Sri Lanka NEXT : A Blue-Green Era

One of the major challenges faced by the world today is the rise of global warming which has a direct link with the activities of the people.  Since it is estimated that the world population will be increased by another 2 billion by the year 2050 it has become absolutely necessary to control a further rise of world warming due to activities of this increased population. Thus it is incumbent on the present generation to employ appropriate measures to utilize limited natural resources of the world for a sustainable production process and consumption for the benefit of future generations.

World Leaders who attended the United Nations’ Conference on Climate Change, (Conference of the Parties to the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change -COP 21) held in Paris from 30th November to 11th December 2015 have resolved that all possible action be taken to limit the rise of global warming to a value below 2 degrees Celsius from the pre-industry value by the year 2100. It was further resolved that should be the desire of all developing countries to limit this to a value below 1.5 degrees Celsius.  Furthermore, in September last year, when I attended the annual world leaders gathering at the United Nations in New York, Sri Lanka collectively agreed to take bold and transformative steps in our respective countries to shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path by implementing the agreed 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets in this new universal Agenda.

Sri Lanka, is a signatory to these UN resolutions and, hence, has to adopt all appropriate measures to curb the rise of global warming especially in view of the fact that it is a developing Island Nation, highly vulnerable to natural disasters that affect all social, economical and development activities. Especially noteworthy are some natural disasters that took place in the recent past causing damage to valuable lives and economic resources of the country which in turn challenges our future existence.

It is apparent that the root cause of such disasters is the unsustainable production and consumption patterns of the populace that contribute to major environmental   hazards such as air pollution, water pollution, marine pollution and  soil pollution and degradation which endanger the existence of humans as well as flora and fauna.  Hence, correcting social, economic and physical development strategies and its directions is a great service for the sustainability of future generations. Thus, it is most timely and opportune to adopt a blue-green development strategy for the sustainable development of Sri Lanka in order to provide a more fruitful, happy and healthy livelihood for the populace.

This blue-green development strategy could lead us in the following directions.

1. Blue Economy

Geograpically, Sri Lanka is strategically positioned as a neighbor to the fast growing trading nation India and commands the most vital East West global shipping lane route vantage point in the Northern Indian Ocean.   Our valuable ocean resources,  within our EEZ and beyond in the continental shelf in the Bay of Bengal that the United Nations is likely to grant us sovereignty  in 2020, is spread across  an approximate extent of   2,247,306, which is 34 times bigger than the total land area on our island.   The attractive and resourceful sea coast itself is approximately 1620 km in length endowed with natural harbors and rich coastal resources. With such a vast under developed resource area, it is necessary to identify comprehensive sustainable development strategies to manage these ocean resources without causing environmental pollution. Some of the many lucrative development opportunities that could be listed are as follows.

i. Let us together unlock the value of our Ocean’s living resources sustainably:

Efforts should be made to utilize these resources employing sustainable strategies that would separate vulnerable areas as living marine resources protected sanctuary areas, and rotate the fishing areas around our island to give global leadership in sustainable fisheries management practices empowered with technology and best practices  Declaration of such fish habitat protection zones and marine practices would enable Sri Lanka to tap conservation funds.

ii. Let us together research our biodiversity rich marine biological resources to discover new medicines and products:

 Sri Lanka’s marine region consists of valuable scientific study resources including corals and other marine life and priority should be given to encourage research and development of these resources for pharmaceutical & other valuable product catalyst discoveries

iii. Let us together tap the potential of our ocean mineral & seabed resources to establish high technology “clean industries” that serves the global market:

Sri Lanka’s coast line, its environment and the ocean floor contain valuable mineral resources which can be converted to high value added products and services, which would open up a new “clean ocean industry” development opportunity for Sri Lanka. . Our universities and research led private sector and state sector must take the lead to unlock the vast potential jointly with cutting edge knowledge institutions from around the world

iv. Let us together establish low carbon footprint port facilities:

Economic prosperity could be achieved by making Sri Lanka a hub for not just container trans-shipment, but also a natural gas storage hub, regional logistics management hub, ship building hub, oil & gas exploration rig building hub, regional seismic survey ship deployment hub, and even leisure cruise liners and private yachting berthing hub. All our modern sea ports must deploy energy conservation and pollution free practices to be certified as an eco-friendly berthing facilities to become global leaders in green port management.

v. Let us together develop a conservation oriented tourism industry that takes advantage of our renewable energy resources in the coast and the oceans.

vi.    Encourage the development of a green coastal tourism industry that champions the use of renewable energy from coastal and ocean energy sources and engage in coastal conservation and marine resource protection practices. Also source food supplies from local area organic farmers to minimize the transport carbon footprint, and engage in rain water harvesting, recycling and good waste management practices.

vii. Let us together promote coastal recreational, beach and water Sport activities:

To bring Sri Lanka to a prominent position as an island that excels in Olympic events like yachting, sailing, swimming, diving, and other internationally popular oceanic and beach sports like surfing, water skiing, beach volleyball, and other recreational water activities utilizing the natural lagoon, river and bay area habitat in our coastal areas.

viii. Let us together open up maritime archaeology and anthropology:

Historically, for centuries, Sri Lanka was a centre of a popular sea route and the numerous related activities contributed to a rich maritime archaeology need to be fully explored for academic pursuits and also recreational diving that has an important tourism industry attraction value.

ix. Let us together make Sri Lanka the guardian of the Indian ocean:

Sri Lanka is an important centre in the global geo political map in view of its relationship with international sea routes as well as being located at the center of an ocean biodiversity and climate change hot spot. Hence, several economic benefits could be obtained by turning attention to the sphere of protection of the ocean, both in assuring the freedom of the sea lanes by keeping the navigation channels free of piracy and military blockades, and also the prevention of climate change inducing pollution from waste oil discharges and ballast from vessels, and other hazardous waste materials that negatively impact on ocean life. This also includes our own responsibility to ensure our industries do not discharge untreated waste to the rivers that empty to the ocean around us. Waste generated sea algae blooms and ocean acidification contribute towards global warming. The task of monitoring these events by satellites and having the response capability with the correct intervention capacity and the allied services and deployment assets will be a priority investment for our nation.

x. Let us together pursue new global opportunities in ocean energy:

Due to its richness in oceanic resources, many areas of renewable energy could be identified. Feasibility of generating energy using sea waves and offshore wind power and OTEC (Oceanic Thermal Energy Conversion) needs to be identified and developed. Sri Lanka can become a low carbon, 100% renewable energy nation, comfortably achieving our emissions reduction pledge to keep global warming at 1.5 degrees, if we fully exploit our ocean energy resources and develop high capacity energy storage by developing technologically advanced batteries using our graphene resources and the ingenuity of human resource capital.

xi. Let us together develop coastal area protection measures and upgrade our coastal area habitat infrastructure to overcome sea level rise and climate change coastal erosion :

The vast areas of our coast is protected by natural sea erosion barriers like mangroves, which are valuable carbon sinks, and increasing that natural capital would enable Sri Lanka to tap international conservation funds. Furthermore, the upgrading of our coastal habitat infrastructure to be resilient to climate change impacts requires a total revamp of road elevations, storm water drainage systems, protection of vital power and telecommunication networks, and the overall design of urban, suburban and rural habitat areas that are vulnerable to coastal erosion and sea level rise. Protection of drinking water river intakes from salinity contamination and well water contamination needs to be considered to make our island climate change ready. This requires vast investments and also manpower mobilization to study the threats and design and develop solutions. This defensive investment will also boost the economy and assure our nation of less disruptions to our economy when climate change impacts the whole world.

2. Green Economy:

i. Let us together establish clean industries engaged in low carbon emission production:

Sri Lanka can become a hub for clean industries that offers “green energy” certified export products by taking advantage of our renewable energy resource capacity and by conforming to strict waste and energy management practices. All industries must strive to improve their waste management process and convert to energy efficient devices to ensure that manufacturing in Sri Lanka is done according to principles of sustainability practices and environmental protection.. Sri Lanka must divest from high polluting and high emission industries and shift away from sectors that contribute negatively towards climate change, and embrace the new emerging green manufacturing opportunities that would position Sri Lanka as the world’s leading Green Manufacturing Hub that can demand a premium for its exports.

ii. Let us together create a watershed restorative, health preserving, organic agriculture for food security:

Food security and sustainability should be ensured by utilizing eco friendly means for the development of agriculture. Excessive dependence on fertilizer inputs like nitrogen, contributes towards global warming, and the overuse of chemicals, pesticides, and herbicides have killed our soil biota. The renewal of our soil with organic nutrients has been made a priority by the decision of the Government to offer the fertilizer subsidy directly to the farmer, and the conversion to organic agriculture will reduce the net nitrogen oxide emissions, qualifying Sri Lanka for funding in the climate change mitigation and adaptation process. The renewal of the biodiversity around farmlands from the improved watershed cover, and the overall increase of trees will bring multiple benefits to the country, including a safety net from the potential threat to food security from the potential die off of plants if the planet reaches a temperature rise of 3 degrees. The expected El Nino impact this year and the years to come will further extend the low rainfall period in the dry zone of Sri Lanka and the threat to crop yields and production is very real. Preparing our stakeholders in the farm economy to meet these challenges and take proactive measures to become resilient is a national priority.

iii. Let us together champion renewable energy generation, low loss transmission and energy storage utility sector :

Sri Lanka must strive to become a world leader in harnessing 100% of its energy requirement from renewable energy sources, and even export the abundantly excessive “green energy” at a premium to neighboring countries. The availability of raw materials locally to develop power transmission lines using superconductors will usher a new era of low loss transmission networks in the world. The premium quality graphite deposits that can be been converted to graphene to produce high capacity power storage battery devices, places Sri Lanka at a distinct advantage to become a global leader in the centralized or distributed electric power sector. Wind, Solar, OTEC, Thorium, Wave, and Hydro provides a multitude of options for Sri Lankans to become energy generating entrepreneurs and graphene based power storage device manufacturers.

iv. Let us together create a green LEED standard construction industry:

It is necessary to encourage all stakeholders in the construction industry to utilize environment friendly means and uphold the internationally recognized LEED standards appropriately adjusted for our country for planning, design and construction of all buildings and urban infrastructure, including public roads, railways, and utility services. . Sri Lankan entrepreneurs, innovators, energy auditors, electrical and mechanical engineers, structural engineers, architects, town planners, contractors and the skilled labor have a unique opportunity to retrain their knowledge and expertise to adopt a low carbon footprint construction model and develop energy efficient homes, offices, industries and public infrastructure. The importers and local manufacturers of building materials can source green building products, fixtures, and fittings, and also services equipment.

v. Let us together create an alternative energy public & private transport sector:

One of the biggest challenges we are facing to meet our commitment for a low emission target for Sri Lanka is the present over-reliance on fossil fuels in our public and private transport modes. . It is necessary to encourage the use of alternative energy powered vehicles like electric, compressed air, and flex-fuel hybrid vehicles. We must take immediate steps to accelerate a comprehensive improvement to our public transport system, providing incentives for the private bus operators, lorry & truck operators, van operators, trishaws and taxi services providers, to convert to hybrid and electric vehicles. The rail network must be upgraded to an electric service, and the public road network infrastructure must be modified to serve the power charging requirements of the electric vehicles. All new public road and transport investment projects must get revised to incorporate an electric vehicle future. Alternative modes of transport like special lanes for cyclists, use of waterways, and pedestrian friendly elevated moving walkways would need to be considered along with monorails, urban metro light rail, and bus rapid transit systems. Equally, road congestion reduction by introducing flexi-work hours and optimizing the communication technology to reduce the need to travel has to be considered by us all.

vi. Let us together create Green Cities and Villages that are healthy and safe to live:

Developers should be encouraged to utilize environment friendly standards for the construction of green cities and villages. Fast accessibility and dispersion of commuters is the key to prevent transport corridor congestion, and the resultant climate change inducing emissions. Natural fauna and flora to be integrated into the street design to reduce the overall heat sink impact and pollution absorbing plants and air quality assuring city planning has to be considered.

vii. Let us together prepare for a Blue Green economy workforce:

In creating employment opportunities for future generations, attention should be paid to developing both the tertiary and secondary school system to equip students with the knowledge and expertise relevant for employment in a blue-green economy, and the curriculum expanded to include the new blue-green sectors of the economy, including the specializations that our children must now be encouraged to pursue. Our citizens who have gone overseas have been exposed to many of these blue-green economy opportunities, and many are leading practitioners in their respective fields that develop renewable energy, and other related green technologies, and encouraging them to return back home to take charge of this new emerging blue-green economy would be a priority.

In this New Year, 2016, It should be the fervent hope of all of us, Sri Lankans, to concentrate on all aforementioned areas and effectively utilize all available strategies of ‘Blue-Green Development’ for social and economic development of future Sri Lanka. In so doing, attempts should be made to reduce emission of Green House Gases (GHG) that contribute towards climate change which is negatively impacting on our lives today.

"Let us together along with the rest of the world, make a commitment through our actions to ensure that our island is firmly on the path of sustainable development, which in turn will make our country a healthy environment, that is both a happy and prosperous home, for future unborn generations. Our collective actions will earn us the respect of not just the world community, but the gratitude of our Grand Children that we left them a beautiful paradise rich in fertile soils, pure water, fresh air, and an abundance of natural resources that we have left unexploited, un spoilt, for their benefit."

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