In the current context of exacerbated effects of global warming, the 13th the Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs) i.e., Climate Action is considered one of the high priority SDGs which requires rapid policy changes and proactive measures cross-sectorally. The mission of this goal is to “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts by regulating emissions and promoting development in renewable energy,” (UNDP).
Goal 13 comprises of five targets namely:
- Strengthening resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related disasters
- Integrate climate change measures into policies and planning
- Build knowledge and capacity to meet climate change
- Implement the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
- Promote mechanisms to raise capacity for planning and management.
The UNFCCC, UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization-Institute for Statistics (UNESCO-UIS), Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) are the custodian agencies which are overseeing the implementation of policies in achieving targets as well as setting the indicators.
The response of the international community
Climate change in this instance refers to “the phenomenon in which the state of the atmosphere changes in the long-term, typically 30 years which was catalyzed after the industrial revolution,” (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC). Unlike socio-economic issues that nations face which differs based on available resources, climate change affects all regions in varying capacities. Ever since the identification of ‘global warming’ as a concept in the mid-1900s, multilateral agreements have been the golden ticket to curbing many issues which were resulting from this phenomenon. However, as most of the agreements weren’t legally binding and most polluting countries refrained from making substantial changes, the potential of achieving targets in the agreements were pushed back significantly.
The United Nations in partnership with expert committees and countries have signed conventions and multilateral agreements in the past couple of years to meet targets. The most famous one is the Paris Agreement which is a legally binding multilateral agreement signed in 2015 which came into force in 2016. The objective of it is to keep global temperatures well below two degrees Celsius (preferably 1.5 degrees Celsius) and this action plan is renewed every five years. Countries party to this agreement are expected to conduct a reviewing process every five years through their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). In principle the Paris Agreement is regarded as a more pragmatic approach to mitigating effects of climate change since it hopes to change policies cross-sectorally. The main UN body which led this initiative was the UNFCCC.
There are many other multilateral agreements and forums which are operational around the clock to provide expertise to countries and hold nations accountable where needed. For example, the Stockholm Convention gave birth to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). The UNEP acts as the leading global environment authority vested with the responsibility to promote coherent implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development within the UN system. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which is one of the main arms of the UN assessing the science related to climate change. The IPCC provides regular scientific assessments to policymakers. Their recent publication was the sixth assessment report which shed light on the fatal situation of the climate crisis at present and its effect on socio-economic issues.
Sri Lanka’s stance on the climate crisis
Sri Lanka’s vulnerability to climate change has been growing over the years and now is at a point where the effects are more evident. As an island nation, the susceptibility to sea level rise is high and urban flooding is prevalent. The above only scratches the surface on the negative implications global warming has had on the country, and the need for rapid structural policy changes.
On a positive note, there has been a wide range of action that the country has pledged to take in to combat negative effects. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa noted at the UN International Energy Forum recently (24th of September 2021) that Sri Lanka will end building Coal power plants to achieve net-zero carbon emissions. The infamous ban on Chemical fertilizers too was an initiative by the present regime to reduce the negative effect on ecosystems from the toxic gasses. While the practicality of its immediate implementation is multi-faceted, the switch to organic farming and/or sustainable farming practices could reduce Green-House Gas (GHG) emissions significantly.
The National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy (NCCAS) developed a framework for combating climate change in Sri Lanka. Their framework includes five components which were assessed from 2011 to 2016.
- Mainstream climate-change adaptation into national planning and development
- Enabling climate-resilient and healthy human settlements
- Minimizing climate-change impact on food security
- Improving climate resilience of key economic drivers
- Safeguarding natural resources and biodiversity from climate-change impacts.
In addition, the tourism industry which is a high revenue earning sector of the economy is progressively switching to eco-tourism. The objective of this program is to reduce the carbon footprint of tourism and conserve the environment.
On the contrary, politicization of governmental institutions and overall lack of awareness amongst the public has contributed to the aggravation of climatic disasters and increased potential of more catastrophes. The lack of transparency in the construction of large-scale projects and the allegations of manipulated Environmental Impact Assessments have plagued the sustenance of ecosystems such as wetlands, mangroves, forest reserves etc. Furthermore, the recent events of demolishing heritage sites and buildings of historical value in Colombo Fort and other areas of high ecological value have been deemed disastrous in the long run to the air circulation aside from the surrounding environment.
While the list for non-proactiveness can continue, what is important is to look forward in terms of what can be done now to have a safer and habitable future. Sri Lanka has a long way to go in terms of achieving the targets of Goal 13, however, this will not only need the support of the government, but it will also need the cooperation of both the public and business sector.
– Rtr. Shihara Ferdinando
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