Laurence Delina was born to a family of farmers in South Cotabato. He and his two other brothers were fed, clothed and educated using money earned from their parents’ rice fields.
Growing up in a farming community showed Delina, who from being a civil engineer shifted to pursuing sustainability science, how life-threatening the effects of climate change can be.
“If you remember in 2016 in Kidapawan. There was prolonged El Nino, prolonged drought,” he told ABS-CBN. “There was no harvest. (My relatives) had to move out of town and find work elsewhere.”
The drought and the resulting widespread hunger in the province also forced thousands of farmers to protest against perceived government inaction. More than 100 farmers were injured and at least three were killed during a melee with the police.
At that time, Delina was already working abroad but he had kept tabs on his home country, drawing inspiration from his countrymen’s experiences for his climate change studies.
“(Climate change) has multiple impacts. It’s not just agricultural produce that will be deeply impacted,” he said, explaining that it can result in social conflict and inequalities. “People became violent because of that. They have nothing to eat.”
Now, Delina is among global experts pushing for rapid climate mitigation, including a full transition to renewable energy for countries like the Philippines.
As part of the Balik Scientist program of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Delina spent the last few weeks giving talks in universities and drawing up plans for sustainable projects, including one on climate resilient energy systems for typhoon-prone islands.
The Balik Scientist program enables Filipino scientists like Delina, who has served as a visiting fellow in institutions such as Harvard University and Boston University, to return to the Philippines to share their expertise and promote scientific and economic development.
Delina’s visit to the Philippines coincided with this year’s climate change negotiations held in Madrid. This year’s negotiations attempted to improve on the Paris Agreement, which was passed in 2015 in a bid to curb global greenhouse gas emissions. Studies have projected that nations will need to phase-out coal and other carbon emitting energy sources in one or two decades to minimize the severe effects of climate change. However, experts say that many countries, including the Philippines, are projected to overshoot their targets because of insufficient action.
On his last day in the Philippines on Thursday, Delina spoke at the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Engineering on how countries can accelerate their energy transition from fossil fuels to 100 percent renewable energy to meet global deadlines.
Delina said countries like the Philippines will have to shift 100 percent to renewable energy.
“Solar, wind, hydro and geothermal. It should be a mix,” said Delina, who took his PhD from the Institute of Environmental Studies in University of New South Wales. “It depends on what the resources are for a specific geography. It should really be decentralized.”
Delina explained that the Philippine government has been too focused on large infrastructure when there is also a big need for smaller energy systems to serve remote areas like typhoon-prone islands.
He envisions a 10-year program that will see consumers shift to solar or wind systems installed on their houses.
“These houses can get income because they invested in small-scale (renewable energy systems),” he said. “They can sell (the excess energy) back to the grid.”
“The future will be decentralized and more democratized” because of that, he said.
Delina believes that nuclear energy is not the way to go. In addition to the fact that it takes more than a decade to develop a nuclear plant, he said there is also the problem of nuclear proliferation for armament.
“Nuclear energy is not the future of energy for the country because many nuclear-powered countries (like Germany) are already moving to renewable energy,” he said.
Another factor that will be necessary, Delina said, is the ramping up of resources similar to times of war.
In his book “Strategies for Rapid Climate Mitigation: Wartime mobilization as a model for action?” Delina drew lessons from the experiences of nations during wartime.
“The model actually just suggests that government has a central role to play in the transition,” Delina told ABS-CBN. “It’s the government who did all these things to produce wartime munitions. They had to issue new financing mechanisms in order to mobilize capital and they did it really really quickly to produce this large volume of capital.”
“It’s a tremendous opportunity to learn from that lesson and apply it to our contemporary challenge (of climate change),” he said.
Transitioning to cleaner energy has been a struggle for developing countries like the Philippines. Many are still dependent on coal, which used to be cheaper. Delina pointed out, however, that renewable energy rates are dropping. Soon, he said, coal prices will surpass that of cleaner sources.
However, developing countries still need resources and technology. This is among the key topics during the climate negotiations in Madrid. Many groups considered it a failure after nations were not able to find common ground, especially on how to finance the adaptation of climate-vulnerable countries.
Delina said it’s important for the Philippines not to be left out as other countries shift to cleaner technology.
“It’s not just about climate, not just about peaking coal,” he said. “You would be able to address all the sustainable development goals (SDG) if you transition.”
The SDGs, which includes zero hunger, good health and sustainable cities, have been adopted by all United Nations members such as the Philippines.
Delina said failing to transition in time will also have negative impacts on the Philippines’ competitiveness.
“The cost of doing business in the Philippines will be bigger than the cost of doing business in our neighboring countries,” he said, explaining how renewable will bring down the cost of electricity in the future.
Delina said the first step for the Philippines is to acknowledge that “we are on the wrong track.”
“Let’s think about the future of future Filipinos, children who have yet to be born. People who live in low-lying islands. And farmers affected by long-term drought,” he said.
While Delina has returned to Hong Kong to teach at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, he hopes to return to the Philippines soon to push through with his proposed project on energy systems for off-grid islands.