ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, July 08, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 06
Financial Times  

Global warming to turn up the heat on garments and tea

By Dilshani Samaraweera

Garment and tea industries, two of Sri Lanka’s biggest exports, were told this week to prepare for climate change impacts.
Global warming will turn the heat up on not just the Sri Lankan climate but also Sri Lankan businesses, warn experts. Topping the list among the most likely to feel the heat fastest, would be the tea and garment industries.

“The apparel and tea industries will be the most likely to receive the impact first. So businesses must recognise this inconvenient truth as this will have an impact on your bottom lines,” said Chandra Jayaratne, a former Ceylon Chamber of Commerce Chairman, at a seminar on global warming held this week.

Tea and garments are expected to feel the backlash of global climate changes ahead of the other sectors of the Sri Lankan economy because of greater sensitivity to western consumer markets. Western consumers are worried about rising temperatures and extreme weather patterns that are already manifesting in the west and are turning up the heat on producers in countries like Sri Lanka.

“Climate change is the next big consumer concern coming up with the western consumers. In Sri Lanka the biggest sectors that are exporting to western consumer markets are tea and garments. So they are the most likely to be impacted first by these consumer concerns and consumer lobbies in western countries,” explained Jayaratne. Western consumer concerns on global warming are expected to trickle down to the tea and garment sectors in Sri Lanka through new environmental and energy standards. Much of the new standards will be aimed at reducing green house gasses and reducing energy consumption that contribute towards global warming and other climate changes.

Multinationals operating in Sri Lanka have already been instructed by their principals abroad to prepare for these changes and local businesses are advised to do the same. “Many multinational companies in Sri Lanka have already been told to develop their carbon footprint. This will be the next thing imposed on companies. Companies will have to know about their carbon footprint and how to reduce it. Companies will have to be prepared for this before sanctions and audits come to their doorstep,” said Jayaratne. The tea industry however, will have to deal with some additional worries on top of new production standards. The experts warn that climate changes within Sri Lanka itself could hurt the industry by reducing tea harvests.

“Tea is a crop very much sensitive to variability in weather and climate. Prolonged droughts could affect the production significantly as seen in 1992 when the country was plagued by a severe drought and the national production was reduced by about 25%,” said Dr Janaka Ratnasiri, an environmental consultant. “Even this year the rainfall in January and February has been rather low over low country tea growing areas and tea bushes are turning brown where adequate shade has not been provided. The casualties of young plants also have been very high, particularly in the low country,” said Dr Ratnasiri.

Climate change experts say that overall, the most badly affected by climate changes will be smaller producers and poorer populations.

“Sri Lanka’s dry and intermediate zones will be the most affected. In the dry zone agricultural production could be affected. So this puts tremendous pressure on poor farmers in these areas,” said Professor Mohan Munasinghe, the vice chairman of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Given the carbon content already in the atmosphere, global warming is now seen as inevitable. Therefore, Sri Lanka is advised to put in place mechanisms to help people adapt to the impending changes.


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