Climate Literacy in Sri Lanka’s Development Pathway

April 22, 2017

With the electoral manifesto of current president Maithripala Sirisena, which promised the formulation of a national policy that could face modern ecological challenges, the country’s drive towards sustainable development was instated. Further policy, action and activities carried out under the Maithripala regime since 2015, consolidated the nation’s position on sustainability and ecological awareness. Importantly, the Government’s vision for a ‘sustainable era’ was launched on 2 January targeting the achievement of 2030 sustainable development goals according to the declared objective of the Government on poverty elimination.

(From Right to the Left, Secretary to the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment Mr. Udaya Senevirathne, Director of Climate Change Secretariat of Sri Lanka Dr. Sunimal Jayathunga, Assistant Director of Climate Change Secretariat Mr. Ruwan Weerasooriya at the awareness and capacity building event)

Sri Lanka’s Commitment to Environmental Treaties

Sri Lanka is a signatory to key international climate treaties and is a party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol since 1993 and 2002, respectively. The Climate Change Secretariat, under the purview of the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment acts as the national focal point to both the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol. The country also signed the Paris Agreement in 2016 with consequent ratification on 21 September 2016.

As part of the national commitments to these treaties Sri Lanka has also developed the National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy for Sri Lanka 2011-2016 in 2010 and the National Climate Change Policy (NCCP) in 2012. The country prepared its National Adaptation Plan for Climate Change Impacts in Sri Lanka in 2015 and submitted its Nationally Determined Contributions to the UNFCCC in September, 2016. In addition, the inception of the ‘Blue-Green Era’ in 2016, an initiative taken by the Government, marks the adoption of a blue-green development strategy for the sustainable development of Sri Lanka.

These national and international frameworks work to ensure that development in Sri Lanka takes place in an ecologically sustainable manner. The sustainable development pathway would ensure the sustainable consumption and production patterns which protects our natural resources and the environment as well as ensuring preparedness and resilience building for the escalating impacts of climate change. Development and the expansion of the key economic sectors that contribute to the country’s GDP growth such as energy, tourism, agriculture and urban development are bound by these national commitments to re-evaluate its expansionary pathway and adhere to the measures put in place for the protection of environment.

Role of Climate Literacy in Sustainable Development

Climate and environmental literacy are the foundation needed to build knowledgeable citizens, well versed in the scientific concept of climate change and its potential threat on the planet as well as to ensure environmental justice is carried out. Therefore, dissemination of knowledge and education on topical climate and environmental issues are imperative to safeguard the motives behind Sri Lanka’s sustainable development pathway.

As part of addressing the need to increase climate literacy in Sri Lanka, for Earth Day 2017 the Climate Change Secretariat of the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment, in collaboration with SLYCAN Trust enunciated the need for environmental and climate literacy in order to ensure the effective implementation of the blue-green initiative. A workshop for journalists and communicators was organised with the aim of partnering with multiple stakeholders to increase climate literacy in Sri Lanka.

Speaking at the event, Secretary to the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment, Udaya Seneviratne highlighted several key initiatives and policy decisions taken by the government to ensure a climate resilient nation. He stressed the need for climate literacy among all stakeholders including the policy makers and the general public.

“The development projects undertaken due to purely pecuniary reasons have a detrimental impact on the ecosystems of the country. The construction of tourist hotels that is taking place in Batticaloa is largely destroying the mangrove cultivation. This shows the lack of climate and environmental literacy amongst people,” said the Secretary.

Waste and Energy Sectors

Unsustainable consumption patterns and inefficiency of the waste management system leads to the waste sector being a key contributor to GhG emissions in Sri Lanka. Commenting on this regard, Seneviratne pointed out that the disasters that we are experiencing now, like the Meethotamulla landslide, is a consequence of the illiteracy on environmental concern amongst the public and the authorities.

Seneviratne also commented on the sector based measures undertaken by the Government in order to address the impacts of climate change as either mitigation or adaptation actions. Accordingly, targeting the energy sector of Sri Lankan, the secretary indicated the need to shift from using fossil fuel and coal power energy, towards more sustainable renewable energy sources.

“The need to shift from fossil based fuels to renewable is echoed in the country’s commitments, as by 2030. The GhG emissions related to energy is to be reduced by 20% and more interest being invested in the alternative energy sources,” he said.

He also mentioned that the Government is undertaking a new project for energy generation in reservoirs; one such project being the 100 Mw floating solar power plant on Maduru Oya utilising 4% of the Maduru Oya Reservoir.

Increasing Awareness on Climate Change

Also speaking at the event, Dr. Sunimal Jayathunga, Director of the Climate Change Secretariat of Sri Lanka highlighted the importance of climate literacy and educating the public on the environment impact of their actions.

“As part of the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment annual Earth Day celebrations, we are striving to create citizens who are sensitive to the environment,” he said.

Vositha Wijenayake, presenting on the role of communication in climate awareness further pointed to the need for climate literacy and effective communication on environmental and climate change related issues. She highlighted that communicators and journalists could play a key role in increasing climate literacy.  

“How one speaks of climate change and its impacts play a key role in how we react to it. If we want to make people react positively and take action to address climate change, then actions need to be taken to increase awareness on this issue. Also, messaging on climate change needs to be positive, and highlighting what we could do as solution, and not creating doom and gloom,” she said.

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