastoral letter of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines published last July, we will no longer allow the resources graciously supplied to the Church by our Father above to be used for destructive industries such as coal and extractive activities. Some of our brothers and sisters have been in the frontlines of the fight against coal -- an example of courage and faith we must follow as we deal with the climate emergency.

Finally, we appeal to fellow depositors and investors supporting these banks to be unafraid to let our love for our Common Home be heard. It is not just the future of the money we have entrusted to them that is of concern, but also the future of our loved ones and generations to come. We must let our banks know that fueling growth with dirty energy that destroys the very future we are investing in is not how we want our money to be used.

Too many people have endured the impacts of destructive energy. Filipinos have suffered more than enough from the consequences of unsustainable banking.

The time to withdraw from coal is now.