Does SL Have A Clear National Road map?
By Faadhila Thassim
Climate change undoubtedly has its own consequences and is continuously affecting countries including Sri Lanka in several different ways, making the need to promptly address matters that contribute to such climate change vital. This is reason enough for countries to achieve carbon neutrality, which seeks a balance between carbon emissions, and that of the absorption of carbon emissions from the atmosphere. Just like every other country, Sri Lanka is inevitably guilty of carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.
Sri Lanka has, however, pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, while moving towards the increase in the contribution of renewable energy sources to 70 per cent of national energy needs by 2030. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said in order achieve this objective, Sri Lanka welcomes assistance through technology transfers, skills development, investment and finance support. The question, however, is whether we have sufficient resources to meet this goal and whether the existing laws are strong enough to support achieving such a goal.
Shift to complete renewable energy generation
A major step towards achieving carbon neutrality calls for the shift from the use of fossil fuel to renewable energy generation by prioritising the use of solar and wind power for such purpose. United Nations General Secretary António Guterres said all countries need credible mid-term goals and plans that are aligned with the objective of carbon neutrality and to achieve netzero emissions by 2050, we need an urgent transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Sri Lanka currently accounts for 35 per cent of the country’s energy demand.
Energy expert Dr. Vidura Ralapanawa, while stating that we have sufficient resources to achieve 100 per cent renewable energy by 2040 to 2050, added that there are however several mechanisms that have to be adopted to put such resources into proper use. He added the issue with establishing solar panels for solar power generation in Sri Lanka is the unavailability of sufficient land for such purpose, while stating that this could result in the clearing of forests for land. In the event forest lands are cleared for such purpose, it does not sufficiently contribute towards achieving carbon neutrality.
Dr. Ralapanawa added however that an alternative for such issue is the establishment of floating solar power generation facilities in lagoons and reservoirs and that several such water sources are available in Sri Lanka including the Negombo Lagoon, and the Puttalam Lagoon. He noted that one constantly discussed topic in the recent past is the need for Liquefied Natural Gas, adding however that Sri Lanka should stop focusing on natural gas and instead promote setting up facilities for the generation of renewable energy.
Carbon neutral transport
Dr. Ralapanawa, commenting on the use of electric trucks and busses in several countries, said one main method by which carbon emissions could be minimised is by shifting to vehicles that operate in such a manner for public transport, adding that Sri Lanka has already taken a huge step with the innovation of electric tuk tuks.
He added although the initial payments of such vehicles are relatively high, its operation and repair cost are low, and thereby it is ideal for Sri Lanka to shift towards the use of electric vehicles, as their prices are also dropping. He further said there is a novel invention of an electric train engine that also requires batteries, adding that while this is currently not commercial, it could also be used in Sri Lanka over the next ten years.
Hydroelectric power generation
Dr. Ralapanawa said due to spills from reservoirs, there is a waste of water that could be used to generate carbon-free electricity, adding that there are constant spills and that this has to be addressed. He further said energy experts are pressuring the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) through the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) and other means to get CEB to have a more transparent, scientifically correct methodology for dispatch and hydro storage.
Law in relation to carbon emission
Attorney-at-Law Ravindranath Dabare said carbon emission is controlled by several laws directly and by way of laws that have been laid down prohibiting clearing trees, which is vital for carbon emission absorption. He added there are certain regulations that have been issued in accordance with the provisions of the National Environmental Act, which prohibits certain types of carbon emissions that are hazardous to the environment, and several others including regulations that establish exhaust emission standards, gasoline emission standards, and even fuel standards. Dabare said there are also regulations pertaining to exhaust emission standards for imported vehicles, while stating that the issue however is not with the laws, but with the implementation of such laws, while adding that carbon footprint laws not being applied and monitored is a major shortfall.
He said the manner in which vehicle emission certificates are provided to supposedly control emissions is not monitored, adding that there are still several vehicles that emit more than the standard amounts permitted. He further said there are also public nuisance laws, adding however that even these laws are very rarely enforced, and that operations with high levels of emissions are also uncontrolled and not monitored, while these shortfalls are also not sufficiently addressed by the Central Environmental Authority (CEA).
He added an additional burden in shifting towards carbon neutrality is the constant forest clearing that is taking place at a rapid pace and although the need to avoid carbon emission is needed to achieve carbon neutrality, this alone is insufficient and should be coupled with conserving forest reserves for the purpose of absorbing such emissions. Hemantha Withanage, while stating that introducing new laws is also required, added what is more ideal is to strengthen existing laws and putting them into force.
What needs to be done?
Dr. Ralapanawa said in order to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, there has to be a clear national roadmap with targets and an execution plan, adding that there has to also be a proper policy framework. He further said in Sri Lanka authorities fail to work in cooperation, adding that in order to achieve this target, it is essential for their actions to not be contradictory