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Ending air pollution

By: Ike Señeres

I DO not know what happened on the way to the forum, but putting an end to air pollution was not included in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations (UN). In comparison, “ensuring environmental sustainability” was included as MDG Goal # 7 in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) even if putting an end to air pollution was not categorically stated. The time frame for achieving the MDGs ended in 2015, and the SDGs were introduced as the new goals that are supposed to be achieved by the end of 2030. In fairness however, the other environmental goals were categorically stated in the SDGs, namely “Clean Water and Sanitation (SDG Goal # 6), “Affordable and Clean Energy” (SDG Goal #7), “Sustainable Cities and Communities” (SDG Goal # 11), “Climate Action” (SDG Goal # 13), “Life below Water” (SDG Goal # 14) and “Life on Land” (SDG Goal # 15).

Looking at the fine print however, the UN cited the increases in global temperatures and global emissions as two of the problems that should be addressed by climate action. Just the same however, there is no direct mention about ending air pollution. At best, it could be said that ending air pollution is implied in the fine print, because everyone knows that the increases in global temperatures and global emissions are also two of the direct causes of the damage to the ozone layer, the latter being one of the root causes of climate change. Looking at this from another perspective, it is also the increased releases of greenhouse gasses that are causing the global temperatures to rise.

In contrast, the other SDGs are very categorical in ending specific problems, for example “No Poverty” (SDG Goal # 1) and “Zero Hunger” (SDG Goal # 2). Putting it another way, we could interpret these two goals to mean “ending poverty” and “ending hunger”. It is worthwhile to note however that these two SDGs were previously lumped together as “To eradicate extreme poverty and hunger” in the MDGs (stated as MDG Goal #1). We do not know what happened in the forum itself, but the framers of the SDGs decided to break up poverty and hunger into two separate goals, while also breaking up the environmental goals namely water and land.

As it is generally understood in the development circles, there are three kinds of pollution namely water pollution, land pollution and air pollution, and that is the reason why I am making an issue about the exclusion of air pollution in the SDGs. I am also wondering why SDG Goal # 6 and SDG Goal # 14 were separated, considering that water in general is part of the same value chain no matter how it is used. Although SDG Goal # 14 apparently puts more emphasis on life forms, it could not be denied that the way to protect and preserve these life forms is to put an end to water pollution. Similarly, SDG Goal # 15 puts more emphasis on life forms, but the best way to also protect and preserve these life forms is to put an end to water pollution, land pollution and air pollution.

Value chain management (VCM) and supply chain management (SCM) are two similar concepts that could be used in putting an end not only to air pollution, but also to water pollution and land pollution. In actual usage however, these two concepts are used in the positive sense (i.e. addition) and not in the negative sense (i.e. reduction). In the case of ending water pollution for example, the positive value is clean water, being the desired output of a value chain that could start with dirty water (even sewage water). In the case of ending air pollution, the positive value is clean air, being the desired output of a value chain that could start with dirty air (polluted air) that is caused mainly by greenhouse gas emissions. The value chain of land pollution is more difficult to define, but for sure it has something to do with the supply chain of garbage.

I think that the first step to take in order to end air pollution in the Philippines is to make the various government agencies involved in the problem realize that they are all part of one value chain, even if they all belong to different agencies of the government. At first glance, we could say that the government agencies that are obviously part of the supply chain are the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) and the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), the latter virtually a Department also. It would definitely be a good move to start with these three agencies, but I think that the supply chain should actually be broadened to include many more Departments. For example, the Department of Energy (DOE) should be part of this supply chain, because it is directly involved in the importation and processing of fossil fuels.

What is very important in achieving the goal of ending air pollution in the Philippines is to determine the benchmark data pertaining to the extent of dirty air in each locality, and thereafter there should be annual reduction targets that should culminate in the ultimate goal of having 100% clean air.  If you think that achieving 100% clean air is an impossible goal, think again because the UN is already aiming for “No Poverty” (100% poverty reduction) and “Zero Hunger” (100% access to food), two goals that are more difficult to achieve. Aside from that, many countries are already aiming for 100% reforestation, a goal that is benchmarked against available data about denuded forests.

Scientists have long been telling us that we could not clean the seas if we could not clean the rivers, we could not clean the rivers if we could not clean the land, and we could not clean the land if we could not clean the mountains. What that means is that we could not put an end to water pollution if we do not put an end to land pollution. To that, I will add my own piece of advice that we could not put an end to air pollution if we do not clean the land, because right now we are polluting the land with our garbage that ends up in the dumpsites and the landfills. The fact is, it is the methane gas that escapes from the landfills contribute greatly to air pollution. These are examples of value chains that we have to manage now and forever.

 

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