What was expected to be only “hot air” from the recent Paris Climate Change summit refreshingly turned into a triumph for the ‘cool heads’ with a historic agreement being reached. Negotiators last weekend agreed to work out ways and means to bring the Earth’s temperature down below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degree Fahrenheit) i.e. to the [...]


Number one priority: Go green now


What was expected to be only “hot air” from the recent Paris Climate Change summit refreshingly turned into a triumph for the ‘cool heads’ with a historic agreement being reached. Negotiators last weekend agreed to work out ways and means to bring the Earth’s temperature down below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degree Fahrenheit) i.e. to the point that it was before the Industrial Revolution that provided economic benefits to mankind through fossil fuels at the expense of nature and the environment.

The underlying theme was; ‘save it or lose it’; i.e. save the planet or lose it. Paris was considered a major breakthrough from previous summits — Kyoto in 1997 which failed as it set emission targets only for the economically developed countries (which the US failed to ratify) and then came Copenhagen with no agreements, no outcomes, no financial benefits voted, no eco-positive technology discussed.

Many remain sceptical of the Paris accord, though. Firstly they say all this climate change talk is unnecessary hype and it is the poor who will face the biggest setbacks because of job cuts and slower economic benefits as the world cleans up from petrol, gas and coal driven energy to green energy (wind, water, sun etc).

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they say. The Paris Agreement has no legal binding on Governments, no form of punishment, is based on peer pressure and has to be ratified by 55 countries. But the prospects are promising. They have pledged US$ 100 billion per annum to economically developing countries to switch from gas, petrol and coal to green energy technology. Still a ‘pledge’ no doubt, and a drop in comparison to the multi-billion dollar arms industry of these same donor countries — which Britain’s Prince Charles said in Paris was fouling up the air with wars in Europe and West Asia.

What plans Sri Lanka has for this conversion is a big question. Negotiators who went to Paris on behalf of the Government are quick to point out to the President’s election manifesto, and say that Sri Lanka will take action on its publicly outlined INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) to put the world on a low carbon climate-resilient path.

Last week the controversial Norochcholai coal power plant was totally shut down, not due to a Government decision to move away from coal but due to technical reasons. The agents who brought this dud plant to Sri Lanka go scot-free with their commissions stacked in the bank while engineers sweat it out to bring it back to life. On the other side of the island, India is pressing for a coal plant to be set up in Sampur. Can Sri Lanka therefore keep to the Paris targets with corruption by Ministers, businessmen and external pressures?

One hundred billion US dollars is up for grabs under the Paris Agreement and there is no doubt going to be a scramble for this ‘pot of gold’ from amongst economically developing countries, Sri Lanka included. Will Sri Lanka be pro-active enough and activate the process of planning to get some of this money?

Sri Lanka doesn’t have the best of records when it comes to obtaining overseas financial assistance, especially when it comes in the form of aid or concessionary loans with low interest rates. That is because many of those who negotiate these loans look for kickbacks; the gravy train in the form of commissions. Aid, donations and concessionary loans are un-attractive as they rarely have under-the-table deals.

Nevertheless, there is a great need for a ‘National Proposal’ to derive targeted technological or financial benefits for Sri Lanka under the US$ 100 billion plan. The Paris Agreement will — and must, bring academics and engineers, the public and private sectors together in Sri Lanka. The academics, and engineers in particular, have a golden opportunity to work and join hands with global technologists in turning towards green energy.

The Government must not get bogged down with budgets, trade union strikes, new Constitutions and the like. Important as they may be, the outcome of the Paris Climate Change summit is where the world is heading, and Sri Lanka must not be left out in the cold, so to say.

Lanka-UN ties at 60
As Sri Lanka marks the 60th year of its admission to the United Nations Organisation (UNO), there’s no better example of the contradiction in the World Order today as where one arm of the UN is hiring Sri Lankan soldiers to engage in its peace-keeping duties and another is prosecuting them for purported violations of International Humanitarian Laws.

Sri Lanka was admitted to the UN as a full member on December 14, 1955. This was in the early years of the duplicitous World Order that prevailed in the post-World War II era, the emergence of the Super Powers and the Cold War. Sri Lanka was then considered a puppet state of Western powers and membership came as a swap (along with countries like Italy, Spain etc.,) for the admission of the then Soviet Union’s satellite states such as Bulgaria, Romania and Albania.

In the early years, Sri Lanka’s contribution to the UN in terms of manpower was disproportionate to the country’s geographic size and population. Sri Lanka’s diplomats excelled at the highest levels, the dapper Ambassador Shirley Amarasinghe with a fresh rosebud on his lapel each day being the primo uomo of the lot, and a host of technocrats served in the organisation’s various agencies, UNESCO, FAO, UNDP, UNPF and more recently in UNAIDS etc. Today’s manpower comes more from brawn than brain, but equally plays a crucial role for World Peace.

Our Ambassador to the UN reminded one and all about Sri Lanka’s contributions to the Law of the Sea Conference, the Indian Ocean Peace Zone proposal, the International Year for Homeless, the International Day for the observation of Vesak, the World Youth Skills Day — all Sri Lankan initiatives at the world body.

In return, Sri Lanka has been a major beneficiary of the largesse of the UN. Today, we publish a special article written by President Maithripala Sirisena to mark this occasion, but unfortunately the same political undercurrents that existed at the time when the country gained full membership back in 1955 are seen today. The UN is viewed with an element of suspicion as being manipulated by the big powers. The UNHRC resolution being a text book case.

The 60 year milestone was marked at the UN headquarters in New York with a lunch attended by the Secretary General, but in Sri Lanka, there seemed hardly any enthusiasm — and unfortunately so.

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