The Cebu Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) IS an Environmental Project.

In the course of development, it’s very easy to pit one sector against another.  Each sector always has its own particular set of stakeholders whose rights need to be protected, and more often than not, their expectations differ, too, which may cause disagreement between groups.  But this is rather an antiquated view.  Development is always holistic, the whole is the sum of its parts, and each sector support the rest in the attainment of the common goal which is the upliftment of the standard of living of everyone.

When the Cebu BRT Project Implementation Unit (PIU) invited concerned stakeholders to a Public Hearing on the need to cut or transplant more than 2,000 trees in line with the project’s implementation, it did so not only in compliance to a requirement of law, but also in line with the BRT’s philosophy of environmental sustainability.  Contrary to what some people may think of the project, the BRT is an environmental project, besides being a transportation one.  It is not as if we are building a faster and more efficient public transport at the expense of the environment, but on the contrary, building the latter with an even higher aspirational goal in mind, that goes beyond just saving trees but addressing the broader issue of climate change and the future of the earth and mankind.

How can this be?  First, let’s look at the project’s objectives.  The Cebu BRT’s Project Development Objective (PDO) is “to improve the over-all performance of the urban passenger transport system in the project corridor in Cebu City in terms of the quality and level of service, affordability, safety, and environmental efficiency.”   The BRT is one of the classes of major undertakings which belongs to the field of environmentally-sustainable transport (EST).  In fact, the Cebu BRT is a major project pipelined under the National Environmentally-Sustainable Transport Strategy (NESTS) of the Philippine Government.

Second, we just need to look at who spearheaded the funding for this project to realize the extent of its contribution to the environment and to the broader Climate Change agenda.  The Cebu BRT was primarily approved for funding by the Clean Technology Fund, or CTF.  The $5.8 billion CTF is empowering transformation in developing and emerging economies by providing resources to scale up low carbon technologies with significant potential for long-term greenhouse gas emissions savings.  And the CTF is just one of the four (4) programs under the larger Climate Investment Funds (CIF), which is providing 72 developing and middle income countries with urgently needed resources to manage the challenges of climate change and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.  Having been approved and included in the CIF-CTF program is a concrete testimonial to the Cebu BRT’s commitment to the environment.

On an even closer look, we can even determine the extent of the project’s contribution to GHG emission savings.  The project will directly support the reduction of emissions from Cebu’s transport sector.  Based on the forecasts, implementing the BRT in Cebu City would yield annual savings across Cebu City of 115,000 tons/year of CO2e by the year 2020 and 192,000 tons by 2025.  These are equivalent to 24 percent and 41 percent of the current total annual GHG emissions from urban transport in Cebu, respectively.  The level of expected emission reductions clearly shows this project is the single undertaking ever implemented in Cebu which gives the biggest contribution to Climate Change.  And the Cebu BRT may well be, so far, the first transport sector project which will give the biggest GHG benefits to the country, counted towards our Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to the Paris Agreement.

There are other Environmental co-benefits as well.  The CTF investments would also result in a number of co-benefits:

  1. Air quality improvements and health benefits;
  2. Increased public transport user satisfaction for women;
  3. Reduced number of road accidents;
  4. Reduced share of income spent on transport;
  5. Accelerated urban development along BRT corridor;
  6. Improved capacity of planning and regulation;
  7. Improvements in city wide accessibility;
  8. Support to local economy;
  9. Opportunity for improved private service delivery.

These are all properly documented and included in the monitoring and evaluation of project implementation and outcome.

All these point out to the undeniable fact that the BRT is an environmental project and is committed to the sector’s goals and aspirations.  We should also realize, though, that in implementing this project, some trees need to be cut and/or transplanted, and that is a hard decision that needed to be done.  The Project Implementation Unit (PIU) shall adhere to all the provisions required by law in securing the Tree-Cutting Permit from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).  That’s the reason why public hearings are scheduled and the government has earnestly invited stakeholders to participate in the discussion on how this can best be done with the least negative effect.

Cebu City has pledged to commit to comply with the requirement of planting 100 seedlings for every tree that maybe cut, or even more.  And depending on DENR’s findings and recommendations, qualified trees will be earth-balled and transferred to suitable sites.  Over and above that, the City committed itself to ensure that the seedlings will be nurtured and taken care of, that these will grow into mature trees and replace the number which gave way for the efficient and effective transport services that the BRT will provide the Cebuanos in the future.