Among the many ironies in the world of travel is the notion that tourism can help conserve our natural resources. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the paradox between the carbon footprint of airlines, motor vehicles, and food logistics and promoting tourism to combat global warming. Despite promoting tourism as an education strategy for biodiversity and conservation, the industry still contributes five percent of global emissions every year, according to the UNWTO. About 75 percent of this emission comes from transportation.
This contradiction is not new, and it’s precisely that reason why environmentalists get dubious when drive tourism – travel using one’s own or hired vehicle – comes to mind. Despite ecological concerns, drive tourism is an inevitable growth sector in the Philippines, just like air travel. Sales in passenger cars rose by 26 percent in 2013 and would likely maintain this double-digit hike in 2014, according to the Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines, Inc.
More cars require more roads. The infrastructure budget for roads needed by the tourism industry rose by 2,000 percent between 2010 and 2013. And although the National Tourism Development Plan 2011-2016 excludes drive tourism from the nine priority products of development, the DOT vowed to support drive tourism as it gains formal recognition. It “isn’t just a convocation, it is a new tourism product and we’re determined to support it in that manner,” said DOT Secretary Ramon Jimenez, Jr. during The Asia Pacific Drive Tourism Conference held in Subic on January 31 to February 2.
Would this result to greater emissions by the local tourism industry? Probably yes. But the drive tourism conference in Subic offers hope that road trips in the future would be less of a guilty pleasure.
It begins with fuel source. The European Union started mandating reduction in harmful gas emissions in 1992 when it rolled out Euro 1 as the emissions standard for new vehicles within its jurisdiction. The EU emissions standard was updated five times through 2014, all throughout requiring significant drops in nitrogen oxide (NOx) and particulate matter (PM). For instance, the allowed amount of emitted NOx and PM for diesel engines dropped from eight grams per kilowatt-hour and 0.36 g/kwh in Euro 1 (1993) to 0.46 g/kwh and 0.01 g/kwh, respectively, in Euro 6 (2014).
The Philippines’ own legislations have aimed to reduce emissions by using alternative fuel. For instance, the Biofuels Act of 2006’s target was one-percent biodiesel blend in 2007, doubling this by 2009, and a five-percent bioethanol blend in 2009, increasing this to 10 percent by 2011.
But challenges in implementing the law and catching up with standards of developed countries have slowed down the momentum. The Philippines, which currently follows Euro 2 standards, is a decade behind implementing Euro 4, which by itself could “dramatically improve” the air quality in Metro Manila, according to Dr. Fernando Martinez, chairman of Independent Philippine Petroleum Companies Association.
Meanwhile, the local sugarcane industry could only supply 25 percent of domestic ethanol requirements, forcing suppliers to import and subsequently increase the price of environmentally advisable fuel. “Here is a situation where the government has used its will to pave the way to cleaner and more sustainable fuel and energy through regulation,” said Martinez. “It is now the local manufacturing that is lagging behind. It is now the local motorists that are penalized when the price of ethanol goes higher than gasoline.”
Alternative fuel such as compressed natural gas (that significantly reduces several emitted gases), auto LPG, and electricity are mainly concentrated on public vehicles, and even the government’s programs in promoting these power sources have been criticized to be lagging behind schedule and political will.
Priority is road safety
Car manufacturers and suppliers of parts admitted that there is strong pressure from the market to go green and practical. Goodyear, the tire manufacturer, implements a green strategy in its entire production chain: zero-waste program (it sells its waste) and reduction of solvent use and CO2 emissions. Meanwhile, Toyota has developed parts, accessories, and services that are free of volatile organic compounds and substances of environmental concerns in both its production and after-sales markets.
The green movement is difficult to push in a sector that still scrambles for solutions to reduce road crashes and accidents. About 1.2 million deaths and 50 million injuries are recorded each year, reported the UN. In the Subic conference, speakers either discuss about road safety or the environment, but very seldom did one touch on both. Altering current ways do raise the concern of safety.
A temporary answer to the question of environmental sustainability is paying for one’s emission. Airlines do this by planting trees or buying carbon credits from other sectors that cut emissions. Biochar is being introduced in the local scene as a form of carbon credit. The product, which comes from animal wastes, traps carbon dioxide and serves as a fertile soil for agriculture.
Between 2015 and 2017, much of the new highways in the pipeline today will open, encouraging private and rental cars to explore, with convenience, new towns and far-flung resorts. Still, critical areas of question – safety and the environment – continue to kill and injure road users and threaten places vulnerable to rising sea level. The stakes are simply too big to completely enjoy the scenery.