Gerry is a climate and energy campaigner in the Philippines. He started off as a student campaigner and now he’s part of some huge campaign movements who are changing the future. We had a chat with him about what he does and why he does it...
CC: How did you get into climate change campaigning?
GA: I used to be part of student movement, and then I moved into trade unions, and then eventually I became fascinated with environmental issues.
I started to see the impact of climate change in my home town, in my partner’s home town. So that kick started my involvement in the climate justice movement.
CC: What motivates you to keep campaigning?
GA: I’ve got two kids who are very young. I cannot imagine the world they will be living in and then choosing to not do anything about it. So, that’s my personal motivation.
Most of your campaign work is focused around stopping coal plants. What’s the problem with coal?
Coal is really bad. It’s a jurassic energy form, and it’s lived it’s use. Coal is not just dirty because it fuels climate change - and we’re experiencing climate first hand - but it also kills communities. Filipinos are affected by coal plants due to it’s pollution on air and on water. It’s not just dirty, it’s deadly. There’s a study that shows that if we build all the coal plants that are being proposed - 33 new coal plants - more than 2000 people will die every year from premature deaths caused by air pollution.
It’s dirty because it violates human rights. In the Philippines one of our campaigners was executed. That’s how deadly coal is here.
CC: Why is now the time to campaign on coal?
GA: Campaigning sometimes involves picking your time wisely, choosing a moment when you have a realistic chance to convince big companies to change their practices. Now is our time with coal.
The global coal industry is in decline. Everyone is phasing it out, to the extent that even China and India are leading the phase out. Radically and massively. This isn’t a natural death, it’s a planned death. Globally, coal is in decline. 62% of new coal projects have been shelved and 19% of those under construction have been shelved of temporarily delayed. That’s pretty significant.
And yet, in South East Asia 100GW of new coal expansion is being planned. That’s 75% of all coal expansion globally. Most of these are being funded by commercial banks, especially banks in Europe. So, I believe that the final outcome on whether coal will live or die will be decided in South East Asia.
Coal is in decline. That’s why now is the time to convince banks to divest.
CC: HSBC is one of our UK banks who fund coal plants. If you could sit down with the board, what would you say to them?
GA: I’d tell them two things. One, risk: financial risk. They have to take into consideration that there’s a massive decline - this is not an energy of the future. Most of these coal plants will be under utilised, they will be a burden on governments and tax payers to repay the contracts. That in itself entails a lot of risk.
Not to mention the climate risk. Imagine if you fund coal plants but then you also have to fund insurance so businesses can cope with the impacts of climate change. That’s a contradiction. It doesn’t make any sense.
One way or another, the impacts are far greater than the profits you’ll make.
Two: financial opportunity. This is an opportunity to invest in an energy of the future. It’s got so many benefits; on health, on climate, on communities, on water etc. It’s a matter of human survival at the end of the day and the decisions that we make now - even for financial institutions - has big repercussions for the next generation.
CC: Why is it important for us to campaign to our banks in the UK?
GA: For the Philippines, it’s a matter of life and death, especially during the typhoon season.
Every action, every step, whether it’s from the global north or the global south, is important. There needs to be interconnectivity and collaboration between the two.
All and any intervention to curb investments and support for coal projects, especially those in the global south, is a must. We have to address the biggest problem of humanity, which, right now, is climate change.
CC: Why do you think university students should get involved?
GA: At the end of the day, it’s their future.
Here in the Philippines I’ve noticed that it’s the student body, the youth, that embrace is fastest. Either because they’ve seen their families being directly impacted or because they care about the future. They just want action! And they want it now, because they know things that will be decided today will actually either condemn them or make a better future.
CC: Do you have one last message for us?
GA: Our message to the commercial banks and financial institutions - and the people of Europe who se money is in those banks - is that your investment in these projects means life and death to Filipinos who are feeling the brunt, not just of climate change, but the pollution and wanton destruction of communities and environments here in the Philippines.
This is a matter of humanity’s survival.