A tale of two cities and the fight for clean air

When pollution levels exceed World Health Organization recommendations, the residents of cities like Parañaque and Pasig never take clean air for granted. But with some help and greater collaboration between the public and private sectors and non-government organizations (NGO), the dream of more blue sky days is starting to become a reality.

In Parañaque, a city of roughly 700,000 people just south of the capital Manila, the journey to clean air has been the collective hard work of local government units (LGUs), private companies and individuals, and organizations like Clean Air Asia.

“The partnership between the City of Parañaque and Clean Air Asia plays a vital role in promoting the issue of air quality, especially in raising awareness of air pollution and climate change among local people,” said Alfon Royce C. Ducta, air quality management focal person of Parañaque.

“Clear Air Asia’s wide range of knowledge and expertise on air quality management has been critical in building the technical knowledge of different LGUs across the Philippines,” he said.

Through the ‘Air Quality and Climate Change Learning Program for Cities’, Clean Air Asia, supported by global logistics leader United Parcel Service (UPS), conducted learning sessions for city government employees, barangay representatives, and college students. The objective is to build up the Parañaque government’s capacity to implement programs and activities to raise awareness of air pollution and to engage city agencies, community members and young people in activities to improve air quality.

Janice Ley Pacete, program chair of the College of Tourism Management at Olivarez College-Parañaque, said she found the module on communicating air quality and climate change to raising awareness particularly useful, adding that the school’s Tourism Society, a student organization engaged in environmental activities, was sure to benefit from the program.

With community or school-based activities still restricted, the college plans to ask students to develop campaign materials on air pollution and air quality management to share on social media platforms as an alternative activity.

Along with other educational institutions like the Parañaque City College and Polytechnic University of the Philippines-Parañaque, the school will be provided with a handbook to guide them on how to integrate the use of the target-specific toolkits, education and communication (IEC) materials from the learning sessions into the curriculum.

Similarly, a primer for Barangays containing modules on basic air pollution and air quality management, health and other impacts of pollution, and clean air action planning will be developed for the LGUs to use.

The primer will be distributed to all 16 barangays in Parañaque including program beneficiaries Brgy. Sto. Niño and Brgy. San Isidro, to help jumpstart air quality and climate change projects at the community level. It is also aimed, eventually, to be disseminated to barangays nationwide.

The Parañaque City Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) serves as the main project partner with its knowledge and technical capacity to monitor and assess air quality, as well as its significant role in leading implementation of the city’s environmental ordinances and environment-related projects. CENRO and the other agencies are expected to conduct learning sessions for their respective offices using the toolkit for LGUs.

Through its partnership with Clean Air Asia, UPS employee-volunteers based in Parañaque and Clark have committed to facilitate training and deliver toolkits alongside Clean Air Asia and partner LGUs. An initial group of 15 employee-volunteers has attended the Training of Trainers, and the number of participants is expected to increase when training expands online.

“Volunteerism lets various parties involved feel the real essence of what they are doing,” says Ducta. “Our younger people and barangay personnel will understand better the importance and value of clean air and how they can make a difference. Volunteerism benefits the city not just from the utilization of city’s resources and reduction in expenses, but also to strengthen its information and education campaign.”

All about e-mobility

Further north in Pasig, with Department of Environment and Natural Resources data showing that motor vehicles accounted for 65% of the air pollution in the city in 2017, city government officials are doubling down on efforts to reduce carbon emissions. And like their peers in Parañaque, officials are engaging residents to promote inclusive climate planning and to drive action.

“In Pasig, we do proactive transport service planning that’s normally done at the national level. Our function covers walking, cycling, public transportation – things that help people use cars less,” said Robert Anthony Siy of the city’s transport office.

Pasig Transport develops and operates transportation solutions aimed at improving mobility and promoting sustainable forms of transportation. As well as advocating the use of electric vehicles, these solutions include a bike-sharing system to encourage the public to use bicycles and the promotion of e-mobility. To boost public transport, the local government operates its own bus fleet for its Libreng Sakay program.

“The current e-mobility challenge is the lack of supporting services, like inadequate charging stations and shops for the maintenance and repair of electric vehicles,” said Siy. “The cost of energy and power is also still quite expensive in the Philippines and the infrastructure for electric two and three-wheelers isn’t fully developed. These vehicles are currently using the same infrastructure as bicycles.”

Still, progress has been made. The city has received 200 e-trikes as replacements for two-stroke engine tricycles from the Department of Energy and the Asian Development Bank. In partnership with organizations and private companies, it has also received additional e-vehicles that are being used to serve its constituents in the pandemic. They include electric kick scooters distributed to frontliners and health workers, e-trikes to transport suspected Covid-19 patients, and electric three-wheelers used by PHLPost Pasig.

“We have a cooperative project with the local post office and through the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and Clean Air Asia we were able to receive donations of e-bikes and three-wheelers to deliver mail. These are also being used to distribute relief goods. The PHLPost Pasig – a public service – is the main beneficiary of the e-mobility investment,” said Siy.

Pasig’s e-mobility initiatives were presented at the SolutionsPLUS Webinar, demonstrating how urban mobility and sustainable electrification can be deployed in scale in emerging economies. Funded by the European Commission, SolutionsPLUS aims to set a global platform for shared, public and commercial electric mobility solutions. Hanoi, Vietnam and Kathmandu, Nepal are the other participating cities.

To ensure that all its efforts lead to meaningful impact, the city government is also currently working with Clean Air Asia in developing and implementing a Clean Air Action Plan to identify the sources of air pollution in the city and mobilize resources in an effective and efficient manner. This is part of CitieSWITCH to e-mobility, a three-year program initiated by Clean Air Asia and UPS to support cities that are at the forefront of the fight against air pollution.

Under CitieSWITCH, Pasig has established a steering committee to oversee the city’s e-mobility planning process. It is working on a baseline assessment report of its transport and air quality management.

Through donations and employee-volunteerism, UPS and The UPS Foundation have been supporting Clean Air Asia to empower communities in the Philippines and help LGUs overcome challenges in their transition to become sustainable cities.

“At UPS, we recognize the interconnected nature of environment, social and corporate governance initiatives,” said Chris Buono, managing director of UPS Philippines. “We value partnerships, such as the one with Clean Air Asia, that allow us to further our commitment to building more sustainable communities in the Philippines.”

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