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Sri Lankan proposal to be presented at COP 15 :

Fighting environmental injustice at Copenhagen



Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka

When global warming was first detected in the 1980s, scientists came up with many theories ranging from natural fluctuations in temperature to sun spots.

But by the end of the decade with such scientific publication as “Our Common Future”, it became clear that the major contributing factor to global warming was burning of fossil fuel.

The maximum permissible increase in temperature under prevailing conditions is 2 C. And at the current intensity of global warming this is likely to expire in 2030. This doesn’t leave much margin for error. And exceeding this limit could result in catastrophic climatic repercussions that are the stuff of movies like, ‘Day after Tomorrow’.

According to UNDP Carbon budget, the maximum permissible amount of Carbon emission per person is 2170 kg. An average person emits only 600 kg, whereas a US citizen on average emits 24,000 kg of Carbon. Technically Sri Lanka should be able to further emit Carbon, but we have no choice but to limit emission levels because so-called developed countries have already burnt out our share of Carbon.

This form of environmental injustice has persisted in spite the many Conventions held over the decades. The targets introduced by the Kyoto Protocol in order to reduce global warming by cutting down emission levels of GHG (Green House Gases) “for US (7% reduction from 1990 level of emission), Europe (6% reduction from 1990 level of emission) and Japan (8% reduction from 1990 level of emission) were never met during the voluntary period between 1997 and 2007.

“US and Canada has still not agreed to cut its emission levels by 40% from that of the 1990 emission level, the now required percentage to prevent a major climatic catastrophe,” pointed out Patali Champika Ranawaka, Minister of Environment and Natural Resources. Kyoto Protocol has been rendered inactive, with no plans as to what should happen after the compulsory period of emission reduction from 2008 to 2010.

History has rarely acted in the favour of developing nations, especially regarding environmental issues. But Sri Lankan authorities and environmentalists alike hope for the best at the Copenhagen Summit to be held from December 8 to 18. The concept paper presented by Sri Lanka deals with issues that have been blatantly disregarded by developing nations of annex 1 countries of the Convention, such as emission reduction targets, funding for the adaptation to the adverse effects of climate change, technology transfer, capacity building, etc.

Sri Lanka’s proposal for emission reduction targets for Annex 1 countries has been formulated taking their ‘historical responsibility’ into consideration. According to the proposal realistic changes in emission patterns are urgently required to prevent dangerous interference with the climate system. Moreover, funds under the Kyoto Protocol have been insufficient in order for developing nations to cope with the adverse effects of climate change. Therefore, the proposal suggests an Adaptation Fund, to be sustained by a contribution of at least 1% of the GDP by developing nations.


Dr. W. L. Sumathipala,
Director National Ozone Unit

The 16 $ million left in the Adaptation Fund is not merely enough for developed nations to cope with the needs of 2.5 billion people who are affected by climate change phenomena and 160 $ billion worth of annual damage, the Minister stressed.

According to the Bali Action Plan all developed nations, although not parties to the Kyoto Protocol, have to take emission reduction commitments. The proposal suggests that all developing nations contribute to global efforts by significantly reducing their emission levels. It also proposes that developing nations adopt Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions, which depend on sufficient financial provisions, technology and capacity building support by developing nations.

Speaking of technology, the proposal also focuses on technology transfer between Annex 1 and Annex 3 countries in terms of mitigation and adaptation techniques to climate change. But a major problem encountered in encouraging technology transfer is the problem of intellectual property rights, as stated by the Minister. Moreover, we fall into a technology trap if we attempt to integrate foreign technology in its raw state. He emphasized the need to localize technology before integrating it into the Sri Lankan setting. The proposal also recommends that capacity building support be made available to developing nations in terms of mitigation and adaptation to climate change.

The proposal also dwells on REDD-Plus activities, country driven and voluntary, where developing nations could obtain funds to reduce emission. Sri Lanka has also presented a concept paper to become an observer of Small Island Developing States (SIDS). Obtaining funds have proven difficult in the past since we are in an isolated position the Minister said. Most countries who are parties to global conventions meet in groups to resolve their respective regional issues. The G77 and China the only regional group that Sri Lanka belongs to have different priorities as a larger group. During the SAARC Environmental Ministers Conference in Deli, it was proposed that SAARC countries should be considered as one unit. The Minister said we, as one unit, hope to formulate a comprehensive Climate Change Plan. A SAARC regional research centre has already been proposed.

Dr. W. L. Sumathipala, Director National Ozone Unit, who has played a major role in obtaining the Montreal Protocol Implementers Award and securing the Presidency of the Montreal Protocol later, the Bureau of Vienna Convention itself for Patali Champika Ranawaka, Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, is playing a major role taking this proposal the Convention.

“No tendency has been shown by Annex 1 countries so far to reduce emission below necessary levels,” said Dr. Sumathipala. Annex 1 countries still stand by their decision that all countries should reduce their emission levels alike. This is environmental injustice. There is a lot of political tug-of-war involved. He pointed out that there is a huge gap between Annex 1 and Annex 3 countries in terms of technology and funds.

In order to deal with technology-related issues Sri Lanka has already taken the initiative by establishing a Climate Change Research Centre and is currently collaborating with India to obtain meteorological data. The National Carbon Trading Fund has turned to be a national attempt to overcome the problem of funding.

* History has rarely acted in favour of developing nations, especially regarding environmental issues. But both Sri Lankan authorities and environmentalists alike hope for the best at the Climate Change Conference - Copenhagen 2009, to be held from December 8 to 18.

* “No tendency has been shown by Annex 1 countries so far to reduce emission below the necessary levels. This is environmental injustice. There is a lot of political tug-of-war involved” - Dr. W. L. Sumathipala.

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