Catholic bishop calls on banks to stop funding coal operations
BACOLOD CITY –– A Roman Catholic bishop, who has been at the forefront of the campaign to save the environment, is urging Philippine financial institutions to stop funding the expansion of coal operations in the country and instead support the development of renewable energy.
“As the fulfillment of their moral obligation, Philippine banks must have concrete plans to phase out coal finance in the time required by today’s climate crisis,” said Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of the Diocese of San Carlos in Negros Occidental.
“They (banks) must have clear policies restricting their exposure to coal, channeling the funds they divest from it into clean and affordable renewable energy for all Filipinos,” said Alminaza.
Alminaza said he made the call during the 3rd Philippine Environment Summit at the Grand Caprice Convention Center in Cagayan de Oro, on Friday where he represented the Withdraw- From-Coal Campaign.
Current initiatives contributing to the country’s social and economic development while conserving the environment were tackled at the summit during the two-day summit that ended on February 28.
In his speech, Alminaza praised President Duterte’s directive to “fast-track” the development of renewable energy resources and reduce dependency on coal during the State of Nation Address in 2019.
But the bishop also pointed out that the continuing dominance of coal in the country’s energy mix called for even more ambitious ways forward from different sectors, including the finance industry.
In fact, he said, the Department of Energy has 29 approved coal plants in the pipeline, one of which is in San Carlos City, the seat of his diocese.
The bishop has been leading a campaign against the planned construction of the 300-megawatt (MW) coal plant by San Miguel Corp. Global Power Holdings Corporation.
“Banks financing coal is not only funding the climate crisis, but they are also enabling the continued suffering of coal-affected communities,” he stressed.
In a statement, the Withdraw-From-Coal Campaign said the country had 16 new coal-fired power plants in the last decade.
Still, it added, the Philippines was looking to add a total of 12,014 MW of new coal power, making it the ninth biggest coal expansionist in the world as of 2019.
The statement said 13 local banks had been identified to have loaned or underwritten $6.303 billion to coal interests from 2017 to the third quarter of 2019.
Two of these banks, Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) and Banco de Oro account for nearly 55 percent of this finance, the statement said.
Alminaza said that since the Philippines was one of the most vulnerable nations to climate change, the country must lead in phasing out coal while financial institutions must take their role in it seriously.
Launched in Manila in January and in the Visayas in February, “Withdraw from Coal” is a campaign spearheaded by the Church, civil society, and people’s organizations urging Philippine banks to divest from businesses involved in coal power generation and coal extraction.
During the summit, a petition letter addressed to the BPI, the bank with which many Church organizations have financial relations to, was also circulated, and was signed by hundreds of participants, including Bishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan De Oro.
“Our money as depositors and shareholders are being used to fund coal-fired power plants that produce overpriced- electricity while polluting the air and ground, poisoning our people. Let us put a stop to this,” said the letter.
“The idea of divestment is not radical or impossible. Around the world, many banks and financial institutions have withdrawn funding for coal-fired power plants,” it added.
The letter strongly recommended that Church investments and deposits be used to promote renewable energy instead./lzb
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