Bridging the gaps in research, policy and industry

Tuesday, 27 February 2018 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

University of Colombo Department of Economics Senior Lecturer Dr. Lalithasiri Gunaruwan, University of Moratuwa Department of Chemical & Process Engineering Prof. Ajith de Alwis, Rice Research and Development Institute, Deputy Director (Rice Research and Development) Nihal Sirisena Dinaratne, Environmental Economics Policy of the IPS Sri Lanka Research Fellow Head Dr. Athula Senaratne and USA University of Colorado National Snow and Ice Data Centre Prof. Kevin Schaefer at the head table - Pix by Upul Abayasekara


By Shanika Sriyananda

If any government focuses only on environment, or economy, or society at the expense of the others, it would create unbalance, unstable and unsustainable power suit, a top US scientist said.

“Any kind of sustainable power suit has the balance between the environment, economy and the society simultaneously,” said Prof Kevin Schaefer of University of Colorado National Snow and Ice Data Centre, USA.

Prof. Schaefer, who worked as an expert at the White House for former US President Bill Clinton and also for many agencies researching sustainable development, said that to solve the climate change issue, one could not just look at environmental issues alone, but also needed to consider critical issues like poverty and social equity. 

“Otherwise, we just can’t solve the problem of climate change,” he said, adding that we are in the 21st century, which is a fuel based society and needs new low energy products and services.  Addressing the ‘Climate Change and Sustainability Forum 2018’, held in Colombo recently and organised by The International Institute of Knowledge Management (TIIKM), Prof. Schaefer said that the countries that develop those kinds of products and services first will be the countries which sell them and grow economically. 

“At the, same time they can tackle the issues like poverty and equity. In terms of power suits the governments have a very strong role to play in doing research. We as the research community also play an important role in this,” he noted. 

The forum was organised under the theme of ‘Bridging the Gaps in Research, Policy and Industry’, a very significant and timely topic for the whole world. The event was graced by policy makers, investors, researchers, academicians, professionals, and students to widen their scope by listening to renowned persons in the field.

With over 100 local and foreign participants, the forum held in the Second International Conference on Climate Change 2018 was a global platform to discuss and find solutions to climate change-related issues in achieving global sustainability. 

The International Institute of Knowledge Management (TIIKM) is an entity that facilitates the purpose of knowledge transfer by constructing the career of the research fraternity, empowering decision making in the cooperate sector and promoting quality decisions for policy makers through academic conferences. 

A vision of transforming the Asian research culture to betterment is made possible by TIIKM Conferences, by setting novel standards for better engagement, promoting international exchange through research and bridging research to industry. Research serves as the fundamental component for the development of ideas and concepts, leading towards the emergence of innovations. TIIKM creates that platform to address the need of researchers to showcase their work to the outside world and contribute towards constructing a meaningful future.

Department of Agriculture Rice Research and Development Institute Deputy Director (Rice Research and Development) Nihal Sirisena Dinaratne, speaking on the perspective of agriculture, said that the country could manage rice on a sustainable manner.


He revealed that Sri Lanka, being a major rice-producing country, uses 43% of the country’s agricultural land on agriculture, where over 1.8 farmers were engaged in rice cultivation. 

“Every Sri Lankan consumes nearly 115 kg of rice annually,” he said noting that during the last 30 years, Sri Lankan scientists of the Department of Agriculture had tried to develop rice varieties which can stand under abiotic condition. 

According to Dinaratne, with climate change, the country will experiences stress conditions, saline areas, submerged conditions, iron toxic conditions and also pests and other diseases. The Department scientists have developed new technologies which can apply to overcome the abiotic conditions. 

Meanwhile, he said the Department had also introduced a wet and drying system when there were water stressed conditions, to maintain sustainability, and also minimise methane emissions while instructing the farmers not to burn their rice straw to minimise carbon dioxide emissions. 

“But still the problem is adaptation, and the farmers need to be encourage to adopt these methods to maintain the sustainability of the rice sector,” Dinaratne said, adding that Sri Lanka is undergoing the worst climatic stress condition, where the farmers have failed in four seasons after 40 years, in the country’s  agricultural history. 

Coordinating Secretariat for Science and Innovation Project Director Prof. Ajith de Alwis said that the theme ‘Bridging the Gaps in Research, Policy and Industry’ is a triple pillar. 

“Some do research and come up with ideas. Some formulate policies and some act for the social or economic good, which is normally the industry. But we believe that there is a very big gap,” he pointed out.

He said that climate change was happening much faster than people believed some years ago and it was real.

“Our research and data are indicating a crisis time and then we really need to break this gap. Research should be forcefully driving policy and policy should at least support intensifying the actions,” Prof. Alwis said. He said that Sri Lanka was an island nation and had better come up with adaptation and mitigation and according to UN Sustainable Development Goal no. 9, innovation, which Sri Lanka is now pushing to achieve.

According to Prof. Alwis, Sri Lanka lacks resilience when a disaster strikes and needs to be innovative in bringing in resilience.


However he said that we needed to understand that there was a significant gap between research, policy and industry in understanding each other and needed to transform to bridge the gap.

“Between 2020-2030, Sri Lanka is supposed to be the only country in this region which is not going to be economically water stressed. But that is not going to be benefit at all when few billions of people around the country are very thirsty so we need to act soon to do something meaningful to have more action in ground level,” he noted.

University of Colombo Department of Economics Senior Lecturer Dr. Lalithasiri Gunaruwan said that the transport sector was becoming one of the biggest culprits accused for climate change today, as it was contributing immensely harmful emissions as well as creating lots of other issues.  

“Transport sector is one of the sectors where the policies have no relevance at all. Policymaking is done in a blind atmosphere by totally disregarding the research and the requirements in the society. 

Quoting the facts of research done by Dr. Yatagama a few years ago, he said that 92 % of school-aged children in urban cities could be categorised as sick.

“Only less than 10% of the school going children in Colombo urban area can identified as without having any health problem,” he said, adding that it is an alarm for the parents to know that they were going to put their children in a danger zone.

He said that the University of Colombo carried out research and analysis about Sri Lanka’s social indicators like life expectancy, literacy rate, infant, child and maternity mortality rates, and found that although we publicly talk about free education and healthcare as the factors behind the extraordinary social standings, which are not comparable to the economic standing of the country, the more significant factor is the bus kilometre operated by the CTB. 

“This study shows that the transport sector on the one hand is becoming the main culprit for polluting the environment in terms of sustainable development goals, but on the other hand it is contributing to the social development and social well-being of the country, as the transport sector is providing the accessibility and mobility by bridging these gaps in a very sophisticated manner,” he explained.

However, he said that the only solution to bridge the gap in this society, as said by researchers repeatedly and the policy advocacies to the Government was no other than public transportation. He noted that public transportation consumed less fuel, burning less fuel per passenger km but providing maximum km of passenger supply.

“Unfortunately, In Sri Lanka, today, less than 50% of our transport need is met by the public transport, which was over 85%  20 years ago,” he said, inviting people to use public transportation whenever possible.

Power and Renewable Energy Ministry Secretary Dr. B. M. S. Batagoda, making his remarks on how to maintain sustainability in the energy sector, said some years ago there was a tussle between the environmentalists and the Ministry of Power and Energy over the climate change issue.

“Then we as environmentalists pushed to the power sector that was in denial, that they make a significant contribution to the climate change and there was a need for mitigation actions, but they didn’t heed our claims as they didn’t believe that climate change was a serious crisis. There was more concern about addressing the other issues like brining the unit cost down,” he said.

Dr. Batagoda said that now the Government was more concerned about climate change issues and global warming, and the Government and the people demand to have 100 % renewable driven power generation in the country.

“They say that Sri Lanka should reduce its carbon footprint to a certain degree by meeting the country’s energy demand using solar and wind, but the experts in the energy sector claim that it is not possible due to technology and the cost,” he explained.

Dr. Batagoda said that for the last three years he was not able to get the approval for the Ceylon Electricity Board’s long-term power generation plan.

“At the moment, we are running without a plan. The government has signed the COPE 21 where we have to meet the INDC target in the power sector, in which we have agreed to cut down emission by 20%- 4% mandatory and 16% with the support of the global community. We are now working on it and have launched the one million roof top solar power program which targets 1000MW of solar power in 10 years,” he said, explaining about the Ministry policy on renewable power generation to develop maximum technically possible renewable sources to mitigate climate change issues. 

However, he said although the power sector was moving towards sustainable development, it was as yet technologically handicapped, as it was yet to have technically based solutions to meet the power demand of the society.