Vehicular sources account for 65% of air pollution in the country, primarily in Metro Manila. Air pollution is also expected to increase given the projected 4.6% annual growth rate in energy demand. This demand is consistent with the projected increase of road vehicles to 24.8 million by 2030, compared to a baseline of 6.6 million in 2010.
But as the government enforced an “Enhanced Community Quarantine” (ECQ) in most of the cities and provinces in the Philippines, the transportation and industries ground to a near halt. The lockdown was only one of the many across the globe that was implemented in an effort to slow down the spread of COVID-19. With the majority of Metro Manila’s 2.5 million fossil fuel reliant motor vehicles off the road, air quality in the city was visibly improving.
But months later, with the easing of quarantine regulations and the return of motor vehicles brought on by the modified ECQ (MECQ), air pollution is gradually making a comeback.
Air pollution doesn’t have to be an inescapable reality. The ECQ gave Filipino citizens a glimpse of what cities can be like with vastly improved air quality. It also showed that air pollution can be solved without sacrificing people’s access to mobility.
A report from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) and Greenpeace Philippines laid down recommendations to reduce air pollution post COVID-19, in order to safeguard people’s health and ensure a better normal.
According to the report, vehicles are a major source of air pollution, therefore improving mobility in cities is a key solution to the problem. Transport systems urgently need to be reorganized so that they use energy and resources efficiently and operate without emitting harmful pollutants. Meanwhile, cities need fewer and cleaner vehicles operating alongside greater use of climate-friendly mass public transport and widespread investments in shared mobility, walking and cycling. Finally, immediate policy reforms are essential to promote and encourage inclusive, sustainable and equitable mobility systems for the well-being of people.
These recommendations should encourage cities and citizens to adopt greener modes of transportation to commute in this period of pandemic and climate crisis, and promote inclusive urban mobility solutions as part of the country’s post-pandemic recovery.
Moreover, the local government units must establish dedicated, protected, and connected bike lanes to link the cities in Metro Manila, as well as in other provinces in the Philippines, for a healthier and better normal not only for commuters and the transport sector, but also for the air and the environment.
The great majority of the population should have access to inclusive, sustainable and equitable mobility systems and non-motorized mainstream modes of transportation that are not only safe and functional, but also efficient and environmentally-sustainable.