THIS WEEK, we conclude our multi-issue run to celebrate Velocity’s first year which we wanted to mark by providing a comprehensive snapshot of where we are in greener mobility.

As we go to press, we learned that the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon has been extended to April 30. While it continues to be a difficult period for most of us (more so for the afflicted victims and their families, and frontliners), it also has afforded us a chance at introspection in many aspects of daily life.

One of the points to mull over is how the glut of vehicles contribute to air pollution, particularly since we’ve seen how it is when our thoroughfares are largely clear of them. How many of you have noticed how bright the summer skies are these days? Clouds appear whiter than usual — bereft of the stain of smoke and soot. That’s just one thing to savor now when there sometimes seems nothing to be grateful for. On the contrary, it’s a time to be thankful for family, friends, and so many strangers stepping up amid the pandemic.

Sometime back, we asked five questions from three people of disparate yet relevant backgrounds to help us better understand where we’re at and where we can expect to go from here. If we ask Toyota (and Lexus, the country’s biggest purveyor of hybrids), electrification has been at hand and is viable.

All told, how do we get more of these cleaner days without having to shut down the shop? Keep safe, everyone. — Kap Maceda Aguila

Dr. Clarita R. Carlos
Taught political science, environment, and international relations at the University of the Philippines; European studies at Ateneo de Manila University; and at San Beda Law graduate school
Author of more than a dozen books
Worked with the Department of Transportation-Office for Transport Security

VELOCITY: Please share your assessment of the government’s policies and initiatives to reduce carbon emissions in the country — particularly with regard to public utility vehicles, and in view of the Philippine Clean Air Act.

DR. CARLOS: The Philippine Clean Air Act was sponsored by Senator (Loren) Legarda many years ago. It’s evident that, for most parts, compliance with same has been spotty, fragmented, and “seasonal,” i.e., when the agency in charge of checking emissions scratches their heads and decide that they will station themselves in either EDSA, C5 or Commonwealth and do random checks. When I was still at MMDA with (former chairman) Francis Tolentino, there was only one, repeat, one working emission testing machine. Yikes!

Even in this age when more people are aware of the concept of climate change, there always seems to be the inevitable tug of war between the state and its people when the former wants to enact more earth-friendly regulations. Is there a way out of this constant struggle?

There will always be a continuing tension between the need for economic growth and the difficulty of getting the public to get on board actively and participate in the mitigation and adaptation to climate change. As usual, whenever it is not appearing right before our eyes, we tend either to diminish its value or forget it altogether. Then, when a major catastrophe happens, like Yolanda then, for a few weeks or so, this would be the pivot of many private- and public-sector actions. But after attention diminishes and another issue catches our attention, it’s not sustained!

The challenge is that the Local Government Code gave so many powers to LGUs but they have neither the resources nor motivation to implement climate change mitigation and adaptation. Like, how many of 42,000 barangays are complying with the need for rain catchment areas? They don’t even know they are required to do that so all the runoff water during rainy season goes back to the sea instead of being stored in reservoirs.

What is the ideal role of the private sector — in this case, local auto companies and related industries — to lessen carbon emissions while remaining viable?

The private sector creates wealth, jobs, innovations, etc. The public sector regulates, especially when there is abuse of power by the private sector. Thus, as medical data continue to stress the ill effects of carbon emissions on the populace, the private sector cannot afford not to pay attention to this because it is a health-conscious public that will buy their cars.

I don’t know why car companies in the US still make money and reduce their emissions at same time! Here, there is just too much kitsch and vulgar decorations in the cars which are not needed, which should be scuttled to make them more efficient.

Are you in favor of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and do you think it’s rigorous enough?

We are a signatory to the UNFCCC. Note however that, as usual, the UN has no enforcement capability and like the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change which we also signed, the commitments of nations are based on best efforts and rely on self-reports. I am sure you know already how invalid and unreliable self-reports are.

Compared to states with a similar economy, how is the Philippines doing in the area of sustainability; in what areas can we do more?

Sustainability is a buzz word which all UN and regional agreements have to incorporate in their numerous agreements. To be fair, we may be exerting best efforts to ensure the next generation still has a liveable world (the meaning of sustainability), but like my answer to the first question, even our best efforts are spotty and fragmented.

I have seen so many crisis management protocols, but in every catastrophe we experience, not only do we recreate risks but also commit the same mistakes — never mind those beautiful drawings of crisis management.

Where can we do more? Population management! There are too many people who are usually not educated, lazy, and not productive — and producing many children. This is making generational poverty.

Atty. Angela Consuelo S. Ibay
Climate and Energy Programme Head
Earth Hour Pilipinas National Director

VELOCITY: Do you think that the auto industry in general is doing enough to bring down carbon emissions?

Atty. Ibay: I think that there is more that the auto industry can do in this regard, considering that around a quarter of energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions globally can be attributed to the transport sector. While there are advancements in the design, manufacture, and production of vehicles that produce less or even no emissions, getting them into circulation in the Philippine market has not been easy or widespread. It would be wonderful to get to the point wherein it would be commonplace to ride a cab which is an electric vehicle or that buses in the city are all electric-powered.

By the reckoning of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), how is the Earth Hour participation here in the Philippines, and are the right messages getting through?

Earth Hour has been running in the Philippines since 2008 and we reckon that for the first decade of Earth Hour, we have been quite successful in raising awareness and shining a light on climate change and climate actions around the world and in the country. We have also seen that stakeholders understand that these actions are not just for the one hour of Earth Hour, but are to be carried out even beyond that. For that, we are very happy and grateful that these messages have come across well and shared by many who support Earth Hour. But starting in 2018, we began pivoting our focus from climate to both climate and nature with our #connect2earth and #naturematters calls. Those calls are still being carried for this year as we call on people to raise their voices for nature and in the Philippines, help #ChangeTheEnding.

Is government doing enough to mitigate air pollution caused by transportation, particularly pollution caused by public transportation?

Similar to my earlier answer, I think the government can still do more. Air pollution is a huge challenge for many of our cities. As urbanization continues, studies have shown that, globally, around 70% of our carbon emissions come from cities with over 90% of city residents breathing polluted air. The same story is true in the Philippines where the transportation sector is a huge contributor to carbon emissions, as well as various air pollutants, particularly in urban areas where traffic jams are prevalent and high-rise buildings proliferate — trapping the polluted air. The government does have a National Environmentally Sustainable Transport (NEST) program that we hope will be rolled out intensively across the country and that sustainable mobility measures such as non-motorized transport and pedestrianization can also be put in place. Last December 2017, WWF Philippines came out with “A Case Study of Philippine Cities’ Initiatives on Sustainable Urban Mobility” building on our One Planet Cities project, which we have shared to government partners. These initiatives have been grouped into four categories, namely: pedestrianization, walkability and green spacing; mass transport; alternative modes of transport; and institutional policies. We think these initiatives show that local governments, along with the DoTr and the DENR, can play significant roles in mitigating air pollution caused by the transportation sector, and promoting sustainable urban mobility.

What is your stand on the public utility vehicle modernization program vis-à-vis concerns that it is supposedly anti-poor?

We try to understand the issues and hope that the government can also address these concerns, particularly when it comes to the economic costs involved and how the impact on the affected sector can be lessened. But we should realize that our planet is at a point wherein transitions, not only in the public utility sector but even in our energy systems, is much needed. This clean energy transition in the transport sector should involve making the sector more efficient, accessible, and sustainable — in harmony with our environment and nature. Considerations for the public (riding or otherwise) in terms of health, good air quality, even improvement of quality of life, should also be seriously taken into account. In the end, these considerations are immeasurable and invaluable and, in fact, benefit everyone.

How is the WWF moving to make a difference in the Philippines, particularly in the area of pollution brought about by our mobility needs?

WWF PH is working with other civil society organizations/nongovernment organizations in advocating for the urgent need to improve our air quality monitoring systems, update our air quality standards, and ensure that these are properly implemented. We are engaging both the Executive and Legislative branches of government in this matter. Meantime, through our One Planet Cities work, we want to highlight the sustainable mobility initiatives that our cities are also implementing to show that it is possible and if we work together, these can be scaled up and provide bigger impact especially regarding the air quality in our cities.

Raymond T. Rodriguez
Lexus Manila President

VELOCITY: Although the Toyota Prius was launched in the Philippines more than a decade ago — the same year Lexus made its way into the country — it has been Lexus carrying the torch of hybrids in the country in that you offer, and have sold, so many units over the course of your decade of operations here. How would you explain this?

Mr. Rodriguez: Lexus started operations in 2009. And as of 2019, over 5,500 cars were sold with more than 350 hybrid models. One the major factors is the reliability of our hybrid technology. We have a long history with this, since 2004 with the RH 400h model. To date 1.5 million hybrid units have been sold worldwide.

Aside from the vehicle’s basic warranty coverage for a period of three years or 100,000 kilometers (whichever comes first), the hybrid battery’s warranty is extended up to five years or 200,000 kilometers. This provides our customers with confidence and peace of mind throughout their ownership experience.

What’s your judgment of the average Lexus customer’s awareness of the nature and benefits of the hybrid powertrain?

Most of our Lexus hybrid models owners are aware of the basic hybrid technology and its benefits before they buy our hybrid units. During our sales process, we also provide them with additional information. We cite the advantages of owning hybrid vehicles. And as I have mentioned, we also stress the extended warranty coverage for the hybrid battery.

Do they actively look for hybrid variants, or are the buyers of these convinced upon learning of the advantages?

In most cases they are aware of hybrid technology, and they do set out to buy those variants. Others who come to our showroom would inquire on the technology, then eventually settle on a variant. Customers normally consider both price and specifications. Our sales ratio for hybrid car purchases ranges between 10% to 15%.

Late last year, Lexus made headlines with the global introduction of the 2020 Lexus UX 300e as the brand’s first-ever electric vehicle. Word of a PHEV model for Lexus is also out. A competing brand announced the arrival of its popular EV this year. Is Lexus looking at moving into the EV and PHEV spaces locally once models become available?

We are looking forward to selling Lexus EVs and PHEVs in the future. However, right now, we are focused on selling our hybrid models, and we would like to increase their share.

How would you briefly explain hybrids, and argue their case?

Hybrid cars have two power sources, the fuel engine and electric motor. The fuel engine performs best when driving at constant speeds during normal cruising, while the electric motor is better for cruising at low speeds. To boost acceleration, both fuel engine and electric motor would operate. It is self-charging so it never needs to be plugged in. It’s reliable, silent, and fuel-efficient.