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DateLine Sunday, 17 February 2008

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How to reduce travel guilt

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Renton De Alwis, the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourist Board, says that the shape of Sri Lanka on the map looks like a Green Lung. Just like our lungs are the essence of life, plants and trees are essential for the continuation of human life because they take in Carbon dioxide to grow and sustain.

On the 13th of November 2007, Renton De Alwis gave a 'Climate Change and Tourism' speech for the United Nations World Tourism Organisation Summit at the World Travel Market London, UK.

He highlighted that even though Sri Lanka was a hydro-civilisation very much of it has changed with development. From winning the Global Ozone Prize for 2007 to Professor Mohan Munasinghe's Nobel Peace Prize winning contribution for Climate Change, Sri Lanka is one of Asia's hotspots of bio-diversity and endemism.

Even our 'Sinharaja' forest is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to the UNESCO report, Sri Lanka is one of the most green and most liveable countries in the world.

De Alwis points out that the dominant western cultural beliefs meant three factors - growth is good, big is better and chemical fertilisers increase production. However, when he tested it empirically with his then professor, Kenneth Watt in lieu of his Conservation Economics degree, the results were that:

In the short-term, it was true

In the medium-term, some points were true

In the long-term, it wasn't true at all

Today's serious Climate Change issue is that it is likely to impact Sri Lanka drastically. De Awis points out that "Tourism is dependant on the environment and we need to look at it in a holistic approach which is the bigger perspective". His focus was that even though we are blessed with beautiful Mother Nature, our environmental habits and values need improving in order to sustain and develop Mother Nature.

Further comments made by the Chairman include how the conscious traveller seeks to reduce 'Travel Guilt' by curbing the carbon emissions produced by them just to be there.

Just like the Bishop of the Catholic Church of London commented that it was a "Sin to travel by air or car", Sri Lanka needs tourism development to bring revenue to the country but in a clean and green way. Right now, Sri Lanka is placed 36th in energy efficiency and environmental health categories and 37th in the greenhouse gasses mitigation category.

Sri Lanka has approximately 30% forest cover comprising of 2 million hectares and every year about 1,000 hectares are reforested.

De Alwis revealed that the 'Earth Lung' community is aimed at promoting and sustaining the tourism sector. "We shouldn't plan to make Sri Lanka a Great Green Destination within 10 years", envisions De Alwis. He noted that "We shouldn't trade and sell our carbon credit but retain it for the future" a concept known as 'Trade Before Aid'.

There are many organisations who are working towards this vision for a Carbon Clean Sri Lanka. Many NGOs and the Hospitality industry all help visitors plant trees to offset their carbon emissions. Stopping deforestation, ensuring re-forestation, encouraging alternative energy use and mitigating pollution all lead to good environment stability.

By collaborating with local and regional entities, we can work together to combat global warming. "The plan is to make Sri Lanka a Great Green Destination within 10 years", envisions De Alwis.

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