The world’s leaders gather in the salubrious climes of Scotland this weekend to hammer out a strategy to cool the planet before earthlings self-destruct their habitat by the end of the century, if not sooner. A United Nations Intergovernmental Report prepared for the summit, named the UN’s COP-26 (the 26th Conference of the Parties), has [...]


Climate summit: Ambitious targets and ambiguities


The world’s leaders gather in the salubrious climes of Scotland this weekend to hammer out a strategy to cool the planet before earthlings self-destruct their habitat by the end of the century, if not sooner.

A United Nations Intergovernmental Report prepared for the summit, named the UN’s COP-26 (the 26th Conference of the Parties), has given a ‘Code Red for humanity’ alert for the world at large. The report demands the stoppage of the use of coal; arresting deforestation and calls for the switch to RE (renewable energy) so that a ‘net zero’ target for carbon emissions — the root cause of climate change and global warming can be reached by 2050.

It was agreed at the last COP meeting in Paris in 2015 to bring down Earth’s temperature to “below 2 degrees Celsius” i.e. to around 1.5C, but the current temperature of the Earth is around 3C. The world is not on track to meet the targets its leaders set then. Economically upwardly mobile countries like India and China complain that the industrialised West must first cut back on carbon emissions allowing them with populations of over a billion each to uplift their living conditions. The Chinese leader is not even attending the summit. This is why critics say that these COP summits merely produce ‘hot air’ and pledges for the future which are not implemented. Will it be a “Good COP- Bad COP” summit, asked one analyst.

The hot air is not limited to the deliberations inside the conference hall. Glasgow’s residents have planned street demonstrations to protest the inconvenience caused to them and the cost they are burdened with due to the summit being held in their city. Not to be outdone the Sri Lankan Diaspora in the UK have bussed it to Scotland wanting to make their presence felt by generating more carbon emissions to the atmosphere shouting themselves hoarse protesting the presence of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

President Rajapaksa has already outlined his thinking on climate change. Speaking recently at the UN General Assembly, he referred to Sri Lanka being a climate vulnerable country that was “deeply aware of the dangers of climate change”. Sri Lanka’s energy policy, he said, was aimed at increasing the RE factor to 70 per cent of the country’s national energy by 2030.

The ground reality, however, is different. The Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) that studied Sri Lanka’s real contribution to climate change found that despite highly praised and ambitious commitments, there were defects in implementation that devalued the pledges made by political leaders. The NDC pointed out that by 2020 the RE target was to be at 60 percent, but it only contributes 35 percent of the electricity demands of the country.

In the circumstances, to reach the 70 percent threshold in the next seven years as the President envisages, is a tall order. But it is important to set these targets and try to achieve them. All manner of hanky panky goes on in this country’s energy sector. Coal power remains big business with local agents who have lined the pockets of politicians and themselves. Foreign countries are trying to get at strategic sites (harbours) in the country offering coal and gas plants, using diplomatic muscle to secure them.

In the meantime, RE plans are getting step-motherly treatment. Wind farms and solar parks are few and far between. How the country can reach the 70 percent target, or anywhere near it, remains a question. There is pushback. The Electricity Board (CEB) is culpable for much of this. It neglected the drive towards RE and has concentrated on extending the Norochcholai coal plant and oversized gas tenders. It has blocked small RE projects involving solar, wind, mini hydro and biogas and placed procedural obstructions to rooftop solar creating market doubt.

Sri Lanka’s main CO2 contributors are from power and energy, transport and agriculture, while there is little interest shown in protecting its forest cover and going in aggressively with a plan for RE. A Solar Energy Corporation of India-like entity is required to ensure transparency and investor confidence.

Whether COP-26 in Glasgow succeeds in ensuring a greener, cleaner world or not, Sri Lanka will also need to put its own house in order if it is not to suffer disproportionately from climate change — of prolonged droughts, flash floods and sudden weather swings, that the President spoke about at the UN.

Govt. faces climate change

There appears to be a climate change domestically as well, with public agitation against the Government having a ‘snowball effect’. The latest group to come out in protest is the CEB workers.

The incumbent Government encouraged strike action to destabilise the former Government. It is now getting hoist with its own petard. The CEB workers have come out strongly against what ex-facie seems a questionable handover of a monopoly for a little known American company to bring and distribute LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) in a deal struck minutes past the witching hour of midnight. This LNG plant is to happen at the state’s large oil fired power plant at Kerawalapitiya.

The CEB unions are threatening to repeat a 1996 all-island blackout they imposed which held not only the then Government, but the people to ransom for 72 hours.

There is some legitimacy in the unions’ demands. They want greater transparency in the agreement that has been signed and question the Government’s secrecy in what they have done. Even Cabinet ministers have complained they were kept in the dark.

There is a lot happening, from the import of COVID-19 vaccines and medical equipment to fertiliser substitutes, that is taking place under the public radar. The Government’s credibility in these matters is at stake. The public suspects a deal, a racket, commissions behind every tender. And it is the citizenry that has to pay the ultimate price when these unions go on strike.

The Government backed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament and an Executive Presidency with the powers vested in it by the 20th Amendment, has a false sense of invincibility. There is, however, more than a chink in its armour. Public anger is on the ascendency and strikes are overwhelming. The Government can no longer take public support it received in abundance not long ago for granted any more. The climate has indeed changed.


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