Catholic leaders in the Philippines are pressurising their government to drop coal by working with activists and even installing solar panels on church roofs, reports The Guardian.
In June, the Church in the Philippines joined the One Million Against Coal Campaign, which aims to gather at least one million signatures nationwide in a bid to pressure the government to reverse the approval of dozens of coal power plants meant to address the country’s energy security concerns.
“We are strongly opposing coal energy because of its negative effects on the health of the people and the environment. Coal plants are the primary cause of global warming,” says Fr Edwin Gariguez, executive director of Caritas Philippines' National Secretariat for Social Action, the Church’s social action arm.
The petition was announced days before Pope Francis called on the world to phase out the use of fossil fuels in his powerful 180-page Encyclical, Laudato Si'. on the environment. Fr Gariguez told The Guardian the Encyclical confirms they’re on the right track.
Although much of the Church’s effort has centred on opposing fossil fuels, it’s taking a two-pronged approach to include clean energy use.
For instance, one project – a proposed 1,200-megawatt (MW) coal plant in Atimonan, 170km south of capital Manila – has met strong protests from locals, led by church leaders. These leaders are paving the way for renewable energy use by installing solar panels at their parish church.
“We’re encouraging our communities to adopt renewable energy sources by setting an example. This has not been cascaded to all Catholic churches nationwide, but that’s our hope. We’ll include this as part of our best practices,” Gariguez explains.
Yet there are challenges. Fr Gariguez said the Church doesn’t have the funds to make renewable energy use a widespread effort. That’s why it’s turning to groups that may be able to help out.
Fr Gariguez is in talks with a Norway-based NGO focussing on solar energy about a partnership to promote renewable energy use in off-grid and remote communities in the Philippines. If it works out – Fr Gariguez declined to identify which group they’re talking to saying the negotiations are all still “exploratory” – the project will involve installing solar panels in schools and health districts.
“This is a step. We’re doing something,” he says.
The Church plays a prominent role in the Philippines. With 76 million members, accounting for roughly 80% of the population – the biggest in Asia, it has the ability to influence public debate on any issue.