Before you light up that “five star,” kwitis or “super lolo,” you better think twice as studies show that carbon dioxide emission (CO2) from firecracker explosions during New Year celebrations in urban areas increase to as much as 2,000 percent.
Former senator and secretary of the Climate Change Commission Heherson Alvarez, who had also served as Environment chief, on Thursday reminded the public that when they welcome 2017 with a bang in the expected traditional New Year firecracker fiesta, the clear loser is the environment.
“Our Oriental firecracker mentality, supposedly to ward off evil spirits, shows our disregard for the adverse environmental, public safety and health impacts of firecracker explosions that essentially add greenhouse gas emissions that heat the Earth, caused by flash gunpowder explosions and colorful toxic chemical stars,” he noted.
As DENR secretary in 2001, Alvarez said the agency recorded a 2,000-percent increase in CO2 emissions as a result of firecracker explosions.
He added it would be no surprise after 15 years that another such 2,000 percent greenhouse emissions hike is a real possibility.
At the United Nations COP22 in Marrakech last month, the former senator, also Earthsavers founder who was part of the Philippine delegation, said the pressure for decarbonization is even more crucial for small islands and archipelagic states that call for climate justice so as not to breach 1.5°C for survival
A science report estimated that a continued fossil-intensive emissions scenario will frighteningly double the 2 percent estimated global heating tipping point to a 4 percent heating by 2060 because of carbon-cycle feedbacks by the overheated oceans of the world, Alvarez added.
He said a five gigaton (billion tons) gap in COP-Cancun’s committed 48 gigaton carbon emissions reduction by 2020, which is equivalent to one year’s global emissions in the transportation sector, however, remains unsolved.
“By 2060, if man’s folly would have altered the world’s temperature by four degrees from pre-Industrial Revolution levels, the overheating would certainly accelerate the melting of the massive ice sheets in the Arctic and in Greenland,” Alvarez warned.
This sea-level rise will cause intense flooding in low-lying areas like Metro Manila, Malabon City (Metro Manila), Guimaras and Cebu.
In 2060, more than 60 percent of the country’s low-lying islands and urban coastal areas will be permanently submerged.
“Part of the political and public mindset change sorely needed is that firecracker mentality, which aggravates global warming. In the firecracker fiesta mode, the most vulnerable members of society, our children, end up paying the price of limbs, lives and livelihood loss including homes razed to the ground through firecracker- generated fires,” Alvarez said.
But, he added, far more ruinous is the impact of global warming and climate change: the destruction of whole communities, human institutions and infrastructure.
A national ban on pyrotechnics and firecrackers is advocated by President Rodrigo Duterte, which Alvarez said is devoutly to be wished amid the lobby of manufacturers and importers.
The joint campaign of the Department of Health and the Philippine National Police to execute “IWAS Paputok” should be fully supported by the public , according to him.
“The solution remains with city governments that have their priorities right. Davao has a total ban. Mandaue and Cebu regulate sales. Makati (Metro Manila) declared pipeline oil-polluted Barangay Bangkal as a ‘no-firecracker zone’ while [the cities of]Taguig and Pasay [both in Metro Manila]have centralized firecracker show sites,” Alvarez said.
He added, “In order to preempt the four degree Centigrade heating by 2060, the pressure ‘deep and early carbon cuts,’ which the Philippines pioneered at COP-14 in Poznan is now made possible by the global deal forged in COP 21 in Paris. But the grave danger remains that our own ‘firecracker mentality’ only adds senselessly to that dangerous gigaton carbon gap by 2020.”
In 2008, Sydney, Australia made the decision to make its New Year’s celebrations carbon-neutral.
Despite having 5000 kilograms of explosive devices and spending $5 million on the celebrations, Sydney made a concerted attempt to make sure the environmental damage was mitigated.
It measured emissions from fireworks, fuels, electricity consumption and waste during the event and then purchased power and carbon credits.
“Of course, this is a cost-intensive remedy, so our solution may be to reduce our official fireworks and firecracker output. Filipinos are ingenious; tin cans, drums, trumpets, horns and other materials could be used to ring in the New Year,” Alvarez said.