THE WORLD CLIMATE conference at Copenhagen, Denmark last December fell short of a new binding pact to combat global warming by setting binding caps to slow carbon emissions. Viewed as a success by some nations and a failure by others, the conference did underscore a powerful commitment by 194 countries towards battling global warming —and protecting the health of people in the process.
It did set a commitment to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), but did not specify the all important global emissions targets for 2020 or 2050 to achieve this aim.
The Philippines sees itself as one of the winners at Copenhagen. It will receive $380 million in financial aid pledges to help it cope with the impact of climate change, a recognition of its lead role as an Asian leader in the fight to save the planet. The money will be used for programs in renewable energy, energy efficiency, clean urban transport, forestry investment and local water utilities.
The Philippines has been doing its bit to further reduce the adverse impact of climate change and pollution on both the economy and the health of Filipinos despite being a low emitter of greenhouse gases (GhGs). Scientists say GhGs contribute to global warming, which has worsened since the “Kyoto Protocol” on combating climate change was signed in 1997. The faster pace of warming has caused the world's oceans to rise by about 1-1/2 inches in the past 12 years due to the melting of 2.5 trillion tons of ice in Greenland and Antarctica.
The Philippines has become Southeast Asia’s leading wind energy producer partly because of its desire to fight climate change. That goal has also led to the Philippines generating more electricity from solar energy and to the increasing use of methane gas generated by garbage to produce electric power. Then there’s the growing use of biofuels as a replacement for carbon-based fuels such as diesel.
The Kyoto Protocol defines legally binding targets and timetables for cutting the GhG emissions of industrialized countries that ratified the protocol. The goal is to lower overall emissions of six greenhouse gases—carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexafluoride, hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons— averaged over the period from 2008 to 2012.
On the other hand, developing countries like the Philippines benefit from capital investments in “carbon offsetting” projects by industrialized countries, the introduction of clean technologies such as wind power and the implementation of sustainable development projects such as electricity from biogas.
The Philippines’ eco-friendly or sustainable activities give it a small “carbon footprint.” Which brings us to the question, what is a carbon footprint and why is a low carbon footprint important for the health of Filipinos?
A carbon footprint can be defined as the total GhG emissions produced by a country, an organization, event or a product. It is often measured by the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted, or its equivalent in other GhGs.
A country's carbon footprint can be measured by undertaking a GhG emissions assessment. Once the size of a carbon footprint is known, a strategy can be devised to reduce it, either through technological developments, better process, carbon capture, consumption strategies and others.
Reducing carbon footprint can be achieved by implementing sustainable processes such as solar energy and wind energy and through reforestation. This is called carbon offsetting. A Philippines success in carbon offsetting can be seen in a report last November that said the country’s trees absorbed 107 million tons of CO2. This led to an 80% reduction in its GhG emissions, giving the Philippines some 19 million tons of emissions consisting mainly of methane and nitrous oxide gases, according to data from the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources.
Further proof of the Philippines’ commitment to fighting climate change is the current growth in the wind industry sector that will soon make the Philippines Southeast Asia’s top producer of wind energy.
A competition among five companies to build the 86 megawatt (MW) combined power output facility at Burgos, Ilocos Norte heralds an assured future for wind energy. The Burgos facility will produce wind energy to sell to the Luzon power grid.
Sources in the wind sector said the Burgos facility will validate wind energy as both a sustainable and profitable resource. Once online, the facility will make the Philippines the top producer of wind energy in Southeast Asia. Experts say wind energy will contribute some 400MW to the country’s electricity grid within the next three years compared to 33MW today.
The wind farm in Bangui, which is adjacent to the Burgos wind farm, has proven wind energy can provide reliable and cheaper electric power. Twenty gigantic, three-bladed wind turbines are operational at the Bangui wind farm, the first large-scale wind power plant in Southeast Asia. This wind farm, which became operational in 2005, produces 25MW of clean electric power for local cooperatives.
The Burgos wind farm is the next logical step in the evolution of wind energy in the Philippines. It will be quite large, close to three times the size of Bangui, and should also accelerate the growth of wind energy in missionary areas or areas outside the main electricity grid.
This marked growth in wind energy use is being driven by the Renewable Energy Law passed in 2007. The law is drawing investments into the wind energy sector and is telling investors there is a good return on investment to be made by harnessing the wind to produce clean and renewable electricity.
The numbers supporting the case for making renewable energy this country's primary power sources are substantial. The World Wildlife Fund, one of the members of the Renewable Energy Coalition, estimates the Philippines has more than enough renewable energy potential: 7,404 MW for wind, 1,200 MW for geothermal, 2,308 MW for hydro and 235 MW for biomass. Less than one percent of the Philippines' entire energy needs comes from renewable sources today.
Renewable energy does work, and is an excellent way of reducing the country’s carbon footprint. The example of Europe in wind energy is good example. In 2006, the world's total installed wind energy capacity rose to over 74,000 MW from 59,000 MW in 2005.
Europe led the world in the number of countries with the highest total installed wind energy capacity. On the other hand, Asia is experiencing the strongest increase in installed capacity outside of Europe, with an addition of 3,679 MW, taking the continent to over 10,600 MW.
Electricity from garbage
Generating electricity from garbage also reduces the Philippines’ carbon footprint by reducing the amount of methane gas (a GhG) emitted by decomposing garbage. The largest such project today is the “Quezon City Controlled Disposal Facility Biogas Emission Reduction Project” at the Payatas dumpsite in Quezon City. It’s also the biggest biogas emissions reduction facility registered with the United Nations and is the first biogas emission reduction project in Southeast Asia.
The facility became operational in May 2008 and is removing over 116,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the country’s atmosphere every year. This P200 million joint project between the Quezon City government and the Italian firm, Pangea Green Energy S.r.l. is now extracting, collecting, flaring and converting biogas into electricity.
Biogas is produced during the fermentation of organic matter such as solid or biodegradable waste. Consisting mainly of methane and CO2, biogas can be used for heating, cooking and generating electricity. Methane from the collected biogas can produce some one million kilowatts of electricity annually, enough to supply 1,000 households with clean, carbon free power.
Doing our bit
The threat to health posed by a high carbon footprint goes beyond the dangers posed by pollution. A study published in the prestigious U.S. medical journal, The Lancet, in 2000 noted an increase of eight percent in hospital admissions per one degree Centigrade rise in temperature. This suggests global warming is likely having a strong effect on diarrheal diseases, and increases cases by millions worldwide per degree of temperature rise. Scientists note the world’s temperature has risen 0.4 of a degree since 1997.
Probably the most effective way the ordinary Filipino can help reduce his individual carbon footprint is by cutting down on electricity use. Most of this country’s electric power is generated by power plants that burn coal—the largest source of industrial atmospheric pollution and GhGs—so that more electricity use means more coal has to be burned.
We can also produce less garbage by reducing the amount of paper we use in our work or in school and cutting down on the use of plastic bags, for example. Recycling garbage also helps cut the carbon footprint. We should always remember that carbon footprint is not just some fancy scientific phrase meant to impress us. It’s at the center of a worldwide fight to ensure this planet remains liveable for generations to come.