Environmental protection -- a retro way in Georgia

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Much of the world is looking to advanced technologies to pursue environmental protection but, in Georgia, it is a return to the past that is offering a cost-effective way forward.

The Georgians are moving back to 1904, when they first started their trams service in Tbilisi, with an aim to reduce municipal emissions of carbon dioxide by one fifth by the year 2020.

The emission reduction target was recently signed into The Covenant of Mayors. The international convention, first promulgated in 2008, has so far drawn signatures from more than 2,000 mayors from all 27 European Union member states and 10 non-EU countries.

Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava promised to join the concerted roll-back on pollution. Tbilisi is one of three capital cities of non-EU countries to have signed the convention so far and the only one in Georgia.

"It is not important (whether you are) big cities or small ones, we have to fight against ecological and environmental issues together," the mayor said.

And the city of Tbilisi is not only promising, it is acting as well, by having worked out its own action plan of re-introducing the trams service as part of the public transport system.

"Better transport planning in the city (and) the restoration of the tram service are our main tasks," said Zviad Archuadze, who heads the Tbilisi City Hall's economic service department.

Renewable energy and energy efficiency are the keys to achieving the 20 percent CO2 reduction in 10 years' time and the Georgian capital has pinned its hopes on the energy-efficiency front.

The rationale behind the choice of a trams service includes the history and experience of tram cars in Tbilisi.

The Tbilisi trams service at its height ran along 53.9 kilometers of tracks, almost double the track length of the city's current underground railway system.

"Seven trams can replace 10 buses," said Kakha Mchedlidze, one of the local activists in favor of restoration of the trams service. "While seven trams' expenses are only 131 lari (for electricity), 10 buses consume 1,008 lari worth of diesel. One bus passenger costs 29 tetri (0.29 lari) and a tram passenger, five tetri (0.05 lari)."

One U.S. dollar fetches 1.76 lari.

Reduction in the number of buses running on fossil fuels is expected to help with the anticipated achievement of the emissions reduction as promised under The Covenant of Mayors. These buses combine to consume 29 million lari worth of diesel per year and Georgia is a country without its own oil resources.

"Vehicle emissions are the primary source of air pollution in our country," said Noe Megrelishvili, from the Georgian ministry of environment and natural resources. However, he had no detail on how bad the air pollution can be in the country.

Georgia, however, has a great potential in hydro power. The South Caucasus country is using 18 percent of its known hydro resources to generate up to 88 percent of the country's electricity. And the efficiency of electric motors is claimed to be two to three times higher than the diesel-driven engines.

Tbilisi now has a fleet of 640 yellow buses, without counting the numerous mini vans which are not operated by City Hall.

Once previous tram tracks are fully restored and possibly extended in Tbilisi, the number of buses needed will decrease, relieving the city of some of its diesel exhaust.

The Tbilisi tram service was stopped in 2006 due to economic reasons but the incumbent mayor promises to prop up the restored service with municipal support.

"Our state will prioritize and subsidize electric transport," Ugulava said.

So the remaining question is when will the much-psyched up trams service return for real.

The municipal authorities have only hinted by disclosing that the study of potential locations of tracks for trams service in Tbilisi will start in 2011.

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