Overdependence on fossil fuel: An urgent call for green initiatives

November 22, 2017

Petrol’ has been the talk of the town since early November. The daily lives of the public have been disrupted with the rising traffic congestions and transportation issues. Vehicles have been queuing up at petrol stations fearing a petrol shortage since last Friday, creating traffic jams on the streets of Colombo, amidst the heavy showers.

Public transportation services and taxis available for hire reduced its functioning, further exacerbating the situation. The ongoing debates about the petrol shortage contain allegations against Lanka IOC (LIOC) for its low-quality petrol shipments being rejected and on the other hand, hold Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC), the main supplier of petroleum catering to 84 percent of the local market, responsible for being unable to meet the demands of the people.

Moreover, the Government of Sri Lanka as a whole is held accountable for its inept decision-making and policy procedures in responding to the supply shock.

Petrol crisis in Sri Lanka

Leaving aside the political commotion behind the issue, let us have a look at the issue from a different angle. Petrol alone has been able to create a countrywide issue affecting the lives of the people irrespective of demographic or geographic differences. Can we all then agree to the fact that ‘petroleum fuel’ has then entered the list of basic needs of humans?

Willingly or unwillingly, we need to agree to the fact that we, as a nation, are highly dependent on fossil fuels for the daily functioning of our lives. Imported petroleum oil is the primary source of fuel for vehicles in Sri Lanka. About 6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) of Sri Lanka is spent on petroleum imports. Hence, this is an economic burden as well as a threat to the climate.

Sri Lanka’s commitment to reduce GHG emissions

Moving on to the climate change debate, the combustion of fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) dominate the total greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) globally, while locally the transport sector is one of the main GHG emitters in Sri Lanka. Given the fact that Sri Lanka has signed and ratified the Paris Agreement that entered into force on November 4, 2016 in the country, we have committed to keeping the global temperature rise this century below 2 degrees Celsius, above the pre-industrial levels and to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

This agreement requires parties to present the intended procedures to achieve the above goal in terms of mitigation, adaptation, loss and damage and implementation under the Nationally-Determined Contributions (NDCs). The NDCs for mitigation of Sri Lanka intends to reduce the GHG emissions 20 percent in the energy sector and by 10 percent in other sectors (transport, industry, forests and waste) by 2030.

Apart from the NDCs, the recent launch of the Sri Lankan government’s policy framework, ‘V2025: A Country Enriched’, has further included actions to be taken within the transport sector to promote clean energy and an energy-efficient transport system.

Proposed energy-efficient initiatives for transport sector

In order to achieve the reduction in GHG emissions in the transport sector, Sri Lanka has presented various activities under the NDCs for transport. The encouragement and introduction of low-emission vehicles such as electric and hybrid (electrified three-wheelers to reduce emissions, electrified boat service, electric buses and other electrified vehicles), electrification of the railway system from Veyangoda to Panadura, establishment of an energy-efficient and environmentally sustainable transport systems by 2030 by developing the Urban Transport Master Plans (UTMP) to improve the transport system in line with the Megapolis Plan, introduction of an Intelligent Transport System (ITS)-based bus management system and a canal transport system are some of the initiatives documented in the NDCs submitted by Sri Lanka.

The development of a more environment-friendly transport sector and the promotion of energy-efficient vehicles that will reduce fuel consumption are objectives stated in the Vision 2025 document as well. This document states that the Government of Sri Lanka will establish multi-model transport centres with park and ride facilities, upgrade and construct more than 70 bridges, including the new Kelaniya Bridge, modernize and expand the rail system by setting up a new railway line between Matara and Kataragama and construct new rail tracks connecting Kurunegala and Habarana via Dambulla. To ease the current passenger congestion in the system bus priority lanes are to be introduced along with an advanced traffic management system.

Keeping in mind that the above activities are to be achieved by 2025 in order for Sri Lanka to be able to fulfil its NDCs by 2030, the country has to urgently tend to the implementation of these actions. The policy documents can provide guidance and direction for the achievement of the targets. However, the people of Sri Lanka need to be educated and made aware of the importance of minimizing the dependence on fossil fuels.

The successful implementation of the mitigation actions requires transformational change in the governance of the transport sector, particularly related to policy, regulatory, institutional frameworks and information management. Apart from the regulations and laws such as the provision of tax benefits, subsidies or loans for green initiatives taken by people, countrywide awareness needs to be conducted for instance through national media on the need to adopt clean energy lifestyles for the individual benefits as well as society as a whole, while educating the people on the inconveniences one would have to confront due to one’s actions, thereby calling for collective action for transformation.

The current petrol crisis is a lesson to be learnt, which requires change within government decisions and policies as well as individual conduct, without which such occurrences would become common phenomena.

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