Rainwater harvesting

My past employer used to fund construction of rainwater catchments for households. They’re the standard water tank design but concrete ones. This one by BMDesign Studios as featured in Dezeen is amazing and more sustainable.

rainwater catchment bmdesign studios

rainwater catchment bmdesign studios

The government should promote and support rainwater harvesting given that we’re often visited by rains and storms.

“Disasters are interesting…”

flooding in agusan del sur

Disasters are interesting because they tell us something about human behavior. The disaster calls upon the community to respond and exploring these community responses provides information about how a community functions, treat outsiders, and rises to new challenges.

Community responses also inform us about cultures, the habitual ways of doing things, and the meaning ascribed to these patterns of action, about what is normal and abnormal behavior in a given community and of how this can be stretched to its outer limits by the circumstances. 

Diane Bretherton, Community resilience in natural disasters


Note: The statement in the image translates: “This flooding happens every year, here, in Agusan del Sur. We’re used to it.”

Philippines’ Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation NDCs

The UNFCCC 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22) starts 7 November until the 18th in Marrakech, Morocco. To be streamlined and fine-tuned here are nationally determined contributions (NDCs) or pledges countries submitted for the Paris Agreement in 2015 which set out how they would tackle climate change in the next years. Still, NDCs according to Carbon Brief fall well short of achieving the “well below 2C” temperature goal agreed in Paris.

The Government of the Philippines has pledged the following:

Mitigation

To undertake GHG (CO2e) emissions reduction of about 70% by 2030 relative to its BAU scenario of 2000-2030. Reduction of CO2 emissions will come from energy, transport, waste, forestry and industry sectors. The mitigation contribution is conditioned on the extent of financial resources, including technology development & transfer, and capacity building, that will be made available to the Philippines.

Adaptation

The State prioritizes adaptation and adopts it as the anchor strategy as espoused by the National Framework Strategy on Climate Change and subsequently elaborated in its National Climate Change Action Plan. Priority measures needing international support are:

  1. Institutional and system strengthening for downscaling climate change models, climate scenario-building, climate monitoring and observation;
  2. Roll-out of science-based climate/disaster risk and vulnerability assessment process as the basis for mainstreaming climate and disaster risks reduction in development plans, programs and projects;
  3. Development of climate and disaster-resilient ecosystem(s);
  4. Enhancement of climate and disaster-resilience of key sectors – agriculture, water and health;
  5. Systematic transition to a climate and disaster-resilient social and economic growth; and
  6. Research and development on climate change, extremes and impacts for improved risk assessment and management.

Loss and Damage

The Philippine INDC assumes that Loss-and-Damages from climate change and extreme events will not require diversion of substantial resources for rehabilitation and reconstruction thereby adversely affecting the country’s capacity to meet national development targets as well as mitigation commitments under this INDC.

The complete Philippines pledge report is accessible here.

In addition, NDCs of UNFCCC member countries are made available online here.

What is the rush for?

When our rush to create, produce and consume is obviously leading us to destroy our home planet, shouldn’t intelligence compel us to slow down? It should. But it’s not happening.

My generation has been lucky enough to have known a time of stability relative to flooding, typhoons, and natural disasters of the scale and magnitude younger (including my children’s) generations are witnessing now. Unfortunately for these generations as well as developing countries, we all now have leveled up in regard to this issue: to produce less or not? to consume less or not? What would less cars manufactured mean? What would more walking mean? What would more homegrown produce mean? What would less development of open fields mean? What would less clothes and shoes in our wardrobes mean? What would less forests razed down for logs and settlements mean? Will we die or become less human if we created, produced, and consumed less?

In the Philippines though we produce less relative to neighboring ASEAN tiger economies, we do consume more– just look inside malls here, divisorias, and stores where our penchant for hoarding (even if many of these things break down just after a few days of use) and wasteful eating are evident (I hate to hear parents telling their kids to eat up “because there are many who don’t have food to eat”. I mean, that shouldn’t be said in the first place to children as these will stay in their minds and create lifelong guilt feelings over things they ought not to be guilty about. The better reasoning is it’s just the responsible thing to do). In Baguio City, I don’t know why City Hall in view of it’s difficulty to provide waste disposal in it’s own land has not stepped up it’s order on the rationalized use of plastic bags in business establishments whereas in places such as Makati and Ortigas plastic bag is absolutely bawal na.

Such are the concerns and forgotten responsibilities we all need to make time for– think about the ways we create, produce and consume and do something about it immediately. It is good that celebrities who altogether command a huge global following have started to courageously lend their fame, credibility and voice to educating and sensitizing the public. Planet Earth is everybody’s home, after all,

Warming oceans, more frequent and intense typhoons

Thanks to technology and invention (such as my adorable 20000mAh powerbank that can recharge gadgets and laptops 5x before discharging, meaning local governments have no reason to go incommunado especially during emergencies), many are able to stay connected despite black outs. Like for this storm, Haima/Lawin. I’m up monitoring the situation with former colleagues in Isabela and Tuguegarao where Lawin made landfall (one network said Penablanca in Tuguegarao, another said Gamu in Isabela so which?).  Real time alerts and news on broadcast and social media report just a third of actual on-site happenings. So it’s good to have personal and professional networks across locations besides.

Also I spied the new moon late last week. It has been my observation through time that while typhoons are intensified when there’s a new moon it also reins back that intensity when these reach land. It’s why I’m doubtful that Haima/Lawin will be another Yolanda/Haiyan. But of course the observed phenomenon needs further study.

Disasters and humanitarian programs are my subject of evaluation since 2010. In Isabela, I had the opportunity to do an evaluation of an INGO’s response program in the aftermath of Megi. Then, the greatest loss to locals had been in agriculture, the region being the country’s largest rice producer. Next was housing as many houses including schools sustained damages or were totally destroyed. Roofs blown away and mature trees uprooted indicated the sheer strength of the typhoon.

Many locals still held traditional views of typhoons and disasters. That it was Nature or God teaching people to stop doing bad things. Well, in a way it was. As has been the message since the 1992 conference on sustainable development, people and nations need to rethink their climate changing activities. The ocean which plays a critical role in climate stability is directly susceptible to human induced activities. In turn island nations such as the Philippines are the most affected by the change.

A recent article in The New Yorker reiterates the irreversible effect of a warming planet on glaciers and the effect of this on oceans. So yes we may pray but still the answer ie. deliverance from disasters is actually well within our power.

Greenland is melting
Ímage source: The New Yorker

The ice sheet is a holdover from the last ice age, when mile-high glaciers extended not just across Greenland but over vast stretches of the Northern Hemisphere. In most places—Canada, New England, the upper Midwest, Scandinavia—the ice melted away about ten thousand years ago. In Greenland it has—so far, at least—persisted. At the top of the sheet there’s airy snow, known as firn, that fell last year and the year before and the year before that. Buried beneath is snow that fell when Washington crossed the Delaware and, beneath that, snow from when Hannibal crossed the Alps. The deepest layers, which were laid down long before recorded history, are under enormous pressure, and the firn is compressed into ice. At the very bottom there’s snow that fell before the beginning of the last ice age, a hundred and fifteen thousand years ago.

The ice sheet is so big—at its center, it’s two miles high—that it creates its own weather. Its mass is so great that it deforms the earth, pushing the bedrock several thousand feet into the mantle. Its gravitational tug affects the distribution of the oceans.

In recent years, as global temperatures have risen, the ice sheet has awoken from its postglacial slumber. Melt streams like the Rio Behar have always formed on the ice; they now appear at higher and higher elevations, earlier and earlier in the spring. This year’s melt season began so freakishly early, in April, that when the data started to come in, many scientists couldn’t believe it. “I had to go check my instruments,” one told me. In 2012, melt was recorded at the very top of the ice sheet. The pace of change has surprised even the modellers. Just in the past four years, more than a trillion tons of ice have been lost. This is four hundred million Olympic swimming pools’ worth of water, or enough to fill a single pool the size of New York State to a depth of twenty-three feet.

– Greenland is melting, The New Yorker

Asian Judges Network on mountain ecosystems

I repeat myself on this topic:  Growth and development in Baguio City, a mountain city, and the rest of the Cordillera Administrative Region should be pursued under a sustainable mountain ecosystem framework.

The discussions in the 2nd Asian Judges Symposium on Environment: Natural Capital and the Rule of Law on 3 December 2013 at Asian Development Bank HQ in Manila highlight issues affecting mountain cities in South Asia. Especially interesting is the role of the court in sustaining mountain environments (listen to the sixth presentation, of Dr. Ananda M. Bhattarai, of the Court of Appeals in Nepal). We can learn from these.

In the Q&A session, a member of the audience asked the panel about traditional mountain people’s laws vs modern laws. The panelists provided enlightening insights. Of note is Archana of IUCN India’s mention of the importance of having laws applicable to mountain regions.

For World Environment Day (June 5): the role of urban forests and parks

I came across another significant study of Burnham Park.

Carbon Stock Assessment of Trees in Burnham Park, Baguio City, Philippines: A Tool for Urban Environmental Management is a masteral thesis written in 2009 by Roscinto Ian C. Lumbres. The study utilized Geographic Information System (GIS) to look into the potential of Burnham Park, estimated 34.46 hectares in area, to mitigate carbon. GIS products of the study include: locations of the identified trees using Global Positioning System (GPS); digitized tops and site maps; 3-D topographic map; and of course the database.

Burnham Park, Baguio City, Philippines

The findings of the study:

  1. There were a total of 52 species of trees and 3,414 living trees in the Park;
  2. There were discovered two (2) threatened species, namely the smooth narra (Forma Indicus), kalantiao
    (Pterocarpus Indicus Toona), and one (1) vulnerable specie, the tree fern (Ajathea Contaminans) found in the Park’s high moisture area;
  3. Total carbon stored in the Park was estimated at 2,522.24 tons;
  4. Total carbon dioxide (CO2) stored in the Park was estimated at 9,256.61 tons;
  5. Estimated total biomass aboveground was 4,970.86 ton, and 634.11 ton belowground (roots);
  6. Among all the Park’s natural resources, waters of the man-made lake held the highest carbon stocks at 581.23 tons which was 23.04% of total carbon stored in the Park (verifying the importance of water bodies in climate change mitigation);
  7. The tree specie with the highest carbon stocks and CO2 stored was the agoho (Camarina Equisetifalia) with 777.70 tons (carbon) and 2854.17 tons (CO2);
  8. The highest carbon stocks & stored carbon dioxide were found in the following tree species:
    • Agoho
    • Eucalyptus
    • Paperbark trees (Melalerica Quinqueneria) which were planted by the Americans during WWII
    • Benguet Pine (Diaco Keriga) at 3.7 ton/hectare/year. The pines were young but would hold the highest carbon stocks in the future or when mature.

In addition, the study cited these value-added roles of urban forests/trees:

  1. 100-feet width of trees absorb an estimated 6 to 8 decibels of sound intensity (Perone);
  2. One acre or 0.4 hectare of trees absorb 6 tons of CO2 and produce 4 tons of oxygen supply of annual needs of 18 residents or participants (US Department of Defense);
  3. On their net cooling effect: young trees produce 10-room-sized air-conditioners operating 20 hours a day;
  4. Every ton of carbon stored in a forest biomass corresponds to 3.67 tons of CO2 sequestered and removed from the atmosphere (US Department of Defense 2002).
  5. Real estate agents and buyers assign 10% to 23% of total value to trees on the property. Enhanced property value means increased and assessed values and ultimately tax base.

Recommendations put forward by the study:

  1. Parts of Athletic Bowl and Rose Garden (two of the 12 clusters in the Park with little carbon and CO2 absorbing vegetation) to be planted with the tree species that have high-absorbing carbon and CO2 capacity;
  2. Mapping of the Park’s vegetation and carbon stocks and maintenance of database;
  3. Maintenance of annual resource inventory (tree diversity assessment) and database;
  4. Proper maintenance and management of floral species;
  5. Considering that the Park is part of the City’s ecotourism destination, labels on trees as well as educational billboards to highlight the importance of the Park and it’s role in climate change mitigation for the City should be put in place to build awareness among tourists and locals alike.

For me, the question arising from the study is, what if the carbon and CO2 absorbed by and stored in the Park’s vegetation (including in the waters of the man-made lake) are released because City Hall or residents decide to tear down the Park or neglect it? That’s a total of 11,778.85 tons (2009 figure), enough to make the downtown Baguio a veritable heat island. And that’s what residents and tourists are experiencing these days. It’s as if there are two distinct weather in the City. In the CBD, weather is hotter and precipitation is erratic relative to the suburbs. The obvious reason: there are now concentrated at the CBD area more vehicles of which many are carbon inefficient and smoke belchers (where is LTO?) but with the same number of trees as that (or is it, less than) in 2009. The Philippine Master Plan of Forestry requires that there be one (1) tree per 4 persons. How far has the City ventured away from that goal?

As well, in this year’s Panagbenga (Flower Festival), the Park particularly the area lined with aging Paperbark trees was turned into a circus of sorts. Stores peddling cheap plastic wares that last for just a day (translation: waste). Grilling stops everywhere and so the uncontained smoke (translation: carbon) from barbecued meats. Worst of all, the din of out-of-tune karaoke singing 24/7. If the trees could move, I bet they would’ve given the butts of these mindless people a good swatting. I understand that we want to make money but there is also such a thing as responsible business. Otherwise, go chase away the MBA students and professors out of their classrooms and certificates. Making money by becoming a nuisance to others and the environment is tyranny, for rich or poor alike. Such businesses should not have been given permits in the first place.

With Executive Order 625 (2008) which effectively puts the responsibility and management of Burnham Park on the City government, there should be no reason why City Hall cannot pursue the Park’s maintenance, protection, and growth. And, oh, let’s not call maintenance of the Park as ‘beautification’ because that’s not why we’re planting and taking care of trees. As clarified by the Lumbres’ study, take out or neglect the trees and the equivalent is slow death to present and future residents.

It’s not just about reducing carbon footprint: On the changing temperature in Baguio City Part 2

In Part 1, I mentioned of the imperative to modernize agriculture in the country.  One investment that Local Government Units should make is in the use of Geographical Information System (GIS) as a tool to analyze patterns and trends on the land.

A research I was in for a national agency a few years back was impeded by the lack of up-to-date land use and land cover data. For instance, the lack of ready shape files and updated maps in agriculture. Thankfully, another agency has produced a more recent (2010) land cover map. But I wondered, if national agencies did not have the right data and information readily, what do you then call the policies they’ve made, the reports? Although, for the country, the lack of land use policies as well as climate change adaptation measures especially at the local level is more the case.

The land use change that has happened along Mountain Trail/Halsema Highway which is mentioned in Part 1 is classified either as parcelization or fragmentation of forest land*.

The featured video differentiates one from the other as well as implications of each on land management.  It also shows the utilization of GIS in resource planning and management.

Local Government Unit officials, as urban managers, need information in order to effectively and efficiently manage the City’s growth and development and ultimately facilitate quality of life for it’s citizens.  Land use data is key to the analysis of the urbanization processes and problems.  These days, it is impossible to produce such data without the aid of modern tools i.e. GIS and remote sensing technologies.  The City needs leaders and managers who see the need to make these a priority investment and integrate their use in city planning and management.

At the regional level i.e. LGUs in the Cordillera Administrative Region it is imperative that land use plans integrate local climate change mitigation measures such as reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases (nitrous oxide mentioned in Part 1).  Targets to mitigate and adapt to the changing climate should not remain at the global and national levels but rather should be operationalized in localities.  Climate change mitigation and adaptation should not and must not be just all words and rah-rahs.  Cities and municipalities should explicitly include in their land use and development plans GHG emission targets (hence corresponding financing requirements to achieve these).

————

*latest forestry statistics (2003) for the country shows only 24% (or, 7.2M ha.) of total land area is forested compared to 70% (or, 21M ha.) in 1900.  I don’t even want to go into the state of the remaining “forest” in Baguio City today.  Even I, a non-forester, can tell that the trees (along Loakan Road) are dying a torturously slow death.  As repeatedly mentioned in this blog, it’s not that we have an inordinate love affair with trees; rather, preservation of the City’s trees and foliage translates into our own preservation as well as that of our children and many others after us.

It’s not just about reducing carbon footprint: On the changing temperature in Baguio City

I haven’t since 2002 gone back on the Mountain Trail or have ever ventured beyond Mankayan in Benguet Province until November last year. When I did, up to Bontoc in Mountain Province I had an insight into the concern for Baguio City’s rising temperature.

The decreasing number of pines is oft-cited by regular tourists as well as locals as the culprit in the City’s changing temperature hence the annual planting of trees as a standard CSR practice.  The role of trees or foliage in climate and temperature regulation cannot be discounted, of course, but from what I’ve seen along the Mountain Trail a significant portion of the problem is likely caused by nitrous oxide emissions.

Almost entire mountain sides on the Mountain Trail starting in La Trinidad and it’s urban farms up toward Bauko (see map) have been carved out and converted into terraces of vegetables grown for the commercial market.  (This brings me to another issue:  whose property are those mountain ranges? Don’t fucking tell it’s ancestral!)

Nitrous oxide (N20) is a greenhouse gas.  It is emitted through the soil from the use of synthetic fertilizers (other sources include transportation and industry (fossil fuel combustion)).

Consider this:  According to US EPA, nitrous oxide molecules stay in the atmosphere for an average of 114 years before being removed by a sink or destroyed through chemical reactions. Translation:  The atmospheric and climatic effects of fertilizers that were used 100 years ago are still being felt by today’s generation!  Further, the impact of 1 pound of N2O on warming the atmosphere is almost 300 times that of 1 pound of carbon dioxide.

How many kilograms of fertilizers and pesticides are poured into those mountains of farms, every day, 365 days in a year?  As a result, how many pounds of N20 are emitted into the air, every day, 365 days a year?  Total number of years the gas stays up and eats into the atmosphere?  Moreover, effects of indiscriminate fertilizer use on the atmosphere is distributed regionally and globally through the biogeochemical cycles. Mountain cities are especially vulnerable because of their location .

What can be done to mitigate the effects?  At this stage of our civilization, total eradication of fertilizer use is impossible if not detrimental.  What’s needed is a continuing study of doable and effective alternatives in order to achieve good balance between food security and sustainable growth and development. This implies investment in and institutionalization of capacity development, R&D, M&E, and communications systems for agriculture specific to the province and region. In other words, modernization of local agricultural systems. Ultimately, information and support need to reach farmers and landowners who are the final decision-makers.