World’s first carbon -sensitive environmentally friendly election campaign

Saturday, 2 November 2019 00:10 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Shanika Sriyananda

Launching the world’s first carbon-sensitive environmental friendly election campaign, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) has set up a system to measure carbon emission released from vehicles and electricity that is used during its political campaigns, to compensate for Carbon Dioxide (CO2) pollution by planting trees in each district.

Under this program, the total carbon released to the atmosphere from all vehicles bringing politicians, security officials, and supporters to rallies will be diligently recorded, and suitable trees will be planted to offset carbon emission.

“We know that some people will look at this tree planting program as a joke, but planting trees is the most effective means to reduce CO2 to address climate change. Two months ago, this was revealed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which has requested to plant trees to reduce CO2, to have a CO2-free world between 2030 to 2050,” Colombo University’s former Zoology Department Head Prof. Sarath Kotagama said. 

Addressing media in Colombo, he said Sri Lanka had enough laws and regulations to tackle environmental issues, but there were issues in implementation.  

He said the environmental experts of the Viyath Maga environmental committee had reached a common conclusion to have different solutions to different fields in the environment like wildlife, air, land, etc., as the country needed a proper plan to manage its limited resources using the latest technology carefully and effectively to suit the country’s environment.

“We had a series of dialogues on all of those fields and submitted our recommendations on how to move forward to solve the issues. Most people wonder how to achieve success when we recommend a carbon-free and garbage-free country. Therefore Viyath Maga has decided that the best way to commence such a program is parallel to the SLPP election campaign,” Prof. Kotagama, who is an ornithologist and environmentalist, said, highlighting the need of looking after the newly planted trees for the next 15 years.

“We have to be committed to look after those plants for 15-years to reap the desired benefit of reducing CO2 otherwise it will not be effective,” he said.

SL emits 18,943 kilotons of greenhouse gases 

Sri Jayawardenapura University’s senior Prof. Hemanthi Ranasinghe said according to research data Sri Lanka emitted 18,943 kilotons of Green House Gasses (GHGs) in 2010 and it would double by 2030.

“We release GHGs from transportation, agriculture, energy generation, domestic usages and in other different means. There is no other effective means than planting trees to reduce Sri Lanka’s contribution to GHGs,” Prof Ranasinghe, who is a Professor in Forestry and Environmental Sciences, said.

She said that Sri Lanka had done tree planting programs to reduce GHGs under its commitment to the IPCC which it had become a signatory in 1992 and also under the Paris Agreement, Sri Lanka had to increase its forest cover from 29.6% to 32% by 2030.

“According to our commitment to the Paris Agreement, we have to increase forest cover by 150,000 hectares but to compensate our GHGs we should have a forest cover seven times more than 150,000 hectares,” she said.

Prof. Ranasinghe, explaining on how the tree planting program under the carbon-sensitive election campaign progressed, said different kinds of plants had been selected to suit different terrains and climatic conditions of the districts that the SLPP’s election campaign was planned to hold.

“We have selected the parks, grounds, abandon lands, riverbanks, home gardens, walkways, and urban roads to plant trees. This will also be an islandwide awareness campaign to motivate the public on the importance of regaining the country’s forest cover. We hope to plant between 250 to 300 plants in each area that the SLPP holds its presidential campaign,” she said.

She said the SLPP’s carbon-sensitive election campaign had been successfully completed in Anuradhapura, Gampaha, Galle and Kurunegala districts, and people had voluntarily participated in the program by planting trees in their home gardens, religious places, parks, and alongside roads.

The Sri Lanka Customs former Deputy Director Samantha Gunasekara said some other countries like Bangladesh had environmental friendly election campaigns but no country had done a campaign to reduce carbon footprint.

“We have organised a team to collect data on how many vehicles come for the campaign, the distance they came from, number of people, the kinds of vehicles like buses, lorries, tractors, bikes, cars and vans and the electricity that used during the political rally to calculate carbon emission to compensate it by planting trees,” he said, adding that after 20-years the carbon emitted during the election campaign will be zero, with the amount of oxygen released from trees that planted during the campaign. 

Gunasekara said 80 kilograms or one and a half lorry loads of PET bottles had been collected after the SLPP’s maiden rally held in Anuradhapura, and the bottles had already been handed over to a private company to recycle. 

Win election and environment 

“Our aim is to win the election and the environment as well,” he said adding they will up-cycle the cut-outs and banners used during the election campaign.

The Wildlife Nature Protection Society’s former president Prof. Lakdas Fernando said this tree-planting program would be effective and successful as it would be a similar project to the tree-planting project launched in Sinharaja, where each and every plant was tagged, recorded, calculated its growth and monitored.

“Each plant will have an identity and will be given a number. If a plant is malnourished we can supplement it and if a plant has died we can replace it. People need to be dedicated to look after these plants that they grow for the next 15 to 20 years to make this effort successful,” he said.

National Cleaner Production Centre Chief Executive Officer Samantha Kumarasena said as a third party the company would have a transparent process to verify the carbon footprint under ISO 14064 - 1, 2, 3 and ISO 14064 Standards.

“As an independent organisation we are happy to contribute to the world’s first carbon-sensitive election campaign to calculate carbon footprint and to take actions to reduce it,” he said adding that calculating carbon and verifying is a novel experience for them.

Under the carbon-sensitive election campaign number of different categories of vehicles with distance travelled and the number of people present at the rallies will be recorded including the quantum fossil fuel in electricity generation.

Transparency in verifying CO2 emission 

The gathered data will be scientifically analysed and quantified by specialists who will translate this data into the number of trees to be planted and looked after for the next 15 to 20 years. 

“In this manner, the CO2 released to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuel will be neutralised by planting more than the required number of trees which will help to reduce global warming. Karunasena said they verified emitting 148 tonnes of carbon emitted from vehicles and electricity consumption during the SLPP’s maiden political rally held in Anuradhapura.

Inviting other political parties to join with Viyath Maga to reduce their carbon footprint during their political rallies, its secretary Darshini Lahandapura said they were ready to help the other political parties to offer the know-how if they plan a similar eco-friendly election campaign, as it was a national cause that benefits the country’s future.

She said Viyath Maga had already submitted its environmental policy, which included 16 areas of concern, to their Chairman and SLPP presidential candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who had given his fullest blessing to launch the carbon-sensitive election campaign during his political rallies.

“Our chairman instructed us to discourage to use polythene and plastics during his political campaign,” she said. 

Pic by Nisal Baduge