Gov’t sets drive to clean Metro of soot

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12:43 AM December 2nd, 2012

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December 2nd, 2012 12:43 AM

The government plans to modify the diesel engines of jeepneys and other public utility vehicles (PUVs) plying Metro Manila streets in a bid to reduce soot or “black carbon” emissions.

MANILA, Philippines—The government plans to modify the diesel engines of jeepneys and other public utility vehicles (PUVs) plying Metro Manila streets in a bid to reduce soot or “black carbon” emissions.

The Climate Change Commission (CCC) said on Wednesday it planned to introduce a P26-billion modification program to be sourced from international private sector for some 500,000 PUV diesel engines over a five-year period.

“Diesel-driven jeepneys, buses and trucks are responsible for 70 percent of black soot emissions in our urban centers,” CCC Commissioner Heherson T. Alvarez said in a statement from Doha, Qatar, where he led the Philippine delegation in climate change talks.

The plan is to retrofit the PUVs using Australian technology that will reduce soot emissions by up to 80 percent, Alvarez said in a long-distance phone interview.

Alvarez, a former senator and environment secretary, cited an Asian Development Bank study estimating that some 500,000 PUVs, mostly jeepneys, produce 22,000 metric tons of soot per year.

Air pollution costs the Philippine economy $1.5 billion (roughly P60 billion) annually, in large part due to diesel emissions, according to the Philippine Environment Monitor.

“The country spends over $400 million in direct costs annually—some 0.6 percent of the country’s gross domestic product—on health expenses caused by pollution,” Alvarez said.

A study by the World Bank estimated that some 5,000 premature deaths annually, or 12 percent of all deaths in Metro Manila—the highest of any city in the Philippines—were due to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases caused by  exposure to the pollution in the city, Alvarez said.

Soot emitted by jeepneys is composed of “extremely fine airborne particles believed to be among the largest man-made contributors to global warming because they absorb solar radiation and heat the atmosphere,” he said.

But soot has not been recognized as a greenhouse gas, he noted.

The Philippines, along with a number of allied countries, is making a push to include black carbon on the list of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in the Doha meetings, Alvarez said.

“By doing so, governments can attack black carbon and immediately address climate change by as much as 50 percent,” he said.

A recent scientific study found that black carbon “is now emerging as the second most important, but previously overlooked, factor in global warming,” Alvarez said.

He said studies showed that reducing soot emissions from diesel engines could slow the melting of glaciers in the Arctic faster and more economically than any other quick fix.

“If governments radically cut levels of black carbon and methane through technologies that are now available, then we could cut the rate of global warming by 50 percent,” he said.

Alvarez said this would increase the chances of keeping the temperature rise under 2 degrees Celsius, slowing the advance of climate change by several decades.

In a related development, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje has sought public support in bringing down the air pollution levels in Metro Manila to acceptable standards.

Metro Manila’s air, he said, has actually become cleaner, registering declines in both the amount of total suspended particulates (TSP) and the level of particulate matter 10 microns in diameter or smaller (PM10) in the urban center.

As of the third quarter, the TSP level in the National Capital Region was recorded at 106ug/Ncm (micrograms per normal cubic meter), or 16ug/Ncm short of the acceptable level of 90ug/Ncm set by the World Health Organization.

Paje noted that when the Aquino administration came in June 2010, the TSP level in Metro Manila was at 166ug/Ncm. The current PM10 level of 77ug/Ncm in Metro Manila is also approaching the annual guideline threshold of 60ug/Ncm, he said.

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