Sustainable Development – Is Sri Lanka on the right path?

The 2012 Prof A.W. Mailvaganam Memorial Oration, organized by the Institute of Physics, Sri Lanka, was delivered by Dr Janaka Ratnasiri on the topic “Sustainable Development – Is Sri Lanka on the right path?” on Friday the 23rd at the Physics Department Conference Room of the University of Colombo. Prof. Mailvaganam was the first Sri Lankan Professor of Physics who held the chair from 1939 to 1971.

After serving for nearly 30 years at the Ceylon Institute of Scientific and Industrial Research (CISIR), now called Industrial Technology Institute, I joined the Ministry of Environment in 1993 as its Chief Technical Adviser. This position gave me an opportunity to represent Sri Lanka at many meetings of both the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Vienna Convention on Ozone Depleting Substances and its Montreal Protocol. At many of the meetings that I participated, I was exposed to the topic of sustainable development.

The need for sustainability of our activities became apparent from year to year if the humans are to survive challenges such as climate change and ozone depletion in the future. Thus, the topic of sustainable development came close to my heart during these years. Many countries in the world today have realized the importance of following a path leading to sustainable development and taken initiatives towards this goal. I therefore thought it appropriate to speak today on the Sri Lanka’s situation in moving towards sustainable development. The theme for my address today is “Sustainable Development – Is Sri Lanka on the right path?”

The topic of sustainable development (SD) has also been the theme at three summit meetings organized by the United Nations during the last few decades. The first UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) was held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992. This conference came out with an Agenda for the 21st century – referred to as Agenda 21 – outlining Plans of Action in 40 Chapters. The second meeting – World Summit Conference on Sustainable Development was held in Johannesburg in August 2002. This conference known as Rio+10, reviewed the progress made by nations in undertaking SD during the previous 10 years and produced a framework for action. The third meeting (Rio+20)- United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) was held this year in June again in Rio de Janeiro with the objective of how we can reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection.


Sustainable Development Goals

The term Sustainable Development was coined in the report of the World Commission on Environment and Development which was established by UN in 1983. This Commission issued its report – Our Common Future – in 1987 which elaborated the concept of Sustainable Development defining it as “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. It is a development process that considers economic and social development along with environmental protection. In simple language, the message is do not exhaust all the resources now; leave something for the future too.

The Rio+20 Conference was expected to come out with a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) to blend with the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) that were adopted in 2000. However, it failed to reach consensus despite holding several round table discussions. The conference therefore decided to entrust the task of developing the set of SDGs to an open working group comprising 30 representatives, for submission to the 68th UN General Assembly in 2013.

The round tables on the development of SDGs considered many themes, but due to limited time, I will consider only some of these; viz. Poverty Eradication, Food Security, Water Resources, Land Degradation, Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements, Sustainable Energy and Climate Change. However, before I discuss how Sri Lanka has progressed towards SD in each of these themes, I will briefly describe the measures Sri Lanka has taken in general to meet its obligations, particularly with respect to policy development and strategic planning, in compliance with decisions of the UN conferences.

Sri Lanka’s strategies and plans on sustainable development

In 2007, the Ministry of Environment took the initiative to develop a National Strategy for Sustainable Development which seeks to achieve the SD vision through eradication of poverty, ensuring competitiveness of the economy, improving social development, ensuring good governance, and a clean and healthy environment. This was followed up by the Ministry of Environment developing in 2008 an Action Plan 2008-2012 – Caring for the Environment – Path to Sustainable Development. This Action Plan was updated in 2009 yielding a report on National Strategy for Sustainable Development covering the period 2009-2013. Subsequently the Presidential Secretariat developed these plans to prepare an Action Plan with short-, medium- and long-term goals for the period 2009-2016 which was called the Haritha (Green) Lanka Programme (HLP).

Under the Haritha Lanka Programme, the government established a National Council for Sustainable Development (NCSD) chaired by HE the President with 22 ministers in charge of major economic development sectors serving as members. The objective of the Council is to function as a national platform to launch and promote the process of achieving sustainable development, and to oversee and guide the implementation of its Action Plan.

The 2009-2016 National Action Plan (NAP) has developed 10 broad mission areas – Clean Air, Fauna, Flora & Ecosystems, Climate Change, Coastal Belt & Sea, Land Resources, Solid Waste, Water, Green Cities, Industries and Knowledge Dissemination and for each mission area, it listed the strategies with a set of targets to achieve within three time frames – short, medium and long term. The NAP (2009-16) is to be coordinated by the Ministry of Environment and its progress monitored by the Ministry of Plan Implementation. However, there does not appear to be a close coordination between the line ministries responsible for implementing the programmes and the Ministry of Environment, because many of the short-term targets to be achieved by 2010 are yet to be realized.

I will now consider each of the Thematic Areas.


Poverty Eradication

All three meetings on SD held in 1992, 2002 and 2012, stressed that for achieving SD, eradication of poverty is a pre-requisite. Sri Lanka has launched various programmes such as colonization schemes during post-independence period and more recently Janasaviya and Samurdhi for the purpose of extending a helping hand to millions of poor people. Special government machinery has been set up to provide monthly disbursement to people selected under these programmes. However, merely doling out money to the poor to make ends meet for the day is not something sustainable. What is necessary is for the poor to have opportunities whereby he could make use of his skills to earn a living.

In discussing poverty, one has to quantify it. A person is identified as poor if he or she cannot earn the monthly income that is required to enjoy the minimum living standard in the society. This income is referred to as the poverty line (PL) and is determined by the Census & Statistics Department (CSD). It varies from district to district and from year to year. The national poverty line values for the years 2002, 2006/07, and 2012, were Rs. 1423, Rs. 2142, and Rs. 3545, respectively. The proportion of population receiving income below the PL to the total population is referred to as Poverty Head Count (PHC) and it is used as an indicator of poverty in a country.

Based on a Household Income and Expenditure Survey carried out in 2006/07, CSD has worked out the National PHC as 15.2%, with a variation from 5.4 % in Colombo to 33.8% in Nuwara Eliya where the majority population is in the estate sector.

The corresponding national figures for 2002 and 2012 are 22.7% and 8.9%, respectively. With this decline of the PHC, Sri Lanka has already achieved MDG in respect of poverty which required poverty level to be reduced by half by 2015.

Though there has been a decline in the population in poverty over the years, there is still a need to eradicate it completely. With this in mind, the government has taken the initiative to develop a special programme known as Divineguma with a separate department established to manage it. Under Divineguma, it is proposed to set up 100 home-garden based economic units in each grama niladhari (GN) division which number 14,000 in the country. Each unit is expected to focus on agriculture or livestock or cottage industry. The selected home owner will be given an initial training as well as some capital and his progress will be monitored up to production level when assistance will be given to market the products.

One important aspect of the programme is that these economic units are expected to follow sustainable practices such as using organic farming and industries with minimum waste. According to a news item appearing in a national daily (DN of 18.10.12), “through this (Divineguma) Act, the government hopes to eradicate poverty, ensure social justice, enhance economic development activities related to employment, ensure food security, develop social and physical infrastructure facilities and micro finance facilities to uplift living standards of people…”.

Whether this programme will help the poorest is to be seen, because he may not possess any home garden to participate in the programme. On the other hand, if the proposed units are to run as cooperative entities with the participation of the landless poorest in a village, they will have an opportunity to benefit. It may also be noted that in the low country tea growing areas, most home gardens are already cultivated with tea. Another difficulty one can foresee is that most GN divisions do not have even 100 home gardens, according to 2002 Agricultural Census.

Another aspect that needs attention is that in assessing poverty it is not the income earned that matters but the savings taken home by the breadwinner. If he is addicted to liquor or drugs and wastes all his earnings on them even those who have high incomes ultimately will have to live in poverty. It is the duty of the authorities and the society to ensure that steps are taken with vigour to eradicate addiction of people to liquor and drugs by enforcing existing laws strictly, preventing penetration of these items to the society, if the country aspires to achieve SD.

Food security

Currently Sri Lanka is near self sufficient in rice, country’s staple food. However, with the growing population, the challenge is to maintain this position in the future, particularly when the extent of land available for cultivation is limited. The other two key components in the food supply are sugar and wheat flour, and these two rely on imports. The total expenditure on the import of food items has been Rs. 94.5 billion in 2007 while in 2011 it has almost doubled to Rs. 173 billion (Central Bank). Except for wheat, the rest of the commodities that are imported – sugar, lentils, onions, milk, and fish could be produced locally, and even with wheat, it could be substituted by rice in bread making at least partly.

The senior members present here may recall the era of sixties and seventies when all imports were banned and the country’s food and other requirements were all locally produced. Even though people may not want to go back to that era, it is something desirable to ensure food security. Concurrently, excessive consumption of items such as sugar should be avoided which will also reduce the health expenditure both for the individual and the country.

Food production is governed by the availability of water. A larger share of local food production takes place in the dry zone because of its good sunshine but cultivation was limited only to the rainy season. The government undertook a massive irrigation project in the seventies to divert water from Mahaweli River to the North Central Province (NCP) to provide badly needed water to this area enabling year-round cultivation.

However, even this was found insufficient to feed the cultivated land if the water had to be restricted during drought periods as happened several months ago. During Yala season this year an estimated 500,000 tonnes of paddy in the NCP worth Rs. 17.5 billion were lost due to lack of water.

The food supply in Sri Lanka is hampered not so much due to lack of production but due to problems associated with post-harvest losses including storage losses, transport losses and marketing problems. In the past, the country had a well established system in which dedicated institutions collected, distributed and marketed commodities such as vegetables and paddy. Apparently, with the hope of improving the efficiency of this system, these institutions were scrapped expecting the private sector to take over. Unfortunately, this has proved to be a failure resulting in losses to both the farmer and the consumer affecting food security. Attempts by the authorities to introduce plastic crates to transport vegetables to reduce losses were initially met with resistance, but I believe it is being practiced now.

The establishment of centralized economic zones (CEZ) for the purchase of agricultural produce from the farmers initiated by the government with good intentions has also proved to be not so successful, especially during glut periods. Farmers are compelled to destroy their produce after transporting them all the way to the centers when they could not get a price to cover their costs. Whether during normal days or glut days, there is a wide disparity between the price paid to farmers and the price demanded from consumers. It is the middleman that benefits, neither the farmer nor the consumer. Further, selling farmers’ produce through a CEZ involves unnecessary transport adding to the waste and expenditure; for example taking produce from Nuwara-Eliya to Dambulla before it is brought to Colombo.

The establishment of cold room facilities and other infrastructure for converting raw produce during glut periods to processed products that enables long term preservation are still lacking in the country on a commercial level. Though much research has been done in R&D institutions on the development of various food technologies for value addition, these do not seem to find their way to the markets. The government intervention is necessary to transfer these technologies from the laboratories to commercial level.


Water Resources

Being an island, Sri Lanka receives its water supply solely from rainfall. From May to September, South West (SW) winds bring rain to the SW region and western slopes of the central hills and from December to February, North East (NE) winds bring rain to the North and Eastern regions and eastern slopes of the hill country. In addition, convection activity during inter-monsoonal (IM) periods bring substantial amount of rainfall spread over the entire country. Rainfall received during SW monsoon and second IM share more or less equally.

Though the above is the general long term pattern, there is wide fluctuation in the actual rainfall periods causing sometimes prolonged droughts over certain parts of the country. Heavy rains accompanied with strong winds are also experienced in all parts of the country due to cyclonic activities in the Bay of Bengal. Sri Lanka is generally considered to have adequate supplies of water though not everywhere all the time. There is much disparity in the monthly and geographical distribution of rainfall received annually. The wet zone (WZ) experiences drought conditions during the months of January to March while the Intermediate Zone (IZ) and Dry Zone (DZ) experience drought conditions during the months of May to September.

The early settlers in the country who occupied the North Central region used their ingenuity and traditional knowledge to build a series of village tanks and under royal patronage built a large number of reservoirs or tanks to store water that is received during rainy periods for use in the dry seasons. However, during prolonged droughts in the DZ, the water stored in these tanks was also found to be inadequate even to meet the basic needs of the people. The diversion of the Mahaweli River to the NCP as mentioned before resulted in augmenting the existing irrigation works as well as supplying water to newly opened land for agriculture.

This diversion has resulted in providing the people in the DZ with adequate water for year-round agriculture and domestic needs, and also has resulted in augmenting the ancient irrigation system of tanks. Though carried out to meet the recurring drought conditions in the DZ, the project would also serve as an adaptation strategy for the future against climate change. In addition to the Mahaweli Project, the government has recently launched several projects to build reservoirs across rivers in the dry and the intermediate zones and undertake downstream development to provide water for irrigation and domestic purposes.

Sri Lanka has 103 rivers more or less uniformly distributed around the country. Their mean annual yield is estimated to be 3.33 million ha.m, of which 1.36 million ha.m flow through the water deficit regions of the country. Sri Lanka’s rivers serve as the source of water for agriculture, industries and peoples’ needs of sanitation and drinking where pipe-borne water is not available.

Where other sources are absent, the government started a programme to provide villages with tube wells to extract ground water to meet their basic needs. However, there has been no regular programme to monitor the quality of the water. Ground water sources are also being used by commercial farms and industries. The excessive use of ground water by the latter could deplete the resources prematurely and may cause hardships to villagers. Hence there is a need to control the extraction of ground water for commercial use. This however should be implemented cautiously and should not affect the small scale farmer or the domestic user.

One of the serious problems associated with drinking ground water in the DZ has been the incidence of chronic kidney disease (CKD) prevalent in many parts of the NCP. Though the exact cause for the disease has not been identified so far, the presence of heavy metals in water along with hardness causing compounds is suspected as one possible cause. The indiscriminate use of agrochemicals particularly those containing heavy trace metals such as cadmium and arsenic is another cause suspected, but there has been no attempt by the authorities to bring their use under control.

One of the recommendations of the 1992 Rio Summit is the Precautionary Principle which states that in order to protect the environment, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation. Thus, if there is some evidence that agro-chemicals containing hazardous trace elements such as cadmium or arsenic could cause CKD, the state should not hesitate to remove them from the market without waiting for 100% proof that they are the cause.

It is noteworthy that only the poor who practice agriculture in the dry zone are vulnerable to this deadly disease which may be one reason why even the authorities are somewhat complacent about it. For example, to date no attempt has been reported of any programme initiated by the government to distribute clean potable water to people in the affected areas, which would be a win-win precautionary measure. According to media reports, the victims have a choice between spending their meager earnings either on food or on medicine, and not on both.

The latest census of housing conducted in 2012 indicates that for drinking purposes, at a national level, 51% of households depend on well water, 31% on pipe-borne water, 9 % on community projects, 3% on tube wells, 1% on bowser and bottled supplies and 5% on open surface water sources, such as rivers and lakes. However, there is wide fluctuation of these figures across districts.

People dependent on well water often have to undergo water shortages during drought periods even in the wet zone. As a solution, government is planning to extend the pipe borne water services in all urban and semi-urban areas. In the dry zone the situation is worse where the drought gets extended over several months. Further, those dependent on surface water sources such as rivers and lakes use water that is polluted often not suitable for drinking. Providing clean water to the country’s population for drinking and sanitation is a challenge faced by the government.


Land Degradation

Sri Lanka has land area of 65,610 km2. With over 20 million population, the country’s population density is 323 per km2, which is one of the highest in Asia. With the high population density, 14% of the land is utilized for homesteads. Paddy land occupies 11%, while the 3 plantation crops jointly occupy 11%. The perennial and seasonal field crops occupy 4%. Vegetable and fruit cultivation occupy 3%. Forest cover is 31% and non-usable land (mountain slopes, shores, sand dunes and water bodies etc) occupy 16% of land. The balance 10% is covered by public utilities and sparsely used land.

Intensive agriculture practiced in the country, though essential for food security and economic sustainability, is the major reason for the degradation of land. The cultivation of tea, potatoes and vegetables in the hill slopes of the up country causes soil erosion unless soil conservation practices are followed. The excessive erosion becomes evident from the high rates of siltation found in reservoirs into which up- country waterways drain. The erosion causes loss of not only the top layer soils but also the nutrients found in the soils, which necessitates regular application of fertilizers at great cost. The fertilizers available at subsidized prices encourage their excessive applications causing high concentrations of nutrients in the country’s waterways which ultimately flow into the Indian Ocean.

In the low country including the land cultivated with Mahaweli waters under irrigation, poor water management practices cause increase of the salinity which makes the soil unproductive. Farmers need to be educated in methods of water management and other techniques that reduce accumulation of salinity in the soil. Government intervention is necessary to rehabilitate the affected land.

Another activity that degrades the land is excessive sand mining. Unregulated gem mining in specific areas also contribute to land degradation. Though regulations are in force to limit sand mining so as not to cause damage to river beds and banks, people over-exploit this resource with no regard to its preservation. This over exploitation of resources takes place because of the high demand from the construction industry. Technology is already available to build houses in a sustainable manner with no concrete which will save sand and cement, another threatened material, but people continue to over use them unconcerned with the possibility of making these material nonexistent for the future generations.

It is unavoidable that in our day-to-day activities, we generate waste, be it solid or liquid. But we do not take the trouble to dispose this waste without causing environment pollution. While the technology is available for recycling waste into useful products, we do not bother to sort the garbage before it is disposed. The proper disposal of garbage if attended to within one’s own premises through the use of compost bins will make the disposal process sustainable. Regrettably this is not practiced, and instead unsorted garbage is collected and dumped in marshy land causing both environmental and health hazards. The government has in the meantime launched a programme to establish composting centres in outstation towns, but sustainable disposal of solid waste in the city remains a problem.

We find today most of the paddy fields in urban areas being converted to construct business premises, particularly those bordering main highways, despite the existence of laws against it. Those lying interior are allowed to remain fallow as paddy production on a small scale appears to be economically and socially non-viable. The large extents of fallow land where paddy is no longer cultivated, particularly in the wet zone, could be put into better use by growing energy plantations, such as gliricidia.

For various reasons, within the low country wet zone, 47,125 ha or 35% of paddy land had been abandoned during the 35 year period 1975 – 2010. Their conversion into energy plantations is the only sustainable means of using this land. The government has already introduced regulations to lease out such land for new applications but in most parts of the country there do not seem to be entrepreneurs interested in embarking into such new ventures.

In the seventies with the commencement of the Mahaweli Project, large extents of new land were opened up for agriculture by clearing virgin forests. Landless people brought in from other areas were settled in these new land and they successfully developed the land. However, the outcome is not without problems. In the seventies the country did not have any regulations which make it mandatory to carry out environmental impact assessment (EIA) studies on development projects. To date there has been no assessment done on the loss of biodiversity and the damage done to the forest ecology by converting large extents of virgin forests into cropland. The degradation of soils due to intensive agriculture needs to be studied and solutions found for sustaining the agriculture in the country.


Sustainable cities and human settlements

Currently, 28% of the country’s population live in the Western Province, imposing a severe burden on its resources including land, water, free space and the environment. A significant number of slum dwellings still exist within the capital city without basic amenities and exposed to health hazards. Though the city population is not as high as in megacities in neighbouring countries, the authorities are still not being able to provide adequate housing, remove its solid waste in a sustainable manner and provide sanitation facilities to all the city people. By 2030, Sri Lanka’s population is estimated to be around 25 million and the situation will become worse. To accommodate such numbers, it will be necessary to develop new cities and settlements.

In order to plan for such a future incorporating an integrated land-use and infrastructure framework that will enable Sri Lanka to make the best use of its natural resources, the government has decided to develop a National Physical Planning Policy and Plan with a vision for 2030 and entrusted the task to the National Physical Planning Department. The final report prepared using the principles of economic, social and environmental sustainability was released in 2010. It sets out the framework for the future development of Sri Lanka.

The Plan has identified areas where developmental activities need to be restricted which includes wildlife reserves and identified corridors, conservation forests, degraded forest areas that will be restored for ecological reasons, areas of archaeological and historical value, areas of natural beauty and natural features of exceptional value, environmentally and hydrological important wetlands and catchments and areas where landslides are likely. All these are included under a Protected Area Network (PAN).

In addition, the Plan has included under the PAN, the region above 300 m elevation described as the Central Fragile Region recognizing its importance in conserving the water sources of the country and its vulnerability to landslides. The Plan further says that in this area, development and expansion of towns will be controlled and restricted. In instances of land use conflicts, the conservation consideration shall take precedence.

The Plan has also identified future metropolitan areas that need to be developed considering the availability of land and water and equitable distribution of people. The largest metro region will be within the triangle Anuradhapura, Trincomalee and Dambulla, while the second largest will be around Hambantota. Colombo and Ampara-Batticaloa will come next. The Plan envisages developing several new industrial estates covering all the regions. There will be eight new export processing zones established in the north, central, east and south regions. The Plan also includes a network of new highways, railways, airports and harbours planned to bring prosperity to the country.

Sustainable Energy

At the Rio+20 Conference, it has been recognized that improving energy efficiency, increasing the share of renewable energy, incorporating low-emission technologies and cleaner and energy-efficient technologies are important for sustainable development, and that all people should have access to sustainable modern energy services moving away from traditional systems.

Sri Lanka depends heavily on traditional use of biomass to meet its energy requirements leaving much room for improvement. According to Sustainable Energy Authority (SEA) the total primary energy supply (TPES) of Sri Lanka for the decade 2001-2010 has been in the range 350 – 448 PJ. The energy mix in 2010 comprises 39.1% petroleum, 47.4% biomass, 11.1% hydro, 0.6% coal and 1.8% Non-Conventional Renewable Energy (NCRE). In Sri Lanka, NCRE includes small-scale hydropower, biomass including dendro power, biogas and waste, solar power and wind power.

The annual bill on importing oil is in the range USD 2.1-3.0 billion during 2006 – 2010, which is about 20% – 22% of the total import bill (Central Bank). Petroleum products are used for generating energy in various sub-sectors. In 2010, the highest consumption of oil has been in the transport sector (51.4%), followed by the power sector (26.6%), Industries sector (8.2%), house-hold & commercial sector (9.5%) and marine and aviation sectors (4.3%).

The total biomass consumption in 2010 has been estimated by SEA as 13,156 kt, with 4,116 kt consumed in the industrial sector while 9,040 kt consumed in the domestic and commercial sectors. The industrial uses of biomass are mostly for firing brick and tile industries and similar traditional industries where the thermal efficiency is not more than 30-40%. In most households, biomass is used in traditional stoves where the efficiency is not more than 8-10%, though an effort has been made to introduce fuel efficient stoves where the efficiency is slightly better being about 12 – 15%. Therefore, the energy consumption data given for Sri Lanka includes largely energy that is wasted.

According to CSD data, an average of 80% of the households across the country use firewood for cooking while 15% use LPG and the balance kerosene. The corresponding figures for Colombo District are 34% and 48%, respectively. If Sri Lanka shifts to modern energy services as recommended by the UN document or in other words say shift from biomass to LPG for domestic cooking, the overall energy consumption will drop. For example, if we assume the country shifts 100% from biomass to LPG for cooking, and assuming efficiencies for biomass cooking and LPG cooking as 10% and 50%, respectively, the new energy mix will become 62% petroleum, 20% biomass and 17% hydro, with the total energy reducing from the current value of 448 PJ to 324 PJ.

The per capita energy consumption corresponding to these two scenarios are 21 GJ and 15 GJ, respectively. Annual energy per capita is an indicator for economic development of a country, with industrialized countries in the Far East having high values in the range 100 – 200 GJ/capita while poor countries in South Asia having values below 10 GJ/capita. If by following the path of sustainable energy development the overall per capita energy consumption gets reduced, it will give a wrong signal to the world community. Sri Lanka’s position will slide down on this scale from 21 to 15 GJ/capita if all of us were to switch from biomass to LPG for cooking.

A more environmentally-friendly initiative which is more sustainable is to utilize the same amount of biomass in a more efficient manner using advanced technologies such as gasification so that biomass saved from domestic and industrial applications could be used to substitute for petroleum fuel such as LPG and fuel oil within the same sectors or even in new sectors such as dendro power generation.

Technology is available today to produce syn-gas by gasification of biomass at a central location within a small community and distribute the gas through pipelines to the houses in the community, where it could be used in place of LPG for cooking using a normal gas cooker. The government has recently received funding from the Global Environmental Fund (GEF) to promote commercialization of biomass industry and to introduce new technologies and it is expected that this project will promote such enterprises.

The launching of the Divineguma programme for the purpose of poverty eradication could be extended to cultivate energy plantations such as gliricidia in home gardens to feed small thermal generators of a few hundred kilowatt capacity range connected to the grid. This will provide a guaranteed regular income to the villagers and the money spent on importing oil could be retained within the country. The private sector could be persuaded to build these power plants in rural areas if sufficient incentives are granted. It has been estimated that sustainably grown energy plantations have the potential to meet the entire electricity needs of the country.

The grid connected plant capacity in 2010 from both CEB and private producers were 1187 MW (38.4%) of large hydro power and 1660 MW (53.8%) of thermal power, respectively. The NCRE capacity in 2010 was 241 MW (7.8%), coming from small hydro plants and wind plants. The total generation from all sources has grown from about 6,230 GWh in 2001 to 10,780 GWh in 2010.

Sri Lanka’s per capita electricity consumption during 2001-2010 has been 323 – 518 kWh which is more than an order of magnitude below the average of industrialized Asian countries’ which was 6,000 kWh/capita for 2008. It reflects the simple life style of our people as well as the low industrialization of the country. Most of the heavy industries that were operating in the sixties are no more and the expected foreign investments to open new industries under BOI have not been very fruitful. In Sri Lanka, the average monthly consumption of a domestic consumer is only 68 kWh while that of an industrial consumer is 5,490 kWh.

The National Energy Policy and Strategies (NEPS) of Sri Lanka, envisages reaching a minimum level of 10% of electrical energy supplied to the grid to be from NCRE by 2015. According to SLSEA, in 2010, NCRE sources have generated 732 GWh of electricity and with the total generation of 10,783 GWh from all sources, NCRE contribution has amounted to 6.8%. With another 325 MW of NCRE projects under construction, the total contribution to the grid from NCRE will likely to exceed 10% by 2015, achieving the NEPS target.

Sri Lanka has high potential to develop alternative power systems based on mini-hydro, wind energy and biomass systems. A detailed resource assessment needs to be carried out to determine what share of NCRE could be expected in the future. The government in the meantime has taken many policy decisions towards achieving SD through the adoption of RE sources and energy efficiency strategies, but there has been no prompt action taken to implement these decisions.

The National Action Plan (NAP) for Haritha (Green) Lanka Programme (HLP) has set targets for mixing bio-fuels with petroleum in the short term (3% by 2010), but these have not been achieved nor there is any indication that they will be achieved in the medium term (15% by 2015) as well. In this respect, there are several players involved, Land Ministry, Petroleum Ministry, Power and Energy Ministry, Environment Ministry and the private sector planters. A close coordination among them is necessary to achieve these targets.

The HLP has further recommended that the country should shift towards cleaner fuels, but the main electric utility in the country in its generation expansion plan has proposed building several coal power plants on the basis of least cost option. On the other hand, if natural gas is used along with combined cycle gas turbines, carbon dioxide emissions could be reduced by about 50% while eliminating totally other pollutants such as sulphur dioxide and particulates as well as huge amounts of solid waste. Shifting to natural gas will also reduce the government expenditure on health care treating patients suffering from respiratory ailments, for which the government spends about Rs. 4-5 billion currently.

Hence, switching from coal to natural gas is necessary more for local benefits than for global benefits. NG fired power plants will become competitive with coal power plants if the externalities such as environment and health damage costs are internalized into the project costing. Further, any extra incremental costs to be incurred on NG power plants could be set off with financial assistance available from UNFCCC funds set apart for reducing CO2 emissions.

Even in the case of TPES with a per capita consumption of 21 GJ in 2010, Sri Lanka’s position is far below the world average of 76 GJ (2008) and Europe’s average of 143 GJ (2008). On the other hand, recent decisions taken at the Conference of Parties to UNFCCC require all countries to undertake voluntary reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions which Sri Lanka still has not committed.

While the multi-lateral organizations including UN and Asian Development Bank (ADB) recommend that all countries increase their electricity consumption for a better living, UNFCCC puts constrains on them to reduce energy consumption so as to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. In almost all countries, emissions are linked to energy generation from fossil fuel combustion, which is still the key source of energy. These decisions taken by UNFCCC without giving any consideration for low energy consuming countries, puts these countries in a dilemma.

Climate Change

Climate change is considered today as one of the greatest challenges of our time, and it is a matter for concern that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions continue to rise globally. Unless this is arrested soon, there will be irreversible calamity that people will have to face, may be not by us, but by our future generations. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its Fourth Assessment Report released in 2007, has said that for the South Asian Region, the temperature on an average will rise by about 1-4 oC by 2100, and that there will be more rain during summer months (coinciding with SW monsoon) and less rain during the winter months (coinciding with NE monsoon).

Sri Lanka will have to prepare itself for such eventualities from now itself. One option is to build a series of reservoirs on the main rivers Kelani, Kalu, Gin and Mahaweli for capturing the surplus water received during the rainy season for transfer to the dry zone through a system of canals. Such projects are eligible for funding under adaptation from the UNFCCC.

For developing countries such as Sri Lanka, adaptation is more important than mitigation. The Ministry of Environment with the assistance from ADB has developed in 2010, a six year National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy (NCCAS) beginning 2011. It has been estimated that a sum of Rs. 47.7 billion will be required over and above current and on-going expenditure to implement the strategy during the 6 year period 2011-2016.

As required by the UNFCCC, Sri Lanka has submitted its Second National Communication (SNC) on Climate Change to the UNFCCC Secretariat in 2011. The SNC covers mainly measures taken by Sri Lanka during the previous decade towards meeting its obligations under the UNFCCC. The GHG Inventory which is a key component of the SNC was prepared in respect of 2000. The total CO2 emission for 2000 from the energy sector has been 10.43 MtCO2 with a per capita emission of 549 kg. The corresponding figures for 2010 are 12.84 MtCO2 and 605 kg, respectively. This is an order of magnitude lower than the average for the developed countries which is about 6 tCO2/capita.

Though it is expected that the SNC should describe impacts of Climate Change on various socio-economic sectors quantitatively, this has not been done except in respect of the tea sector. In this respect, I am glad to mention that this was made possible because of my initiative in 2002 when I undertook a study jointly with a team of scientists from Tea Research Institute (TRI) and Meteorology Department to assess the climate change impacts on the tea plantations, with funding from GEF.

With the proposal to build several new coal power plants, the CO2 emissions will increase in the future rather than reduce as required by UNFCCC. The CEB has announced its Energy Generation Expansion Plan according to which there will be 3745 MW of coal power plants by 2025 under the base case. The resultant CO2 emissions will increase from about 2 Mt/year to 23 Mt/year over the same period. The building of a large number of coal power plants when other cleaner options are available is a violation of the SD principles according to which only low carbon emitting cleaner energy options are to be adopted.

What Sri Lanka could do at this stage is to consider the building of coal power plants as the business-as-usual (BAU) scenario and make a decision to switch the fuel to a low carbon fuel such as natural gas which is much cleaner than coal, and then report the new emissions as a reduction from the BAU case. NG fired power plants emit only about 50% of CO2 emissions emitted from a similar capacity coal power plant. Another option is to co-fire the coal plants with biomass depending on its availability and report the resultant reduction, as biomass is a carbon neutral fuel.

Sustainable Peace

Peace is not an item included in the Rio+20 discussions. However, in any country, sustainable development could be achieved only if there is sustainable peace. Hence, it is important to include it in our discussions. We have achieved peace in 2009 defeating militarily the terrorist group LTTE. The government has spent much money during the last few years for the development of the infrastructure destroyed during the war and to provide housing for the displaced people as well as for rehabilitating the misguided youth.

However, there seems to be a lack of dialogue between the government and the Tamil people’s representatives. Though the government claims that all internally displaced people have been resettled, Tamil parliamentarians complain to neighboring countries that large numbers are yet to be resettled properly. There is also no agreement with the devolution process particularly with regard to implementing the 13th Amendment. This amendment was brought in for the purpose of devolving power to people in the North, but the Provincial Council for the North is yet to be established.

The Census taken in 2012 shows that except in the Jaffna District, the 2012 population in other districts in the North has reached or exceeded the 1981 population. In Jaffna District, the population has dropped by about 20%, but the remaining number is adequate to get the people’s opinion. Hence, there is no reason why an election could not be held in the Northern Province to elect members to the Provincial Council. Had this been done, it would have given the people in the North the same rights and privileges that others in the country enjoy.

As certain quarters are suggesting, withdrawing of the 13th Amendment at this stage would tantamount to putting the development process of the country into reverse gear. After 25 years of existence of the PC system involving building infrastructure and an administrative as well as a political system in the rest of the country, there is no reason why it should be discontinued at this stage.

If there are any shortcomings or conflict situations with the central government authority, these could be rectified and move forward without discarding the entire system. Provisions should be built into the system that enables all communities to live in harmony and peacefully under the Provincial Councils and to avoid any confrontation situations.

After much deliberations and consultations, the government has come out with a Reconciliation Report outlining certain recommendations which are yet to be implemented. However, the reconciliation process between the two communities should be based on mutual trust and should come from our hearts and not on what is there on legal documents. Judging from the rhetoric of some of the politicians as appearing in the media, arriving at a consensus on the devolution process acceptable to all communities appears to be a distant goal.

If the government backs out at this stage under pressure, it will be a case of history repeating itself which should be avoided at all costs. The fact that Tamil people, particularly those living in the South, face many barriers when it comes to social integration, language use, employment and education, need to be recognized and remedied. Until this is done, sustainable peace will be something elusive and so will be sustainable development.


The government has taken many policy decisions and planned out strategies for working towards sustainable development. This is true in the case of poverty eradication, food security, water resources, land degradation and sustainable cities. However, there does not seem to be much coordination and commitment demonstrated by different organizations to realize these strategies and targets within the time frames envisaged.

On the other hand, in the area of energy, the country is on the wrong track deviating from the principles of sustainable energy and is planning to pursue options that would result in the pollution of the local as well as the global environment violating the principles of sustainable development. It is also important to achieve sustainable peace if the country desires to achieve sustainable development.

By Dr Janaka Ratnasiri

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