Thursday, March 5, 2009

Low Carbon Cities

Low Carbon Cities
by Alvin Mejia

Recently I had a chance to be part of an international workshop organized by Nagoya University, the Global Carbon Project and the National Institute for Environmental Studies on Low Carbon Cities – Understanding and Analyzing Urban Energy and Carbon. It gave way to fruitful discussions on energy use, energy modeling and urban development within the context of climate change.

The Workshop

One of the most thought provoking questions that were asked during the workshop is – “What is a low carbon city?” The term itself is a catchy phrase that connotes a very positive image, but how can we say that a city is a low carbon city? What are the parameters? Who should set them? What are acceptable reduction targets?
A comment during the workshop stuck into me – “…maybe we should be looking into sustainable cities rather than low carbon cities…” I guess there’s a whole lot to think about that comment. At the end of day, we should look back to where we have started. The whole world is working towards mitigating climate change and its adverse effects but sustainable development is the goal behind it all.
Sometimes “low carbon” and “sustainable” are equated since they both connote positive meanings, but the distinction between them would become very significant when it comes to decision points which involve complex development measures (an example would be the use of biofuels). There are always pros and cons in implementing different development measures, but the bigger picture should always be considered.

Bikes in Nagoya

It was my first visit to Nagoya and I found myself admiring the attitude of people towards biking and using public transportation. Everyone bikes. The only problem is that pedestrians may face the danger of being hit by a speeding bicycle from behind since the walkways and bikeways are not segregated. Nonetheless, it was a good experience seeing everyone – young and old – use (and can use) bikes as a main transport mode.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

My Xe Om experience

by May Ajero

I broke a promise twice last week.

I have always been firm that I will never be seen riding a motorbike ever. But one fine Thursday in Hanoi, I finally had the courage to try Xe Om to get back to my hotel fast.

Xe om, which literally means motorbike-hug, is very popular in Viet Nam. Motorbike taxis are also quite popular in Thailand and in the Philippines (rural areas).

Anyway, it was one of the most nerve-wrecking and thrilling road experience I've ever had. But trying it allowed me to understand why my friend Karen (a Filipina exchange professional under the Fredskorpset program) swears by it. Its both fast and cheap. It's the best way to avoid taxis with cheating meters. I hate to admit it but a motorbike ride is fun especially the part where the bike glides smoothly in traffic and you have small wafts of air brushing your face.

Here are some tips so you can better enjoy the xe om experience.

1. Negotiate beforehand the amount to pay and show the correct address (hotel card) to the xe om driver. Very often, they dont speak good English and you on the other hand might mispronounce the street names.

2. Be generous. While the average is 15,000VND to 20,000VND per trip, offer 30,000VND. I read that Xe Om drivers are actually out-of-job and could always use the extra dollar.

3. Avoid having too much to carry with your hands. You'll find it difficult to "hug" the driver if you do.

4. Pray hard the entire trip but pray harder as you approach an intersection. This is the most prone areas for collisions of motorbikes. In both trips, our bike almost collided with other bikes. (The intersection is also where I would stop breathing for a few seconds)

While I was lucky that my two Xe Om trips were generally good, I now have a new promise.. there shall be no third time.

Private sector plays an important role in reducing vehicle pollution

"Everybody breathes the same air. Air pollution affects us all and everyone including the private sector, has a responsibility to reduce their contribution to air pollution." This was Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities (CAI-Asia) Center's message to the more than 30 participants in the Clean Transport Session organized by the Manila Water Corporation and the Asia Pacific Roundtable for Cleaner Production on 19 February 2009. Participants, who were fleet managers from Manila Water and their suppliers, were briefed about the basics of air pollution, transport and climate change by May Ajero, Air Quality Program Manager of CAI-Asia Center, introduced to the TNT/UNEP Clean Fleet Management Toolkit and practical measures to reduce air pollution from vehicles by Atty. Glynda Bathan, CAI-Asia Center's Policy and Partnership Manager.

In 2008, the oil industry raised concerns that cheap smuggled oil, which could be of poor quality, was being sold in the Philippines. Imported second hand engines being used in jeepneys and buses have been found to cause vehicles to smokebelch. For this reason, among the practical measures highlighted at the training was for private sector not to purchase smuggled oil and to take steps to ensure that second hand engines or vehicles they purchase are not smoke belching. One company informed CAI-Asia Center staff that while purchasing second hand vehicles may be cheap in the short run, maintaining them costs a lot in the long-run.

Some of the other questions from participants revolved around these practical ways to reduce vehicle emissions: ecodriving, vehicle maintenance, and use of biofuels. One company requested for a follow-up meeting to discuss how it could use the Toolkit to reduce emissions from the vehicle fleet in their realty operations.