FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno () - December 6, 2011 - 12:00am

The mood in Durban, South Africa is becoming increasingly desperate.

Over 20,000 delegates from 200 countries have been locked in negotiations for days. The best outcome from all the meetings going on is a global agreement on a legally binding treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol which expires next year.

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol set dramatic reductions in carbon emissions in order to arrest the trend towards global warming. That protocol includes mechanisms that penalize countries exceeding their carbon emission ceilings and rewards countries that invest in measures mitigating such emissions.

Both the largest and the second largest economies in the world, the biggest polluters, have not supported the Kyoto Protocol. The US and China continue to oppose a new legally binding treaty replacing the existing Protocol. Without their support, any climate treaty seems doomed.

Since the Kyoto Protocol came into effect, carbon emissions have not been effectively mitigated. Last year, carbon emissions hit a new peak. Negotiations over the past two years, beginning from the Copenhagen conference, have not produced a new global consensus.

The biggest supporter of a climate change treaty has been the EU. Given the financial difficulties afflicting the Eurozone at the moment, it seems unlikely the Europeans will be ready to extend substantial financial support for this global project.

Over the years that the Kyoto Protocol has been in effect, we saw the dramatic reduction of the ice mass in both the Arctic and the Antarctic. Melting ice caps threaten to raise the sea levels and induce even more severe weather disturbance.

The glaciers along the Andes Mountains have rapidly disappeared. Atlantic hurricanes and Pacific typhoons have become deadlier. A drought of sorts caused the disappearance of snow on traditional ski resorts in the Alps this year. Everywhere we look, it seems, climate change runs amuck.

Yet humanity seems unable to build the institutions to arrest the drift towards destroying our planet. We continue to dump millions of tons of carbons on the atmosphere even as science warns us in no uncertain terms that climate change will be irreversible in as little as five years.

The biggest disincentive to do anything really telling in reversing climate change is cost. The US and China fear that tougher emission targets will cripple their economies and cause a political backlash. New green technologies are still too costly to be economical. Very few countries want to contribute to a global fund that will nurse tropical forests and enable emerging economies to procure green technologies.

If no new global framework is agreed upon to replace the Kyoto Protocol, the planet will be put under even more severe stress. At the moment, however, it seems any new global treaty with any efficacy will be torpedoed by the US and China.

The meeting going on at Durban is a last-ditch effort. If nothing is achieved this week, history will record this event as the day humanity began behaving like lemmings blissfully marching to certain destruction.


The manner pollution is dealt with in Metro Manila is a microcosm of the global inability to arrive at a proportional response to the environmental calamity.

Mega Manila is one of the most polluted cities in the world. Those of us who live here do not need much convincing. We see that in the thick smog that permanently envelopes the sprawling megalopolis. On New Year’s Eve each year, those who can afford it flee the city to avoid the sickening cloud created by fireworks aggravating the already perilous air quality.

July last year, 37 international and domestic flights into the Manila airport were cancelled because of the thick haze over the runway. The authorities blamed the haze on pollution.

Recently, Health Secretary Enrique Ona reported to the World Health Organization that air pollution “has been a major cause of hospitalizations and deaths from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.” Specifically, he cited “particulate matter pollution emanating from the transport sector, from industries and factories” as the “major sources of poor outdoor air quality.”

A study done by the Philippine Environment Monitor of the WB deserves the closer attention of the authorities. It concludes that the particulate emissions in the Manila area are caused “largely by motor vehicles (84 percent), solid waste burning (10 percent) and industries (5.5 percent).”

The study discovers that 70 percent of total vehicle emissions come from the 200,000 diesel-powered utility vehicles (buses, trucks and jeepneys) and the 170,000 tricycles crowding city streets. In the whole country, it is estimated that 46 million Filipinos use fuel wood for cooking. The study finds that “the high dependence on solid fuel for cooking … contributes over 70 percent of the deaths arising from respiratory illness.”

It is clear from the numbers that if the MMDA truly intends to attack the problem of poor air quality in the Manila area, it should impose stricter emission standards on the utility vehicles and ensure the application of proper emissions technologies on smokestack industries in the city.

That is a tough tack to take, to be sure, but it will address the problem with real effect. Instead of tackling the tough but relevant problem, however, the MMDA has chosen a scapegoat and therefore a merely token approach to the problem by imposing more restrictions on smokers while leaving the real creators of particulate pollution in their merry way.

It is easy to take on the smokers. Except for the President of the Republic, they are generally defenseless and do not have medical evidence on their side. The real mass murderer, however, is vehicular emissions which the MMDA does not seem to want to curtail.

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