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Playing catch-up with climate change

One good thing going on for us in this world threatened by climate change is technology that is growing at an exponential rate.

Even so, we in Cebu, in fact in the entire country, are playing catch-up. A case in point is the implementation of the Bus Rapid Transit system.

The BRT had been planned a long time ago, ever since city planners learned about its success in Curitiba in Brazil, and Bogota in Colombia. But it is only now that we are seeing the early stages of its implementation.

Upon the invitation of former councilor Alvin Dizon, I had a chance to sit down in a multi-sectoral dialogue on the BRT organized by the Pagtambayayong Foundation which was held at the University of San Carlos last Tuesday. There I learned from the proponents of the BRT things that are not usually highlighted in the media amid the controversy stirred up by the plan to cut or earthball around 2,000 trees standing along the project's way.

Cebu City Administrator Nigel Paul Villarete said that the BRT is not actually a transport project but an environmental project. Proof of this is that its funding came from the Clean Technology Fund (CTF) program under the umbrella of the Climate Investment Funds (CIF).

The Climate Investment Funds is designed by the international community to immediately provide 72 developing and middle-income countries with the needed resources to reduce their carbon emissions and manage the challenges of climate change.

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The CIF is pegged at $8.3 billion, which I consider a mere pittance considering the enormity of the climate change challenge. And compare that to about $2 trillion the world spends every year on wars and defense budgets.

So what makes the BRT project in Cebu an environmental project, thus qualifying it for CTF funding? According to Villarete, implementing the BRT in Cebu City would yield annual savings across the city of 115,000 tons a year of carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2020 and 192,000 tons by 2025. That is equivalent to 24 percent and 41 percent, respectively, of the current total annual greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles in Cebu.

In other words, without the BRT in Cebu City, we will have those tons of greenhouse gases added on top of what is already projected to be in our atmosphere. That is because a rapid growth in private car use will have to fill in the lack of mass transport system that can cater to all classes of people in society, including the car-owning class.

Within the transport system's 20-year lifecycle, the BRT in Cebu City is also projected to remove an equivalent of 20,000 to 30,000 new cars from the road in terms of travel mileage. In terms of health benefits, project analysts estimate a total savings of $94-135 million from the reduction of respiratory and other illnesses brought about by pollution.

Now, these certainly are not immaculate figures if you choose to take a critical point of view. But I'd like to look at these figures as benchmarks to hold the project proponents accountable once the project runs through the whole course of its lifecycle.

As I said earlier, we are playing catch-up with climate change here. If some groups wish to delay such initiatives like the BRT further, they better come up with smart solutions other than just a sob story about the trees and the birds.

We can learn from the sound solutions implemented by the city-state of Singapore in catering to the demands of modern living and the need to balance these demands with preserving the environment.

Singapore has this City Biodiversity Index that lists down the indicators of a city's biodiversity. Among these indicators that measure biodiversity in a city are proportion of natural areas, proportion of protected natural areas, regulation of water quantity, climate regulations, budget allocated to biodiversity, institutional capacity, education and awareness, and participation and partnership.

We in Metro Cebu can adopt such an index or come up with our own. The point is that we are already way past that time to come up with a comprehensive, multi-stakeholders plan to effectively use our land and manage our natural ecosystems in the city.

And that probably may explain why we're still kind of stuck arguing about trees standing in the way of infrastructure projects. We must catch up and level up.

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