“Hot air”. That’s what many pessimists expect from the Paris Climate Summit next week which over 130 world leaders, including our own President Maithripala Sirisena, will attend. It has been long hyped as the ‘last chance salon’ for Planet Earth before it self-destructs. With the world getting hotter, freak weather patterns causing droughts, floods and [...]


Paris: Preserve or Perish


“Hot air”. That’s what many pessimists expect from the Paris Climate Summit next week which over 130 world leaders, including our own President Maithripala Sirisena, will attend. It has been long hyped as the ‘last chance salon’ for Planet Earth before it self-destructs.

With the world getting hotter, freak weather patterns causing droughts, floods and fires, the National Geographic magazine puts it succinctly; “In the past half century we’ve created a world in which ….. they cross oceans in a day with barely a thought, in which they communicate instantaneously and globally for barely a penny and carry libraries in the palm of their hand. Fossil fuels helped make it all possible – by the second half of the 21st century, if a climate disaster is to be averted, we’ll have to be moving forward without them”.

Fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas), which are resources from Earth itself made all the advancement possible but soon a large chunk of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is expected to collapse; heat waves and warmer temperatures are to continue as a certainty. 2015 has already been declared the warmest year in recorded history.

There are, however, arguments on the flip side. Some would say that warmer temperatures in Europe will at least save several old people who perish due to the freezing cold in winter. They would pooh-pooh the impending Armageddon occurring through weather saying a Third World War now in the making could well win the race.

The fact that the industrialised countries contribute more to global warming is uncontested. Global warming has intensified, some would say, because newly emerging economies like China, India and Brazil and their billions of people are having more electricity and food and travel, and warmer houses but still, statistically, an average American consumes 12,000 watts of power to an average Bangladeshi’s 300 watts. Paris is aiming to average the consumption at 2,000 watts per person worldwide, but we don’t live in an equal world and it shows how much cuts are needed by the industrialised nations.

An International Tribunal of Climate Justice is one of the proposals in Paris, and yet, when big private companies like Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche, which are the engines of growth and prosperity of these industrialised nations cheat on emission controls, what can one expect in the realm of a global shift to a cleaner environment? The United Nations Secretary General has pleaded for world leaders to support the world body to implement regulatory controls for a cleaner environment. He says his grandfather left him a clean world and he wants to leave his grandchildren a clean world, too, if that is possible. He calls upon countries to implement a National Plan in accordance with the UN Climate Change agenda.

What of Sri Lanka’s own National Plan, if any? The long droughts and the continuing rains, extremes as they are being experienced in Sri Lanka in recent years, show that no longer are the weather patterns and seasons predictable. In neighbouring Chennai just a fortnight ago, floods caused the deaths of nearly 80 people, a calamity the southern Indian state has rarely experienced before. When there are incessant rains here and prolonged droughts, there is clearly something wrong.

Statistically, there are some issues that would be of concern to Sri Lanka. Some 20 per cent of the country’s power comes from coal, not a clean form of energy generation. Sea levels have risen by 17 centimetres in the past 100 years. According to World Bank records, Sri Lanka’s carbon dioxide emission is 0.73 per capita, which when compared to say, the United State (19.10) or China (6.71), pales into insignificance, yet given we are not developing at the pace of the US or China there’s no economic benefit derived either. The country is facing an increase in temperature by 0.2 per cent per decade. Hot weather causes water in the tanks and reservoirs to evaporate faster, emptying sooner for irrigation purposes. These apart, deforestation, sand-mining, greater carbon monoxide from exhaust fumes of vehicles in the cities, increasing population putting pressure on agricultural land and aggravating the human-wild animal conflict – all have an adverse impact as we go into the future.

Once upon a time the Supreme Court played a positive role — very much like the Supreme Court of India in taking pro-active decisions relating to the environment. It was a time the Court almost took on the role of the Government which only paid lip service to the protection of the environment. It adjudicated on sand-mining and deforestation which were lucrative businesses handled by provincial politicians with links to the ruling party. It adjudicated on noise pollution which is an increasing environmental hazard; all of which have fallen by the wayside now.

Tinkering with nature has now come to a point of no return. The Paris summit is another chance to try to move away from the path of self-destruction. In this increasingly globalised world, Sri Lanka, with limited land area and surrounded by sea, cannot adopt the old adage; ‘no man is an island’.

Commonwealthin limbo
Planting a Na (Mesua ferrea) tree at the British High Commissioner’s official residence just before emplaning for another summit — the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Malta — seems the last thing, if not the only thing President Sirisena has done as the Chair in Office of the 54-nation grouping of former British colonies.

What Sri Lanka did in that exalted position, which the country’s then leaders craved for, no one seems to know, nor does any seem to know what good the Commonwealth did for Sri Lanka in the two years since the last CHOGM in Colombo in 2013. At that time we had occasion to point out the futility of throwing good money after an organisation that has lost its purpose in the modern world. Even Britain (with the sole exception of the Royal Family) has moved on from a nostalgic past to focus on Europe closer home, and West Asia where it is embroiled in a clash of civilisations. Britain also does not have the same financial clout as it once did to fund the grouping of far-flung nations leave alone support a penniless Commonwealth Secretariat in London to carry on its work. What is left of the Commonwealth is a set of so-called Commonwealth values known as the Latimer Principles which the ‘white Commonwealth’ uses on and off to browbeat the rest. India, the largest in numbers of the group, has stopped sending its Prime Minister for CHOGMs for some time now.

President Sirisena must be more than happy to relinquish a post he only inherited and then move on to from a relic of the past to discuss more relevant issues concerning the present, and the future in Paris at the C0P21 conference as it is called.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Post Comment

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.