Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Editorial Page

Climate Politics

ejustice July 2009
by Hemantha Withanage

Some people still think that climate change is a “doomsday scenario”. Dr. Bellamy’s [a famous environmentalist] letter published on 16 April 2005 in New Sci­entist asserted that a large percentage (555 of 625) of the glaciers being observed by the World Glacier Monitoring Service were advancing, not retreating. Bellamy later de­cided to draw back from the debate on global warming.

Climate change is now proven by the scien­tist in many occasions. Many are still con­fused with weather, micro climatic changes and real climate change.

According to the Article 1 of the United Na­tions’ Framework on Climate Change Con­vention (UNFCCC) “Climate change means a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate vari­ability observed over comparable time peri­ods”.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) “Climate change in IPCC usage refers to any change in climate over time, whether due to natural variability or as a result of human activity. “ (IPCC Work­ing Group I (AR4, 2007)[6], Summary for Poli­cymakers, Footnote 1)

Whatever the definition, World is debating over the climate change since Rio Conference held in 1991. The Kyoto Protocol was signed by all countries excluding the United States. They have held Fourteen Conferences of par­ties (COP) and hundreds of other conferences since then to produce a workable and agree­able solution to mitigate and adapt to the climate change.

According to the original figures the Annex 1 countries whch signed the Kyoto Protocol have agreed to reduce 5.2% of the GHG emis­sions from 1990 levels. Annexure 1 countries refer to those developed countries which re­lease 80 percent of the Green House Gases (GHGs). However, no country has achieved this level and now Annexure 1 countries need to reduce their GHG emission by 80 percent by 2020 in order to maintain the tolerable level.

If we are to maintain 2 degrees centigrade increase of the atmosphere temperature we should maintain the CO2 level in air as 350 ppm.

The proposed solutions include mitigation (reduction of GHG) adaptation (adapting to the irreversible consequences of climate change) technology transfer, capacity build­ing and climate financing.
Mitigation is the most debatable part of the climate negotiations. Many developed coun­tries do not want to compromise their life­style to reduce CO2 emissions which is mainly due to the use of fossil fuel i.e Coal and Gas.

On the other hand there are no adequate fi­nances for adaptation. Many poor countries [poor people] emit very little CO2 due to their activities. From the climate justice angle ev­ery person can release 2 tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere without much damage. Howev­er, rich nations release more than 10 tonnes of CO2 per capita annually.

The world-wide emissions of CO2 for the year 2006 were about 4.5 tonnes per capita. What would happen if we froze the world-wide per capita emissions of carbon dioxide to the current level? Could global warming then be mitigated? For this purpose, we simulate a constant emission of 4.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year per capita.

Technology transfer is required to mitigate and adapt to the climate change conse­quences. Developed countries only consider north to south transfer. However, the local ex­perience reveals that north has to learn more from the south technologies if they want to face the climate disasters.

There is no doubt that the carbon-fuelled growth of developed countries has dispro­portionately contributed to the acceleration of climate change. The Report of the Confer­ence of the Parties on its thirteenth session, held in Bali in December 2007, recognized that deep cuts in global emissions will be required to achieve the ultimate objective of the Convention and that there is a crucial need to accelerate innovation in the devel­opment, deployment, adoption, diffusion and transfer of environmentally sound technolo­gies among all Parties, and particularly from developed to developing countries, for both mitigation and adaptation.

The climate debate put United Nations agen­cies on test as they have failed to come to an agreement after 15 negotiations. Copenha­gen Climate conference will be a milestone to decide how the world is going to decide their future.

Sri Lanka has proposed few ideas to the cli­mate debate. Among them the request to repay ecological debt is one proposal. [Since early 90’s environmentalists advocate that the resources rich countries in the south are the creditors and those who are involved in ecological damage in southern countries dur­ing the colonization should pay the ecologi­cal debt]. However, Sri Lanka has not seriously thought about climate consequences rather than Carbon Fund Ltd., and the four Clean De­velopment Mechanism projects which have sold few carbon credits to the Netherlands.

Ministry’s work on the climate change is hid­den from public so far. There is no argument that Sri Lanka emits very little CO2 but it will double soon with the upcoming 2000 MW coal power plants in Norochcholai and Sam­pur.

The Climate impacts are scientific but we need to understand the social impacts well. As we have observed to date, there have been no significant studies conducted to understand­ing the issues, especially in countries like Sri Lanka, that fall under the IPCC category of ‘vulnerable small island states’. Sri Lanka au­thorities have done very little research. There is no doubt that we all have a right to know the ongoing debate on politics of environ­mental science and reframing and rethinking the environmental issues in Sri Lanka.

Heavy Metal Accumulation in Sri Lanka

How Lead, Mercury, Cadmium contaminate your body ?

Chamali Liyanage

The outbreak of heavy metal pollution is not new to the world. Mercury pollution in Minamata Bay and Cadmium pol­lution in Toyama Prefecture in Ja­pan are among the popular inci­dents which led to several deaths and long term neurological symp­toms. In the Sri Lankan situation, the accumulation and contami­nation of heavy metals is not very much considered, addressed or studied.

Trace metals, whose densities are greater than 5 g/cm3, are simply considered as heavy metals. These metals enter the environment through natural processes and also exces­sively due to human activities. The production of toxins is caused by forming complexes/’ligands’ with organic compounds. Modified biological molecules cannot function prop­erly and results in malfunctioning of affected cells. Oxygen, Sulphur and Nitrogen are the common groups of ‘ligand’ formations and when metals bind to these groups, they inac­tivate important enzyme systems.

The conditions that lead to accumulation and spread of toxic heavy metals are extensive in the country. Massive garbage dumps and discharging of industrial waste water and domestic waste to water bodies are the most common situations. As the Sri Lankan garbage is just collected and dumped without sorting, metals coming from industries, houses and various other sources are accumulated. In this phenomenon, garbage dumped areas can be considered as rich sinks of heavy metals. Bloemendhal, exceeding 80 feet, 700 tons of garbage per day is a future catastrophe.

Studies done in Navinna area by Dr. Padmalal of the University of Sri Jayawardenapura re­vealed that the Lead, Cadmium, Chromium and Mercury levels in well water is greater than the standard values for drinking water. Even the vegetables grown around this area contain these metals. The issue is hidden and has not raised its head completely!
Fortunately no heavy metal poisoning has been recorded in Sri Lanka up to now. But there is a danger. One prediction is from Mer­cury, which is highly hazardous and slight ex­posure can affect human health. Normal soil levels of Mercury are between 0.0005 and 1 ppm and marine and freshwater phytoplank­ton are very sensitive and 0.001ppm can re­duce the photosynthetic efficiency. Animals, plants and many algae tend to absorb and accumulate Mercury.

Neither Mercury isolation, safe disposing nor similar mechanism is operated and a signifi­cant amount of Mercury can accumulate in the country. These amounts may be further enhanced with the promotion of new appli­ances to a larger extent such as CFL’s for en­ergy conserving. No doubt that it is a positive step towards conserving of energy but with­out having a proper recycling or recovering facility, the said benefit will not be gainful.
Among all the heavy metal poisonings, Lead is one of the most common. This can be seen affecting children who are in develop­ing stages, mainly via soil and paints. Lead is included in paints for drying, durability and moisture resistance. Most popular brands of paint manufactured in Sri Lanka exceed the standard limits of Lead in both enamel and emulsion paints. In the enamel category, Lead content is more than 200 times higher than the permitted level of Sri Lanka Standards Institution. Although the SLSI gives the stan­dards, they do not have the facilities to check the Lead contents in paints. Although Lead poisoning is not fatal, certain severe impacts can occur, specially in children
When we address the controlling of heavy metals, waste management comes to the top. Unless there is a proper management of waste, specially the urbanized waste, head­ing towards the prevention from heavy metal poisoning is nothing. As this is a wide rang­ing procedure, waste reduction, reusing and segregation, even in households have to be promoted.

Awareness is one of the most important posi­tive steps when controlling heavy metal pol­lution as we have identified that most people are unaware of safe handling techniques of these instruments. Industries, where general public is working in risky areas, have to be aware of the proper and better precautions to minimize the adverse impacts.

It is a foregone conclusion that heavy metals play an essential part in the manufacturing process. Therefore long term mechanisms have to be implemented by participating government authorities, manufacturers, deal­ers and consumers for sustainable handling of toxic metals.

Although the issue is yet in the preliminary stage it will be converted to a crucial stage. Therefore each of us, including decision mak­ers and the general public, have a unique re­sponsibility to perform their maximum con­tribution to mitigate the future disasters.

Chamali Liyanage an Environmental Officer of the Centre for Environmental Justice.

Lead in Paint

Lead is a heavy metal and a very strong poison. When a person swallows a lead object or breathes in lead dust, some of the poison can stay in the body and cause serious health problems.

A research conducted by a group of scientific organisations shows most paints available in Sri Lanka contain large amounts of Lead( Pb) in both emulsion and enamel paints. Among the 10 countries involved in the research, Sri Lanka comes only after Nigeria and Mexico. According to the Sri Lanka Standards, no Lead can be available in Emul­sion paint and only 600 ppm can be available in Enamel paint.

According to the scientists, even if the paint is not peeling, it can be a problem. Lead paint is very dangerous when it is being stripped or sanded. These actions release fine lead dust into the air. Infants and children living in old buildings (where paint often contained lead) have the highest risk of lead poisoning. Small children often swallow paint chips or dust from lead-based paint.

Possible complications include:
Behaviour or attention problems, Failure at school , Hearing problems , Kidney dam­age, Reduced IQ , Slowed body growth.

The symptoms of lead poisoning may include:
Abdominal pain and cramping (usually the first sign of a high, toxic dose of lead poi­son), Aggressive behavior , Anemia, Constipation, Difficulty in sleeping, Headaches, Irritability , Loss of previous developmental skills (in young children) , Low appetite and energy, Reduced sensations. Very high levels of lead may cause vomiting, stagger­ing walk, muscle weakness, seizures, or coma.

Coal, renewables and the Co2 meter

How Sri Lanka is increasing its Carbon emission?

ejustice July 2009

Hemantha Withanage

Sri Lanka is already building a Chinese funded 900 Megawatt coal power plant in the Western coast of the island and plans are being made to build a joint venture 1000MW coal power plant with India’s National Thermal Power Corporation in the Eastern coast. Meanwhile, India and Sri Lanka will be linked with a 100MW energy supply cable under the Asian Devel­opment Bank funds. India, China and Australia are eyeing to sell their coal to Sri Lanka.

Australia is also planning to sell a 300 MW Liq­uid Natural Gas (LNG) power plant. Although LNG is cleaner, there is no single LNG power plant in Sri Lanka.

Solar power is the most expensive energy in the country. Some poor families in the remote areas, who have obtained solar energy, pay Rs. 70,000 in a 2 year period to light 3 bulbs and a B/W Television. Government has no tariff reductions for these renewables yet.

Mini-hydro plants’ estimated generation capacity would be 97.7 MW. However some mini-hydro power plants are more harmful to the Environment. Total Hydropower genera­tion by the big reservoirs is around 1207 MW. However this is vulnerable to the climate change.

According to the sources Sri Lanka’s next best natural resource after the hydro power is wind power because of the Monsoon winds across the country. Sri Lankan government is planning to build the country’s second wind power plant, which is expected to generate 10MW of power. The country’s first wind pow­er plant established in Hambantota which is generaing about 3MW is not a very success­ful one.

Sri Lanka, is in a long debate on coal versus best alternatives. Coal power plant originally proposed in Trincomalee in 1985 was then moved to Mawella, Negombo and Norocho­cholai.

According to some CEB sources, present Coal power plant, financed by the Chinese government, is very costly. A unit of this coal power will be around 40 rupees. According to the sources CEB will only pay Rs. 18 while the balance would be subsidized by the gov­ernment. The plant does not install the best available technology.

300 MW plant will require 2640 MT of coal daily. As we have indicated many times the 900 W coal power plant will burn 7920 MT daily. Each tonne of Coal produces 7186 pounds of CO2 assuming that 98% of the coal combustion happens. So the Norochcholai Coal plant will emit 28456 tonnes CO2 daily. This calculations show that 900 MW Coal plant will result Sri Lanka increase CO2 to 0.5 tonnes per capita.
Proposed total coal power generation ca­pacity of Sri Lanka is around 3300 MW. According to the above calculations Sri Lanka will emit 2 tonnes per capita CO2. Chinese and Indians financed coal pow­er plants alone will increase Sri Lanka’s contribution to 1 tonnes per capita CO2. To put this in context, national average emis­sions in UK is 10 tonnes per capita. The UK government has pledged to cut emissions by 20% before 2012, to around 8 tonnes per capita. This forms part of the Kyoto Protocol to reduce global climate change.

It is estimated that the sustainable CO2 emis­sion quota per capita for each of 6 billion global inhabitants is 2 tonnes per annum. This means once Sri Lanka produces coal en­ergy using 3300 MW coal plants, we will reach the sustainable level of CO2 emissions.
According to the Energy Forum Sri Lanka’s CO2 emissions have increased by 230% over the last 20 years: the world’s third highest rate. Therefore there is no doubt that the govern­ment must seriously review its policies, tar­gets and plans for establishing 3300 MW of coal power plants in Sri Lanka. Unfortunately that is not the case.

The authorities argue that Sri Lanka can still increase its CO2 emissions, since we only emit 600 kg which is far below the proposed sus­tainable level. However once we reach the CO2 level only with Coal power there is no provision for other development.

Despite the CO2 emission Coal prices have also increased several times parallel to the oil prices. Those who debated for the Coal power argued that Coal energy will be the cheapest for the country. Since we do not have our own coal beds, we are unable to control the prices.

Sri Lanka still depends, for 70% of energy from Biomass. We also had many wind mills introduced 3 decades ago to draw water. The potential for wind, solar and wave energy is enormous in Sri Lanka. However, the coal and diesel lobby in Sri Lanka does not allow mak­ing our energy sustainable.

Right to Information and the ADB

ejustice July 2009

Hemantha Withanage

Right to information is a world ac­cepted norm. Yet access to infor­mation is difficult in many parts of the world. Southern Transport De­velopment Project in Sri Lanka, Chasma Right Bank Irrigation Project in Pakistan, Melamchi Water Project in Nepal are some local cases for testing the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) new Public Communications Policy (PCP) which is now open for external review. Similar stories can be heard from the commu­nities and activists in Pulbari Coal Mine Project in Bangladesh, Highway 1 proj­ect in Cambodia, and many projects in Central Asia. With the above experiences we can conclude that the current Public Communication Policy does not ensure access to information for affected com­munities.

ADB, PCP is a good piece of policy com­pared to other International Financial Institutions. However, as we have learned some ADB staff complains that it is not easy to comply with the PCP.

According to the Assessment of the Implementation of the Public Communi­cations Policy for the period September 2006–December 2007 dated March 2008, the implementation is quite successful. However, the most crucial documents are which even the PCP cannot assess the status. While Project Administration Memoranda have only 58% compliance, PCP is not in a position to assess the sta­tus of the Consultant Reports and Social and Environmental Monitoring Reports.

The ADB passes much of the responsibil­ity for disclosing information on to the borrowing government or private sector sponsors which does not happen most of the times. Recently Centre for Environ­mental Justice requested ADB Resident Mission and the Road Development Au­thority for a number of documents on STDP which are categorized as public documents. While the ADB Resident Mis­sion referred us to the RDA, RDA did not respond us to date.

The governments are the members of the ADB. They are much powerful than the affected poor communities. In most cases those governments are totally bi­ased on the projects. In many countries successful and adequate laws are not available to ensure access to informa­tion. As multilateral institutions that use public funds people expects justice from them equally.

For the democratization of decision making and good governance, right to information is a crucial factor for the lo­cal communities. While information is crucial for everybody, affected communi­ties, who are also less powerful, can only make decisions if they have the right in­formation at the right time.

Further Right to information should go hand in hand with participation. But in many projects, we have seen that public participation does not exist except in the EIA stage. If the information is not avail­able at that time, there is no use of such documents.

Many documents, although mentioned as “publicly available” are available only on the ADB website. As we have advo­cated many times poor communities, ac­cess to internet facility remains a luxury.

Everyone has the right to information. It should not be discriminatory due to na­tionality, class, ethnicity, religion, social segmentation, and gender etc. Most of the time there are no translations for the local people to understand the issues.

It should be understood that Informa­tion and Communication policies be treated as a global common good, and not biased towards any actor in the pub­lic domain.

Current PCP is not for meeting the ob­jectives of providing information for informed decision by the parties but use as a propaganda material. PCP also provides for a long list of exceptions al­though many of them do not cause se­rious harm even if they are available to public. Although some countries provide whistleblower protection there is no such provision in the current PCP.

Further, there is no independent appeals mechanism. As we know The Public Dis­closure Advisory Committee (PDAC) is not an independent body. One cannot expect an independent decision from PDAC.

“The General Assembly proclaims this Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progres­sive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.”

Article 19 of the declaration states:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Article 19 (2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states:
“Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”

In the fifth report by the UN Commission on Human Rights Special Rapporteur on the pro­motion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. Abid Hussain (India) stated that “the right to seek and receive information is not simply a converse of the right to freedom of opinion and expression but a freedom on its own.”
The current PCP is lacking in many aspects in recognizing the applicability to it of the right to information. PCP adheres only to a policy-based approach to access to information, and its adherence to any known rights–based stan­dards remains discretionary on its part.

The agencies, such as ADB, should consider PCP as a right to information. The Global Transpar­ency Charter signed by many people around the world bring nine principles that should be available in any access to information policy and charter.

Our right to information is an undeniable right. It is crucial for exercising other rights, such as the right to participation, women’s rights, social environmental rights, and economic rights. We expect ADB will upgrade the current PCP to a better policy by giving real access to informa­tion to the local communities.

Story of two elephants

ejustice July 2009

Time for establishing animal rights

It was not long ago that court declared natural resources are owned by the public. The Government is only the trustee. Famous Eppawela judgement ruled by the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka is clear on the Public Trusteeship of the natural resources.

“Oh! Great King, the birds of the air & the beasts have an equal right to live & move about in any part of this land as thou. The land belongs to the peoples & all other beings & thou art only the guardian of it” said Arahat Mahinda to King Devanam Piya Tissa, in 307 BC.

Should we consider animals as natural resources? Do we have right to animals or do they have their own rights. The recent controversy on the two baby ele­phants said to be stolen by “Diyawadana Nilame” led the people to rethink who is the guardian of the nature and the natu­ral resources.

Humans have conceptualized their rights to nature and natural resources. The International Standard Setting Instru­ments have clearly recognized the prin­ciple of inter-generational equity too. It has been stated that humankind bears a solemn responsibility to protect and improve the environment for present and future generations. Principle 1 of the Stockholm Declaration states that “The natural resources of the earth including the air, water, land, flora and fauna must be safeguarded for the benefit of pres­ent and future generations.”

To my little legal knowledge animals nei­ther have constitutional rights nor legal rights. The laws, regulations and policies produced by the humans give protection to those animals (and trees) but with no acceptance of the legal right to those animals and trees. They exist only be­cause of the human sympathy. If the hu­man does not need them they all have to go. Baby elephants have been subjected to abduction and torture because they have no own rights. These mothers also do not have rights to keep babies with them.

It was clear that public opinion was against this act. But neither the laws nor the religion (Buddhism) were able to protect them. I am reluctant to believe that once given to the temple no funda­mental rights exist. I have seen that many temple properties have been subjected to court cases. But the case on baby el­ephants was lost because there were no grounds.

Neither the domesticated elephants nor the wild elephants have protection. An­nual elephant death toll is around 250 to 300. Current elephant’s policy is a white elephant. Department of Wildlife Con­servation alone cannot protect the el­ephants. The organized gangs are much more powerful to kill or snatch them. While some concerned people are vocif­erous they are not in the majority.

I have noticed that “Gaja Mithuro”, an organization established in some areas, was considered to be an attempt to pro­tect elephants and humans. But some people complain that they do not even get elephant crackers. The story of wild elephants is very pathetic.

Many domesticated elephants, who serve some elites and temples to pro­tect their arrogance and to serve temple pageants, suffer too. They are not safer because they are in human hands.

Some animal activists suggest that “Hu­man over population is the number one threat to wild and domestic animals worldwide. Whatever human beings do to use, abuse, kill or displace animals, the effect is magnified by the number of people on the planet, which is now ap­proaching seven billion”.

People in Sri Lanka talk vastly on el­ephants but not about many other ani­mals, perhaps, because, they are giants and visible. But in general we have no animal rights movement unlike in many other countries.

Animal rights, is the idea that the most basic interests of animals should be af­forded the same consideration as the similar interests of human beings. Animal rights advocate to approach the issue from different philosophical positions but agree that animals should be viewed as legal persons and members of the moral community, not property, and that they should not be used as food, cloth­ing, research subjects, or entertainment. Although we are majority Buddhist that kind of thinking only exists in the reli­gious books.

The recent constitutional provision in Ecuador provides constitutional rights to rivers, tropical forests, islands and air. This bill of rights would change the legal status of natural resources from prop­erty to a “right-bearing entity.” Perhaps the government of Sri Lanka has to re­visit at least animal rights principles and bring regulations to stop animal cruelty and unacceptable treatment to these life partners. May all the beings have the right to be free tomorrow!