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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2426

UN Conference on Climate Change in Bali: Sri Lanka hopes to make a strong impact

By Mallika Wanigasundara

One of the biggest obstacles to the implementation of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol for the reduction of the levels of carbon dioxide emissions and other green house gases into the atmosphere was the refusal of three of the biggest polluters, the US, the European Union and Australia to sign the Protocol.The agreement stipulated that carbon emission levels be reduced by five per cent between 1997 and 2007 on a voluntary basis.

Against these almost intractable giants Sri Lanka hopes to make a strong impact with certain proposals and recommendations at the upcoming UN Conference on Climate Change due to be held at Bali between Dec.3rd and Dec. 14th. Sri Lanka will be represented by Central Environment Authority Chairman Udaya Gammanpila, Director Environmental Economics and Global Affairs Aruna Jayatilleke and other officials.

It is indeed welcome news that Australia’s new Labour Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has vowed that he will change Australia’s policy and sign the Kyoto Protocol.

Sri Lanka can claim to take a lead role in reducing carbon emissions as our level stands at 9 tonnes [note: point nine] per capita as against the US’s 19 tonnes per capita around 1997. It could be 22 tonnes per capita now for the US, says Minister of Environment Patali Champika Ranawake in an interview.

Sri Lanka has some other plus points in world ratings. The World Economic Forum along with researchers from the universities of Yale and Columbia rate Sri Lanka as one of the greenest countries in the region and places her in 36th position among 141 countries ahead of Australia and Malaysia.

In the green house gases category where carbon emissions are measured per capita Sri Lanka rates 37th place. In the energy efficiency rating Sri Lanka gets 36th place, and 66th when social and economic factors are taken into account.. In the light of these achievements Sri Lanka Tourism is taking advantage to promote the country on the theme ‘a carbon clean Sri Lanka- Tourism’s earth lung’.

Minister Champika Ranawake explained the background to the proposals which Sri Lanka hopes to make at the conference. Under the Kyoto Protocol 39 countries were ranked as high polluters as their levels of carbon emissions were above the world average of 5.2 tonnes per capita, and they were placed in what was called Annexure One.

Up to 2007 the cut of five percent was voluntary. Now, from 2008 to 2012 real carbon emission cuts have been made mandatory. Voicing Sri Lanka’s position Minister Ranawake says that considering carbon emission levels now a five percent cut is inadequate. It should be increased, he says. The time for change is ripe, he adds, because there are no valid arguments against the need to cut carbon emissions as there were earlier.

The link between high levels of carbon emissions and other green house gases and the warming of the planet and climate change is being generally accepted and is not being strongly contested. The sceptics have become a thinning crowd, he says. One of the arguments brought forward by the US is that computations should be made on a country wise basis and not on per capita. But says Minister Ranawake, at the last meeting of the UN Council on Climate Change in New York we decided to adopt the per capita computation because small and weak countries like ourselves would benefit more and get a fairer deal in the carbon trade.

After 1997 certain mechanisms came into operation such as carbon trading. Those countries which have over the average carbon emission levels can buy carbon credit points from countries which earned low levels of carbon emission, below the world average which is 5.2 tonnes per capita.

There is then the CDM or Clean Development Mechanism through the operation of which we can earn money in the carbon business from the high polluters if we run projects which emit lower levels of carbon such as through the use of renewable energies like wind power solar power, hydro ‘bio energy and in garbage management. These mechanisms can earn money for countries with low levels of carbon emission and encourage themselves and others. There is money in carbon trading- US dollars ten per ton of carbon. Many Soviet bloc countries now in the EU engage in this kind of carbon trading.

Almost all these countries [this is so with small, weak, less developed or countries in crisis] have low levels of carbon emissions below average and they do carbon deals with high polluters like Germany, France and Britain.

There is another mechanism call Joint Implementation in which the high polluters implement joint projects which use energy sources which emit less carbon such as wind power, hydro,or bio energy and other renewable energy sources; or they have joint projects for garbage management. These carbon credits too can be bought for payment, This kind of carbon trading has been going on between the EU and Russia.

But as in the case of all matters there are hitches for small, poor and weak countries in the carbon business, says Minister Ranawake. Only about 20 per cent of the carbon business is left for small countries. China. India and Brazil dominate this trade. There is a reason for this. Countries like Sri Lanka have small projects which have low levels of carbon emission, but we are not in a position to offer large volumes of carbon credits to these big polluters as China, India and Brazil are able to do.

Minister Ranawake is of the view that the carbon trade should be rationalized, so that all countries will benefit from it equitably. More attention, he says, should be paid to the countries of Asia, Africa and South America which are in the final count the countries which least pollute the atmosphere and provide the carbon sinks through the existence of huge forested areas.

This is why we are pushing for the per capita evaluation of carbon emissions as against evaluation on a country basis. In addition we are recommending a quota system in the carbon market, which could be based on certain parameters, such as biodiversity, population, ecological balance, clean projects, carbon emissions etc, Mr Ranawake said.

This would give us more equitable treatment, and a fairer deal. The carbon trade should not be used as a political tool, he commented. Our forests are carbon sinks and they absorb carbon emitted globally. For providing these carbon store houses we should be paid, he observed. But here too there is a hitch. The high polluters will not pay for our existing forests like Sinharaja . They will only pay for new forests on the basis of what is called a-forestration and re-forestration which fall within certain time scales.

We also hope to demand that the Adaptation Fund be operated properly. Money has not been put into it as agreed earlier. So this must be done Mr Ranawake said. At least five per cent of the carbon business should be put into it, he said. There will come a time when not only the people of the Pacific islands, the Maldives and even Sri Lanka would be affected but all people all over the world living in coastal areas would face the catastrophe. They would have to be relocated, resettled fed and maintained.

In the final count not only these piecemeal measures but all countries of the world; particularly the high polluters will have to reduce carbon emissions on a global scale if this planet is to avert the disaster. The enormity of what awaits planet earth is spelt out in a document compiled by the most authoritative body on climate change, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ahead of the Bali conference.

It warns that the world is on the verge of a catastrophe due to global warming. In a summary for policy makers it dismisses the views of those who have been sceptical about green house gases and climate change.

By 2100 global temperatures would rise between 1.1 C [1.98F] and 6.4C [11.52F] compared to 1980/1999 levels. Sea levels would rise by between 18 and 59 centimeters [7.2 and 23.2 inches].We do not have to think about far away islands we can think of Colombo, Jaffna , Hambantota and Batticaloa.

In fact it is already here: retreating glaciers, the thinning of arctic ice, the melting of snows, the thawing of permafrost. There will be heat waves, droughts, forest fires, rainstorms floods, cyclones, sea level surges and shortage of drinking water in a situation in which trapped heat will change weather patterns everywhere. When the ancient ice sheets melt the sea levels will rise faster and inundate low-lying coastal areas; farms will be flooded and salination will occur. There will be damage to ports, buildings, tourist resorts, marinas, beaches. Fish and prawn habitats will be washed away with mangroves and estuaries. Millions will be without livelihood and homeless.

Since 1800 the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has shot up from 275 parts per million to 350ppm and is estimated to exceed 550 ppm by 2035.Carbon dioxide is the most abundant of the green house gases which include methane, nitrous oxide, and chlorofluorocarbons.

- Asian Tribune -

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