President Maitripala Sirisena’s election manifesto was a surprise to many who did not anticipate his candidacy. Though it probably is not as lengthy as the Manhinda Chinthanaya which formed the basis for many policies in the past decade, the manifesto does present ample space for addressing many environment related concerns, especially on climate change and sustainable development. This article is not exhaustive on what is expected in terms of changes in environmental policies, it only brings out a few issues that are highlighted and seem important in order to ensure that Sri Lanka takes actions in this crucial year of 2015 to ensure that there is enough action taken on the local and global level to address impacts of climate change, and to promote the agenda on sustainable development.
Addressing degradation of nature
The introduction itself highlights the need to address the degradation of nature. There is a tone of trusteeship when speaking on environmental protection. Some areas of biodiversity protection has not been included here. But there is a clear reference and acceptance that the environment has been impacted by human actions and that there needs to concentrated actions to remedy this situation.
“A large number of deviations, such as the total breakdown of the rule of law, fraud, corruption, wastage, incapacity to identify national priorities, environmental degradation, and moral and spiritual decline have emerged as obstacles to our country’s march forward. “
Access to Information for development projects
One of the key elements that the CSOs have highlighted is the need for access to information. With developmental projects being implemented with lack of information provided to the public, this seems a timely and much needed change in Sri Lanka. Await to see on how this is implemented in reality. Neverthless a good start for gaining an idea on what happens in the name of development, and also for the increase of transparency and accountability.
“I will also introduce a Right of Information Act so that people can access all information relating to development activities.”
Sovereign and Southern based economic development
There is a focus on Southern based developmental and economic initiatives. While there is a criticism of what used to be the past, where the crisis of developed nations would be reflected in the country’s economy, the wording highlights the need to focus on a South based development pathway. And policies to address this are highlighted as a necessity where over consumption is seen as not a healthy option.
“The economic crisis which began in the developed countries and which has now spread through the world is only one aspect of the social, economic, environmental and cultural crises that is facing the world. It is not a short-term but a long-term crisis. These crises are a result of wrong policies which have preferred hatred to compassion, extreme indulgence in pleasure to the middle path, the pursuit of infinite development in a finite world and the domination of nature to co-existence with it. Unfortunately the few that manipulate the country’s economy also try to rush along this evil path”
Food Security & Agriculture
The manifesto also address the issue of food security. It brings the issue of imported food items which are over-priced due to the tax imposed on them. And a need to address it. There is also focus on agriculture and getting out of dependency on foreign fertilisers while not making use of indigenous knowledge. This would be an area where climate change impacts would be a topic, and how adaptation and agricultural policies need to be in line. Something to keep an eye on in the new year.
“Custom duties will be relaxed on 10 essential food items to give relief to the people burdened with the high cost of living. The prices of essential food items will come down instantly as a result.
Though the country is self-sufficient now in rice, our agriculture is totally dependent. A large amount of fuel and fertilizers has to be used and agriculture is almost totally dependent on foreign companies. This has created a number of serious problems.”
And another point where adaptation could be seen is where the manifesto highlights the need for climate adaptive seeds for the use of agriculture. The new President promises to make use of such seeds in Sri Lanka’s agriculture. He also highlights the use of indigenous knowledge in agriculture.
“Since Sri Lanka’s bio-diversity is one of the richest in the world, I will increase state interventions and investments to expand the use of traditional seeds that favour cultivation suitable to our environment, to improve the knowledge and abilities of agro-technological institutions and to prevent the acquisition of a monopoly in seeds by corporations.”
It addresses the market mechanisms that threaten food security with anomalies and impacts on agriculture and transport of products.
“New methods will be introduced to strengthen the market mechanism since the removal of anomalies in the transport of the harvest from the farmer to the consumer is an essential factor in preserving farming.”
The agricultural policies are stated as going to be adaptive to the country context, and with reference to being sustainable. A hook to the need to address food security in sustainable development, and policies needed to ensure this.
“The background will be prepared for the formulation of a policy on sustainable agriculture based on indigenous resources and compatible with nature in order to liberate the country from dependent agriculture.”
Land use & Water
The ad-hoc land use for construction and developmental activities is highlighted as one that will be addressed, as well as the potential for water crisis. The word addressing the impacts of “climatic changes” is input when speaking of irrigation and water.
“A National Land Commission will be established to suspend the autocratic transfer of land to foreign companies for development activities harmful to the environment and to provide opportunities for petty farmers to use land for cultivation purposes.
I will take measures to repair clogged irrigation systems and remove silt form tank beds so as to preserve abundant rain water and thus face climatic changes.”
Infrastructure for preserving water needed for agriculture is under the public authority with public finance, and seen as a responsibility of the government.
“The maintenance and management of small tanks will be the responsibility of the unit that administers that system while steps will be taken to provide the necessary facilities by the government.”
Loss and Damage, compensation and insurance
The manifesto also seems to address issues of loss and damage. In the past if I am not mistaken in 2012 there was a similar situation when weather impacted harvests and farmers were in a financial crisis the loans for agriculture were written off. The new president states, “50% of all farmer’s’ loans will be written off and a grace period will be given to freshly reassess and pay the balance money.”
Further there is a government based insurance system to be put in place, if the promises of the manifesto are to be respected.
“Crop damage insurance will be provided including a contribution by the government.”
In addition to the many references to the protection of bio-diversity, and addressing deforestation and land-grabbing which impacts environment, there is also wording that could be seen as addressing climate change, adaptation and loss and damage, as well as disaster risk reduction.
“I will formulate a national policy that could face modern ecological challenges. Programmes will be activated to minimise various disasters and accidents caused by climatic changes such as drought, forest fires, floods, landslides, typhoons, tornados and sea erosion.”
There is also reflection on what the CSOs called for from the demands of the SAARC gathering, in order to address natural disasters in a more organised manner, with more capacity.
“In order to work out and implement methodologies to minimise accidents Disaster Management Centres will be systematically established at each Divisional Secretary Office so that a productive alliance could be maintained with relevant agencies.”
Energy security and low carbon development
On energy, there is focus on the transport sector. On the immediate level the energy consumption gives way to addressing corruption which impacted bad oil acquisition from countries. There is a sense of development of Sri Lanka as a sovereign state without the dependency on developed and oil producing countries. Subsidies are to be provided to the public transportation sector. (if an expert on this area could help out on analysing the below, would appreciate a lot). The whole section on oil and fossil subsidies seem a bit focused on cutting down the prices that burden the public, which obviously would be the wording needed for the elections. The key being the section which highlights the shift from fossil fuel to renewable energy. I have highlighted it below. The steps of energy security go from : getting rid of dependency on foreign fuel purchases that are corruption based and overly priced which oppress the poor as well as reducing the price of electricity which will cut the use of fossil fuels for energy creation, and then a better environmentally healthy solution which is based on renewable energy. Then after the infrastructure is put in place and capacity for Res developed, a cut on fossil fuel subsidies and shift from fossil to renewable energy is envisioned. (please refer below highlighted)
“Energy constitutes one of the foremost factors deciding the future of the country. The transport sector totally depends on imported oil. Sixty to seventy percent of power generation also depends on imported oil and coal. The oil and electricity demand forecast of Sri Lanka indicates that the demand will double during the next 15 years. At present the process of purchasing coal and oil is corrupt and it is a large scale fraud in Sri Lanka. Hence a handful fatten their pockets while the ordinary people who consume energy suffer. I will take systematic action to completely halt this situation and provide benefits to the people.
- At this moment when oil prices have plummeted in the world market I will remove
the over Rs 40 billion government tax on oil and pass over its benefit to the people as an
immediate solution. Special subsidies will be given for public transport services, Three
Wheelers and Motor cycles. The price of a domestic LP Gas cylinders will be reduced by
As a long term solution to the fuel and electricity consumer pricing issue a suitable
price formula will be introduced within hundred days. Then the people will get the
benefit when the global oil and coal price falls.
“Special attention will be given to energy security due to escalating fuel prices and
daily aggravating environmental issues. I will prepare the groundwork for the country to
fulfil the basic energy requirements of the people through renewable energy sources
such as Dendro (biomass) power, wind power, solar power, ocean energy etc. I will
specially take action to build dendro power stations throughout the country so that
electricity consumers’ money that hitherto drained to the pockets of the coal and oil
mafia will flow to the rural peasantry. Thus I will make power generation a chief means of
raising the living standards of the peasantry”
- I will gradually remove all subsidies now given for fossil fuel and hand them over to
obtain renewable energy technology. In this way I will take steps to supply energy to the
consumer at low cost. A rapid programme will also be undertaken to obtain for our country
long term concessionary loans schemes for clean energy already in place worldwide.
The key words of “low carbon lifesyles” is mentioned with hint at commitment from public sector finance for putting up the infrastructure to facilitate this shift.
“• I will introduce systems and establish infrastructure for energy conservation and
use new efficient technology for the purpose. Houses and buildings will be designed for
ensuring low carbon lifestyles.”
Energy efficient transport, & low carbon life sytles
There is also the improvement of public transport that will help cut on fuel emissions in order to address low carbon development. For this it is not solely based on public sector, but as well as the private sector. There is also the reference to efficient use of fossil fuel which is then replaced by use of zero emissions such as electric vehicles.
“Investment for transport services on highways and train services will
be encouraged, with use of local industry…Though public transport provides 60% of
services, it uses only 15% of oil. Therefore when the public transport service is improved
to the level of developed countries both qualitatively and quantitatively, strategies to
discourage the use of private vehicles will be introduced. Necessary measures will be taken
to introduce standards for raising the fuel efficiency of vehicles and for driver education.
Measures will also be taken to encourage the use of electric trains and electric vehicles.”
This is a rough and quick analysis of what is to be expected and there are other sectors which will overlap with the climate change and developmental agenda which will be touched upon in different articles. However as the manifesto stands its themes and focus seem very favourable given the importance of year 2015 to address climate change, disaster risk reduction as well as the SDGs. The manifesto if used as a base document it would great space for interpretation and for developing climate sensitive, sustainable and pro poor and vulnerable policies for development.