[OPINION] We need a break…from rising oil and electricity prices

Get ready: a (expensive) summer is coming.

Our lives for the next few months will not only be affected by election season. Diesel and gasoline prices have steadily increased every week this year. Our electricity rates are already among the highest in Asia.

As if the burden on us consumers wasn’t already more than enough, more price hikes are coming soon.

Diesel and petrol prices could rise to P12 and P9 per litre, respectively, according to industry sources. These massive increases are the result of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, one of the world’s leading oil producers. With economic sanctions imposed by some developed countries, rates in the Philippines, a net oil importer, reacted to more expensive products on the world market.

That said, prices for gasoline, diesel and other petroleum products are already significantly higher than before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. While rates initially fell due to shutdowns and the resulting decline in demand for petroleum products, they eventually rose as the global and domestic economies recovered over the past two years. This is amplified by the weakening of the value of the peso against the dollar, another impact of the said health crisis.

Meanwhile, Meralco has already advised the public to expect further electricity rate increases in the coming months. In addition to the depreciation of the peso and the increase in fuel prices, the usual increase in energy demand during the summer months and scheduled shutdowns for maintenance of some coal-fired power plants are also cited as reasons for this development.

But wait, there’s more! Some of the coal-fired power plants, which currently provide more than half of national electricity production, are old, making them prone to unplanned shutdowns that threaten our electricity supply. Coal, like oil, is also mainly imported from other countries, which makes local tariffs just as sensitive to changes in the global market.

In other words, we consumers have to worry not only about higher electricity costs, but also about a possible power shortage during the hottest months of the year.

These trends show us the need to urgently avoid the old normal defined by our reliance on fossil fuels. In times of crisis, our prolonged reliance on dirty coal and oil energy would result in more costs than just higher expenses.

Prices of staples such as rice, meat, fruits and vegetables would also increase. Workers who have welcomed face-to-face engagements again may have to rely on the work-from-home setup again. Families planning a summer vacation may need to rethink their budget. The sense of normalcy that was slowly returning to the daily lives of many Filipinos could once again be washed away.

On a larger scale, the pandemic has revealed just how precarious our energy sector is. The rigidity of our electricity networks and our heavy dependence on imported fuels have made our energy systems, and therefore our economy, vulnerable to drastic price increases.

Not to mention how the Philippines, one of the countries most vulnerable to man-made climate change, is ironically overly dependent on fossil fuels, the very cause of this crisis.

And who suffers most from the impacts of our leaders’ failure to liberate our nation from dirty energy? It is the poorest and most marginalized members of our society who would be further trapped in unjust living conditions like unaffordable fuels and goods, power outages and potential damage from extreme weather events.

As fuel prices reach record highs, governments seek solutions

We need real leadership

Our country should use this predicament of the summer with dirty energy as a basis to further develop our renewable energy resources and strengthen energy security and self-sufficiency. The next group of elected government officials must prioritize the development of cleaner and more sustainable energy sources like solar, wind and hydropower for a more flexible and user-friendly energy sector.

We also need to see our leaders commit to avoiding false solutions. This includes natural gas, which is currently being pushed by many as a transitional fuel as our country tries to phase out coal-fired power plants. Yet natural gas is a fossil fuel, like coal and oil, which currently has to be imported. Investing in this source of energy would only lead us to the same problems that we are currently experiencing.

The public was also advised to practice energy saving measures to reduce costs. Actions such as cycling, traveling using public modes of transportation, and reducing the use of electronic devices could lead to more savings and other health co-benefits for individuals and households.

That said, we consumers cannot always be expected to be the only ones to sacrifice due to the failure of our leaders to implement the right policies and solutions. At some point, our government must live up to its mandates and lead the implementation of an urgent and just transition away from the age of fossil fuels and avoid false solutions like nuclear power.

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We need leadership that initiates the improvement of public transport and active mobility infrastructure, instead of simply reacting to crises. We need leadership that would fully and effectively implement green laws, encourage divestment from fossil fuels and invest in real sustainable solutions instead of waiting over a decade to do so, as is happening. passed with the law on renewable energies.

We need leadership that takes a long-term view of energy security, climate resilience, and sustainable development instead of just providing billions in grants that are quick fixes at best. We need leadership that listens to the cries of the earth and the poor in the face of the demands of corporations, which still make billions during crises while everyone else loses.

More importantly, what we need is a break from rising prices, fossil fuels and an apology. Like a break from a toxic relationship, we’d be better off without them. – Rappler.com

John Leo is the Deputy Executive Director of Programs and Campaigns for Living Laudato Si’ Philippines, a member of the Withdraw from Coal network. He has been representing Philippine civil society at United Nations regional and global climate and environment conferences since 2017. He has been a climate and environment journalist since 2016.

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