How four Philippine cities are cutting down emissions under the Cities Race to Zero

The Cities Race to Zero is in full swing with four cities in the Philippines pledging to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest.

The Cities Race to Zero is a global campaign encouraging local governments to undertake green initiatives for a zero-carbon recovery that is resilient from future shocks and spurs sustainable and equitable growth.

In the Philippines, Baguio City, Quezon City, Dipolog City, and Vigan City have already committed to take part in the campaign and have pledged to help keep global warming below 1.5°Celsius by substantially reducing carbon emissions and reaching net-zero in their localities by 2050 or sooner.

From creating a culture of active mobility to massive reforestation projects, these cities are making bold climate commitments that meet the needs of their communities and help mitigate climate change.

Baguio City, Philippines

A bike-friendly city is a sustainable city. Baguio City concluded Sang-atan: The Baguio Bike Festival last June 30 to July 2, 2023 to promote cycling. Photo from Baguio City Public Information Office Facebook page.

Creating a culture of cycling is part of the Baguio City government’s direction to fulfill its multimodal mobility initiatives which aim to make the city walkable, cyclable, and inclusive while also decreasing in-city vehicular emissions. 

Traffic congestion and the increasing number of in-city vehicles due to tourism are some of Baguio city’s urgent concerns as these worsen greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The carbon footprint of Baguio’s road transport sector stands at over 126,148 tons of CO2 equivalent (tCO2e) or a little over 20% of the city’s entire emissions profile in 2018. 

This city aims to decongest its steep and limited road space one pedal at a time. Following the growing use of bicycles for transport since the pandemic—with Baguio cyclists reaching around 800 per day based on the 2022 Citizen Bike Count Program—the Baguio City government has developed designated bike lanes and “shared road” routes to make cycling safer. 

Due to its efforts, Baguio City is now recognized as one of the most bike-friendly cities in Luzon, aside from being known as the City of Pines and the Summer Capital of the Philippines. The city government continues to boost its initiatives and infrastructure developments for cycling to address bigger urban challenges and meet sustainability goals. 

Specifically, in 2021, Baguio City’s engineering office proposed the shared lanes initiative to make cycling safer and decongest roads. PHP 6-million was proposed for the introduction of bike lanes on four major roads in the city. 

Other than bike lanes, bike accessibility of destinations and the presence of natural views and greeneries are equally important considerations that could compel more individuals to ride bikes, according to focus group discussions among bikers in Baguio City.

Creating a positive attitude and perception towards biking also encourages others to bring out their bicycles. Baguio locals Valerie De Guzman and Vince Dangiapo have worked to further integrate bicycles in the city through their cycling courier services. They were recognized as Padyak (Pedal) Champions by the Mobility Awards for their outstanding work.

To further address vehicular traffic, the Baguio City government, through the Circular Cities Action Framework and Ganbatte Cities, has likewise identified the enhancement of its mobility systems as the first step in transitioning to a circular and sustainable economy. 

These enhancements include: developing integrated public transport terminals around the city; the full implementation of its Smart Mobility Master Plan and Local Public Transport Route Plan (LPTRP); and the modernization of over 15-year-old traditional public transport vehicles with more eco-friendly electric ones. These will help feed and support the city’s other overarching climate plans, programs, and activities such as the Local Climate Change Action Plan, GHG Emissions Inventory, and Low Carbon Urban Transport System, therefore speeding up Baguio City’s race to net-zero carbon emissions.

Quezon City, Philippines

Passengers board one of the Q City buses which shuttles them for free along designated routes in the city. Photo from Quezon City government website.

The Quezon City government on April 2023 through Ordinance No. SP-3184 made its City Bus Program free forever—encouraging more people to take public transport, moving more people while using less road space, and overall reducing carbon emissions.

In a Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Inventory with a 2016 baseline, Quezon City emitted 8.01-million mtCO2e. 21.5% of this entire amount or over 1.72-million mtCO2e came from the road transport sector. Buses not only generate less carbon footprint per kilometer versus medium-sized private vehicles, but they also generate less carbon footprint per capita versus compact vehicles when carrying capacity is taken into account.

Started in 2020 when public transport was limited at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Quezon City Bus Program currently bolsters the available transportation option for commuters as pandemic restrictions loosen. Since its launch, it has already catered to over 12-million passengers. 

Quezon City’s bus program has bus stops along major thoroughfares and has enabled some of the limited road spaces where there is a high volume of public commuters to be used more productively. These include Commonwealth Avenue, C5 Highway, and Aurora Boulevard. It shuttles passengers living in residential areas, such as Barangay Commonwealth, the city’s most populous barangay; those working in business districts and high-density workplaces, such as Araneta City and Eastwood City; students studying at large universities, such as the University of the Philippines – Diliman and Ateneo de Manila University; and connects passengers to the neighboring and likewise busy Pasig City. 

This public transport initiative seeks to contribute to the city’s goal of reducing carbon emissions by 30% by 2030 versus the business-as-usual scenario. This commitment to reduce carbon emissions through mobility is enshrined in Quezon City’s Enhanced Local Climate Change Action Plan for 2021-2050, under the priority climate change mitigation strategy of “Clean and Efficient Local Bus Rapid Transit System and Government-Owned Vehicles Towards Improved Air Quality.”

To ensure the free bus service’s longevity, funding for the Quezon City Bus Program will come from the general fund of the local government. With rising prices of commodities due to inflation, the free bus service is expected to also be socioeconomically beneficial for public commuters as the fares they save can be reallocated to other necessities.

The Quezon City government is also planning to introduce electric buses to be utilized in the existing bus routes in its pursuit to transition to a more sustainable public transport system which enables greenhouse gas emission reductions and improves air quality.

Dipolog City, Philippines

Government officials lead the ceremony for the installation of 91 solar street lights in Laoy Relocation, Olingan, Dipolog City as part of their efforts to switch to renewable energy. Photo from Dipolog City government Facebook page.

The 2021-2022 Philippine national winner of the World Wide Fund for Nature’s (WWF) One Planet City Challenge (OPCC) sustains its climate-saving efforts through its commitment to the Cities Race to Zero.

Dipolog City was recognized by WWF for its bold effort to cut carbon emissions by 75% by 2030, and achieve 100% emissions reduction by 2050, based on a 2018 baseline.

In 2020, Dipolog City carried out its initial assessment of greenhouse gas emissions and determined that approximately 1.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide was released, primarily from stationary fuel combustion in households, establishments, and facilities.

To aid in carbon emissions reduction, the city has invested in renewable energy and is aiming to cover at least three-fourths of its area with solar street lights, saving up to PHP 500,000 in monthly electricity costs as a co-benefit.

The city’s carbon absorption capacity will also be boosted through a large reforestation project covering 589 hectares in the mountain ranges of two villages. The reforestation project is estimated to ultimately sequester approximately 4,000 tCO2e per year. 

Additionally, this initiative aims to protect and conserve the biodiversity in the region, including the protection of the endangered Mindanao tarsier.

In the Dipolog City mayor’s speech during the local awarding of OPCC, he also cited other local government policies and initiatives which helped maintain the city’s cleanliness, such as the City Sanitation Code, the Anti-Smoking Ordinance, and prohibition of open burning of garbage.

Under the Cities Race to Zero, the city also pledged to advance towards zero waste by reducing municipal solid waste generation and creating a sustainable food system through the promotion of healthy plant-based food consumption.

Vigan City, Philippines

Pedestrians, calesas, and bicycles fill the heritage strip of Calle Crisologo, the first fully pedestrianized street in the Philippines. Photo by Elou Rigos Sagun from the Vigan City government Facebook page.

Heritage conservation is at the core of Vigan City’s urban sustainability initiatives, which also cuts across its commitments to reduce its carbon emissions.

The Historic City of Vigan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site pledged in its Cities Race to Zero commitment to creating green and healthy streets by enhancing its walkability, bike-friendliness, access to integrated transits, and identifying potential areas for future zero-emission zones by 2025. Along with Baguio, Vigan is one of the Philippines’ most walking- and cycling-friendly cities.

Even before its emission reduction efforts, heritage conservation pushed the city to permanently ban all motorized vehicles along the entire stretch of Calle Crisologo through its 2005 Transportation and Traffic Code. This makes Vigan the first city in the country to fully pedestrianize a street. A few parallel streets to Calle Crisologo in the Spanish colonial grid city have also been converted into cobblestone streets, which could lead to their full pedestrianization too. Other streets around the city are also closed to motorized traffic during weekends. Horse-drawn carriages or calesas are the only public vehicles allowed to pass along these thoroughfares. 

According to a 2017 Sustainable Urban Mobility report studying the initiatives of Philippine cities, the Vigan local government decided to pedestrianize streets to avoid further damage to old houses caused by motorized vehicles’ vibrations and to lessen pollution in the city. Through this effort, heritage zones are conserved, tourism is promoted, and environmental pollution is mitigated.

While Vigan City is already in a position to enhance its urban inclusivity and sustainability through heritage conservation, the city also pledged to initiate resilient & sustainable energy systems, enact zero waste, and promote sustainable food systems as it continues on its net-zero journey.

Setting an example

Promoting cycling and bike-friendly roads, providing free city bus transport, switching to renewable energy, massive reforestation, and pedestrianization of streets—these innovative localized climate initiatives, coupled with the political will to reduce emissions in partnership with communities, can be expanded and adopted across cities all over the world.

While the Philippines is the fourth most vulnerable country to climate change based on the 2021 Global Climate Risk Index, it only contributes 0.48% of global GHG emissions. As such, the country’s climate strategy places a focus on adaptation, with mitigation serving as a function of such efforts. In pledging to join the Race to Zero campaign, these cities are going above and beyond what the Philippines asks of its local governments by committing to a net-zero emission future.

Words by Alec Templonuevo, ICLEI Southeast Asia Communications Intern

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