Easier Said Than Done

By Risidra Mendis | Published: 2:00 AM Nov 20 2021
Echo Easier Said Than Done

By Risidra Mendis

Climate Change is a much talked about subject these days. World Leaders meet and the discussions go on. But making these crucial decisions a reality is yet to be done. The recently concluded annual United Nations climate change Conference of the Parties (COP26) that commenced on 31 October 2021 and ended on 12 November 2021 in Glasgow Scotland had more than 100 world leaders in attendance. This year's COP is particularly crucial because it is clear from the latest climate science that countries are still way off track to meet the targets outlined in the Paris Agreement.

At COP26, after years of negotiations, the Paris Agreement was agreed by almost all of the countries in the world. The Paris Agreement is a global treaty on climate change. It outlines the steps governments agree to take to reduce emissions and help people adapt to a warmer world, so we can build a sustainable future. Governments pledged to keep the rise in global average temperatures to well below 2 degrees — preferably 1.5 degrees Celsius – above pre-industrial levels. 

“Sri Lanka's promises at COP26 are ambitious, but it will be impossible to hold them to account. Sri Lanka is one of the 128 countries that have pledged to stop deforestation by 2030. We do know, however, that Sri Lanka was one of the countries with the most deforestation in recent years. The Sri Lankan Government removed protection to almost 500,000 hectares of Other State Forests by issuing the Forest circular 1/2020 and subsequent circulars 2/2021 to hand over them to the Division Secretaries for development purposes,” Senior Advisor/Director Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) Hemantha Withanage said. 

Recent circular

He said the most recent circular issued by the Land Commissioner allows mining inside those forests without obtaining the views of the Forest and Wildlife Conservation Departments. “Joining a pledge while allowing political supporters to grab forestland shows the hypocrisy of the Government of Sri Lanka. The statement signed at Glasgow states they are committing to working collectively to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030 while delivering sustainable development and promoting an inclusive rural transformation,” Withanage explained.  

He added that countries promise to conserve forests and other terrestrial ecosystems and accelerate their restoration and further pledge to reduce vulnerability, build resilience, and enhance rural livelihoods, including through empowering communities, the development of profitable, sustainable agriculture, and recognition of the multiple values of forests, while recognising the rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as local communities, in accordance with relevant national legislation and international instruments.

"The COP26 pledge is vague and includes multiple loopholes that allow big polluters to continue emitting greenhouse gases. The financial pledges are very similar to REDD initiatives, which have failed to stop climate change and resulted in large-scale land grabbing around the world in the last ten years. This is not the first time to see such announcements by global leaders. Updated Sri Lanka’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) commits to increase 32 per cent forest cover by 2030 and reduce greenhouse emissions by 14.5 per cent for the period of 2021-2030 from Power (electricity generation), Transport, Industry, Waste, Forestry, and Agriculture,” Withanage said.

He said although Sri Lanka claim for 29.2 per cent forest cover, the close canopy forest is almost 17 per cent and our recent investigation in the forested areas in Moneragala shows that many forest areas including Vandama-Demaliya, Kotiyagala-Wattegama are destructed.

70% renewable energy

“Sri Lanka’s NDC further promises to achieve 70 per cent renewable energy in electricity generation by 2030, achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 in electricity generation, Adopting ‘Colombo Declaration on Sustainable Nitrogen Management’ with an ambition to halve nitrogen waste by 2030, Banning agro-chemicals and chemical fertiliser, Promoting organic fertiliser and farming, Banning single-use plastics, Promoting e-mobility and Promoting circular economy, Sri Lanka expects to achieve its carbon neutrality by 2060,” Executive Director CEJ Dilena Pathragoda said. 

He said all these are very high ambitious targets which needs a lot of investment and expert involvements. "As we see how the Government's ambitions to produce food from organic cultivation were shattered by poor practices, we have our doubts about the NDC targets being implemented, as these promises are merely political promises, and holding the Government accountable is difficult."

“Leaders of 128 countries have pledged to end and reverse deforestation by 2030, in the COP26 climate summit's first major deal. Brazil — where stretches of the Amazon rainforest have been cut down — was among the signatories. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was also among them who promised to end and reverse deforestation by 2030,” Convener of Biodiversity Conservation and Research Circle of Sri Lanka Supun Lahiru Prakash explained. 

Forest cover to 32%

However, he said it is doubtful how Sri Lanka will end and reverse deforestation by 2030 when considering the current situation in the country.  “As per the Vistas of Prosperity Policy Statement, Sri Lanka wishes to increase the forest cover in Sri Lanka up to 30 per cent. Sri Lanka submitted its initial NDCs in September 2016 as a country that ratified the Paris Agreement and mentioned the aim of the country to increase the forest cover to 32 per cent. Again the Government has pledged to achieve the same target through its updated NDCs to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) this year,” Prakash said. 

He said during the last decade and at the present a rapid deforestation could be seen and there is no significant attempt to stop it. “Therefore, the Presidents’ promise to end and reverse deforestation by 2030 would be unachievable. Even though the carbon footprint of Sri Lanka is low, our country is highly vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change. The country focuses on building the resilience of agriculture, fisheries, livestock, health, water, biodiversity, coastal and marine, tourism, urban planning and human settlement sectors. As a small tropical island nation and ranked in a higher position in the Climate Risk Index, Sri Lanka is more vulnerable to adverse impacts of climate change,” Prakash said.

He is of the view that people don’t have a good knowledge about climate change mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damage. “They have no idea about NDCs at all. If the Sri Lankan people were aware of these things, they would demand essential policy changes and decisions to tackle the adverse impacts of climate change. I learned that language is a bottleneck in climate education in Sri Lanka. There are very limited opportunities for the local people who communicate in Sinhalese to be aware of climate change. The climate knowledge is mostly in English and reliable and updated climate information in Sinhalese language is lacking or has limited access,” Prakash explained.

By Risidra Mendis | Published: 2:00 AM Nov 20 2021

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