Oxygen for environment policies

Friday, 14 February 2020 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Everyone knows that the environment is precious. For Sri Lanka there is additional importance as the country is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change, which could have serious impact on the lives of people. But this is an issue that has had limited focus from policymakers, with climate vulnerability not being built into core development objectives. 

The fact that Sri Lankans think that protecting the climate is important is seen by how enthusiastically they engaged with the video of a public official standing up for public interest and raising pertinent issues on development and responding to Parliamentarian Sanath Nishantha. But the challenge is getting policymakers, especially politicians, to listen to the public and act on the data that has already been available for several years. 

In 2018 the World Bank releasing a report wanted climate change could decrease Sri Lankan living standards around 4.9% to 7% by 2050 and wipe out up to $ 50 billion in Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Hotspots are areas which are highly vulnerable to climate change, which has caused rainfall patterns to change gradually, and causes extreme weather events such as floods, droughts and cyclones. The severe hotspots in Sri Lanka where the impact would be mostly felt are around agricultural areas in the dry zone, such as the Northern, North Western and North Central Provinces, where the living standards could fall up to 11% in a worst-case scenario.

In the severe hotspots, $12 billion in GDP could be wiped out. Non-agricultural jobs would grow resilience to climate change on agricultural families, while access to markets and increased education would help as well. Most of Sri Lanka’s other provinces are moderate hotspots, where living standards would fall between 4%-8% by 2050 at the worst. 

The report provides options to prioritise investments and strategies to build local resilience to climate change. The analysis suggests that creating opportunities in less climate-sensitive sectors through enhancing education opportunities, improving market access, and generating non-agricultural jobs could reduce the overall severity of climate-related impact on the living standards of the vulnerable. If these interventions were implemented together, they would likely yield greater benefits than if implemented individually. This is especially important given the vulnerable macroeconomic situation Sri Lanka faces as it attempts to revive its growth and tackle an immense debt burden. 

There are also additional steps that the private sector could work on such as cutting chemical and plastic use to help the environment. According to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) Sri Lankan firms could cut chemical usage and costs by 40% and save on water and energy use if they follow best practices. By doing that, they have associated co-benefits of 25%-30% of energy savings and 25%-30% of water savings, because all these chemicals are going into high energy consuming processes or in the water and then discharged. The results were found following a study conducted on 12 leading firms in the apparel, rubber and hospitality industries. This would also boost worker safety and help bottom lines of companies. These are just two of many thousands of studies and research to fight climate change.  

What needs to be done is clear. Who will do it and how is what the public needs to ask and actively ensure that they are part of the process so goals are actually reached before it is too late.