Rio+20, Sri Lanka and the future we want
Sri Lanka's Ministry of Environment is pursuing active preparations
for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, commonly
known as Rio+20. President Rajapaksa will be in Brazil to join some 130
world leaders to attend the High Level Segments of the summit which many
term as the most important global conference of this decade.
A picturesque view of Rio de Janeiro
Post-war Sri Lanka should seize Rio+20 as an opportunity and not as a
threat for the ongoing development agenda of the government.
Green jobs vs. Youth unemployment
Youth unemployment in Sri Lanka is rising: standing, nearly at a
whopping 20%. More still, are underemployed.
Central to the discussions in Rio is the idea of a Green Economy.
Is the concept of Green jobs compatible with the Sri Lankan status
quo? Would introducing Green Jobs cost the Sri Lankan economy more and
more jobs? Many argue that greening the job market will only add extra
pressure on young school-leavers and undergraduates that are already
under enough pressure by growing demands for soft-skills.Green Jobs
advocates, however,point out that, the hard work of decarbonizing
economy will actually create hundreds of new jobs, in addition to
sprouting up jobs in new technological fields such as alternative
They stress that low-carbon, climate resilient, environmentally
friendly jobs, like all things Green, is not a mere doable, but rather a
need of the day.
Fossil fuel subsides
Sri Lanka's submission to the United Nations as its expected outcome
from Rio+20 says "promotion of renewable energy sources as opposed to
fossil fuel based energy is the better solution for the increasing
energy demand and as a climate change mitigation measure.
Potential for wind, biomass and solar energy development is
significant in Sri Lanka.
It is necessary to develop the innovative investment plans to
effectively develop potential renewable energy sources in the
country."Fossil fuels still amount to almost half of the country's fuel
consumption. In the status quo, while fuel prices have sky rocketed;this
was resulted by fluctuations in global prices. This hasn't resulted in a
considerable drop in consumers of fossil energy.
The impacts of fuel hikes aren't necessarily negative when coupled
with alternative ventures such as improvements in the system of public
transport and the redistribution of funds collected through price hikes
among the vulnerable of populations.Climate equity
"As an emerging economy, the challenge for Sri Lanka is to achieve
sustainable high economic growth with greater equity, whilst integrating
into the process of globalization, achieving permanent peace and
rehabilitating and reconstructing the war-affected areas.
A sustainable high level of economic growth must be ensured without
causing irreversible damage to the environment...Sri Lanka needs to
accelerate economic growth in order to meet the rising expectations of a
growing population, about a quarter of which is still below the poverty
The document goes on to suggest that the government will make a large
push for what it terms 'climate equity at the upcoming summit.
Whilst not downplaying the crucial aspects of international climate
justice that need to be addressed, Climate Justice also refers to what
happens within nations.
Even though our achievements in improving social conditions, health
and education and the Millennium Development Goals are encouraging, we
should focus inequalities that exist in our society. With its favela
slum areas and large departmental stores, where better could one discuss
inequality; than Rio de Janeiro?
As "a tropical island is prone to natural disasters and climate
induced risks such as sea level rise, extended droughts, increased
floods and landslides and changes in the biodiversity" these conspicuous
disparities are apparent during natural disasters. When disasters
strike, it's the poor that is predominantly affected: at least in most
cases. This is partly because the poor reside in areas which are more
vulnerable and prone to disasters, such as the coastal belt.
There is very little reference in the ongoing discussions for the
outcome document of Rio+20 on financing, technology transfers or
funding. With the rest of the G77, we should push for more subsidies
"external assistance for technical, financial and skilled human capital
for country driven priorities to integrate the various development
scenarios, social and environment related concerns together in the
country."Sri Lanka should play the role in Climate and sustainability
negotiations that the Maldives did under the leadership of President
Nasheed, who emerged as a spokesman for small island states affected
by sea level rising resulted by climate change.
We Sri Lankans have had firsthand experience in being victimized by
sea level rising. After all, President Rajapaksa is as much an 'Island
President' as much as President Nasheed was.If our actions at Rio+20 are
too little, it will surely be too late.
The writer is a Rio+20 Fellow at the Adopt a Negotiator Project.