The repercussions of climate change have become more significantly noticeable over the years with its overall negative impact on the environment, agriculture, health, tourism and society making an upward trend.
While Sri Lanka is plunged in an economic crisis, questions have surfaced as to whether measures of mitigating climate change has been incorporated into the mechanisms and proposals adopted to overcome the crisis.
According to the World Bank’s Climate Change Knowledge Portal, Sri Lanka’s high temperatures, unique and complex hydrological regime, and exposure to extreme climate events have made the country highly vulnerable to climate change and its impacts.
The United States Environment Protection Agency has observed that greenhouse gases from human activities are the most significant driver of observed climate change since the mid-20th Century in Sri Lanka and the most common causes of increasing greenhouse gases include the massive use of fossil fuels and the exploitation of forests over the years.
The Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) noted that the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Sri Lanka is the emission of Carbon dioxide which once released to the atmosphere through activities such as burning fossil fuels for electricity production, heat, transport and manufacturing industries, causes air pollution.
The most significant impact on the environment is the increase in temperature. According to the Department of Meteorology, the annual mean air temperature has shown a significant increase in recent decades.
Shortfalls in Sri Lanka’s contribution towards climate change
CEJ noted that the Ministry of Environment submitted its Updated Nationally Determined Contribution, whereas the conditional and unconditional pledges within the updated NDCs are likely to exceed Sri Lanka’s fair-share national greenhouse gas reduction allocation in 2030, as determined by a principled framework of international environmental law, in order to attain the long-term temperature goals of the Paris Agreement.
“The Government of Sri Lanka, over the years has set certain mechanisms/ strategies to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), climate targets for transportation of Sri Lanka has included to reduce the GGE against BAU scenario by 10 per cent in the sector by 2030, reduce unproductive vehicles by 50 per cent in 2025, the establishment of energy efficient and environmentally sustainable transport systems by 2030 and to reduce the petroleum fuel use in the transport sub-sector by five per cent by introducing alternative strategies such as efficient modes of transport and electrification of transport by 2020 as indicated in the Sri Lanka Energy Sector Development Plan for a Knowledge-based Economy 2015-2025,” CEJ stated.
However, they added that there is inefficiency and malfunction in the implementation of these methods, and some mechanisms/ strategies have not yet been installed adding that procedures followed in smog inspection in Sri Lanka, particularly known as ‘Drive-green Sri Lanka vehicle emission tests’, have failed in conducting tests and procedures more accurately and also in regulating, enforcing and maintaining the emission standards enforced by the regulatory authorities in this regard.
They added that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in his Election Manifesto, vouched that renewable energy would account for and generate 80 per cent of the overall energy requirement of Sri Lanka by 2030.
However, with the National Budget 2021 proposals being passed by Parliament in November 2020, the contribution of 80 per cent renewable energy to the national grid was reduced to 70 per cent of the overall energy requirement of Sri Lanka by 2030, violating the Legitimate Expectancy of the citizens, CEJ observed.
Carbon Neutral by 2050
Senior adviser to the CEJ and Chair of Friends of Earth International, Hemantha Withanage said, Sri Lanka aspires to become a carbon neutral country by 2050 by making the most out of the energy available and developing cleaner energy resources according to the National Energy Policy and Strategies of Sri Lanka. However, it is doubtful whether the preparation and actions to help promote or achieve such energy efficiency improvement.
In order to help achieve goals in preventing climate risks, increasing the use of all forms of renewable energy in a sustainable manner is mandatory, Withanage said, adding however, that authorities have failed to take cognisance of the provisions of the Sustainable Energy Authority Act No. 35 of 2007, which they are mandated to give effect to in achieving sustainable energy goals and ultimately decreasing climate change risk.
He added, the country’s carbon emission increases day by day due to many reasons such as electricity, transportation, industrial work and the current laws and/or policies are not adequate enough to control the emission and there is a failure in implementing the new mechanisms and strategies to the system.
Inaction of authorities
Under Article 27 (14) of the Constitution, relevant authorities owe a public duty to protect and preserve the environmentally sensitive ecological areas and under Article 28(f) of the Constitution, everyone has a fundamental duty to protect nature and conserve its riches are responsible to introduce new strategies/ mechanisms and implement new laws and policies relating to climate change mitigation while they organise climate change awareness programmes and campaigns around the country to educate the public about the climate change crisis and the importance of mitigating its impacts.
The said inactions and/or failure to act and or neglect to perform the duty of/by the respondents will amount to continuous violation of the concepts and principles of environmental law enshrined in the international conventions and declarations, particularly the concepts of sustainable development, inter-generational equity, principle of precautionary action, public interest litigation, polluter pays and doctrine of public trust which have been judicially determined and have become part of the domestic law of Sri Lanka.
According to CEJ, the Sustainable Development Goal No. 13 of the United Nations Development Programme indicates that urgent actions should be taken to combat climate change and its impact. Sustainable Development Goal No. 7 indicates that investing in solar, wind, and thermal power, improving energy productivity, and ensuring energy for all is vital if we are to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 7 by 2030.
Further, it is emphasised that expanding infrastructure and upgrading technology to provide clean and more efficient energy in all countries will encourage growth and help the environment.
CEJ observed that development projects in energy must be built to experience such characteristics and not to eliminate the resources we already have in the country.
“Government of Sri Lanka is manifested by it becoming a contracting party and subsequently ratifying, or acceding to/ or becoming a signatory to several international conventions and declarations relating to environmental conservation such as the Paris Convention, 2016, Stockholm Declaration on Human Environment, 1972, Paris Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, 1972, Rio Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992. Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, 1992, Paris Declaration on the Responsibilities of Present Generation towards Future Generations, 1997, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 1992, and Johannesburg Declaration on Sustainable Development, 2002. However, Sri Lanka has failed to adhere to the International Conventions and authorities have thereby violated their responsibilities,” CEJ observed.
“Therefore, Sri Lanka, being a party to the Agreement, is legally bound and committed to reducing our Greenhouse Gas Emissions to considerably lower levels by 2030 by signing this Agreement. However, to achieve this goal, the country must promote and encourage its renewable energy use and in doing so it must not violate the other laws, fundamental rights of the citizens, and regulations established for the betterment of the country,” Withanage noted.
The primary responsibility for the protection, preservation, and conservation of the country’s biological diversity and ecological heritage and for the exploitation and utilisation of such resources in a rational manner for the well-being, development, and advancement of the people of Sri Lanka lies with the Government but there is a continuous violation of their responsibilities towards the environment and the people of the country, CEJ said.
Sri Lanka, in the year 2016, signed the Paris Agreement to the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change, the legally binding international treaty on climate change. Accordingly, this Agreement encourages all the party countries to strengthen their corporation to enhance and elevate climate adaptation and minimise potential climate impacts.
According to the CEJ, the aim of the agreement, as described in Article 2, is to have a stronger response to the danger of climate change; it seeks to enhance the implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and foster climate resilience, including low greenhouse gas emission developments.
Failure to implement and adhere to the contents of the aforesaid Paris Agreement amounts to imminent infringement and/or continuous violation and/or violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 12(1), 14(1)(g) and 14(1)(h) of the Constitution of Sri Lanka.
Signing the Paris Agreement is the first step towards ratification, and thereafter, countries determine what contributions they should make to achieve the aims of the Paris Agreement. Such contributions set by a particular country are called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), whereas such contributions should be “ambitious effort” and represent a progression over time.
Sri Lanka, as a member of the United Nations and the Paris Agreement, is bound to take measures to enhance and elevate climate adaptation and mitigation of potential climate impacts. However, if Sri Lanka does not adhere to such legal responsibility under international law, the country will be subjected to international trade and various other restrictions and repercussions, Withanage expressed.
“The mitigation and adaptation efforts to combat climate change impacts should be modelled after the strategies followed in countries like Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland as these countries are recognised as having introduced better mitigation and adaptation efforts to combat climate change impacts in the world to date,” Withanage said.
According to Sweden’s Climate Act, the Government has an obligation to pursue a climate policy based on the climate goals. Each Government must provide clear reports as to how the goals are being achieved, and the Independent Climate Policy Council reviews how well the Government’s overall policy meets the climate goals.
“Sri Lanka needs to amend vehicle importation policies to encourage more electric vehicles and its infrastructures such as charging facilities, as the carbon mitigation would result from more electric vehicles entering the fleet. The country should implement mandatory emission testing and roadworthiness inspections, ensuring that obsolete and out dated vehicles are not allowed on the roads,” he said.
He further called for the enhanced use of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and biomass for electricity production and reduce the amount of GGE created by fossil fuel burning in electricity production adding that the use of biogas technologies should also be increased, particularly in rural areas.
“New policies should be implemented to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions originating from agricultural, industrial, transport, and energy production activities with the introduction of a taxation system to reduce and control the greenhouse gas emission from industries, and new strategies should be implemented to manage wastage in manufacture industries,” he added.
By Faadhila Thassim