Time to act on sustainable development is now: Prof. Mohan Munasinghe

16 October 2019 01:20 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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While topics such as global warming, pollution, and inequality are confronting, we believe it's time the media stopped shying away from these issues and became an active participant in finding solutions - and we hope you will join us.


Subsequent to the article on ‘Sustainable Sri Lanka 2030 Vision’ published yesterday, Daily Mirror sat for an interview with the Chairman of Presidential Expert Committee (PEC) on Sustainable Sri Lanka 2030 Vision, Professor Mohan Munasinghe. Following is the first part of the interview; the second will be published tomorrow. 

During the interview, he called on lawmakers to implement PEC recommendations. Prof. Munasinghe is a renowned physicist, academic and economist. He was also the Vice-Chair of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) who shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize and has authored over 120 books and 400 papers. He is the Founding Chairman of Munasinghe Institute for Development (MIND) and MIND Group. 

Q Can you brief us on ‘Sustainable Sri Lanka 2030 Vision’ and ‘Strategic Path’ report? 

The report covers almost every aspect of sustainability. It is first subdivided into three sections. The first is economic growth which is vital. The second is on the social aspect to ensure no one is left behind in this process. In order to eliminate major inequalities, it is imperative to have an inclusive society. The third element of the report is the environment because while we balance economy and society, we must make sure the environment is not destroyed so that our natural resources -- the air we breathe, the water we drink and the land we use to produce crops -- are properly maintained and preserved. In addition to these three interconnected elements, the report has sections on the major sectors of the economy such as energy, transportation, healthcare, education and agriculture. For each of them, we discuss the relationship among the sectors and the economic, social and environmental aspects and also the interactions among sectors. Finally, there are chapters on cross-cutting themes like climate change, gender and youth perspective, which are also analysed and linked with previous chapters. The report is extremely comprehensive. It is a non-political document. Therefore, everybody should be interested, especially the leaders of the country. Now that we have a presidential election next month, whichever party wins will have a responsibility to implement this master plan for national sustainable development. 

Q Sustainable Sri Lanka 2030 Vision and Strategic Path refer to keeping national resource use within the sustainable capacity as one of the top priorities. Can you elaborate on this and define sustainable capacity? 

Let me try to explain it in a non-technical way. Every human activity has an environmental and ecological impact. If we use energy, then we have to use coal power-plants which impact the environment. If we use a car, there are gases being emitted. Thus, economic activities have an impact on the environment and the way of measuring it is called ecological footprint. Biological capacity is the maximum impact that can be absorbed sustainably by the land (and sea) area we have. Therefore, if our ecological footprint exceeds the bio-capacity, we are living unsustainably and drawing down our stock of natural resources. 

If ecological footprint, which is the impact of our activities on the ecology, is more large then the country’s natural resources cannot support it. For instance, for the last hundred years, we have been steadily depleting our forests because our usage of timber is much more than the rate at which forests grow. This means we are exceeding the capacity of forests to regenerate at the rate we are using them. That is what we call living within the ecological capacity of the country and we can measure it comprehensively. To summarise, as a nation of 22 million, Sri Lanka must ensure that the summation of the ecological impact of all activities does not exceed the national bio-capacity. 

Q Can you explain key components of the ‘BIGG’ path outlined in the report? 

In 1992, there was a major United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. At this summit, in front of Presidents and Prime Ministers of various countries, I presented a trans-disciplinary framework called ‘Sustainomics’ on how to deal with complex problems of sustainable development. It is now quite widely-accepted and applied in many countries. There are four important principles to it, which tell us what the sustainable path is. And what you asked me is called BIGG or Balanced Inclusive Green Growth path. Inclusive means socially-inclusive, green means environmentally-green and growth indicates economic growth. They are the three main elements of the sustainable development triangle along that path and the first principle of sustainomics is to harmonise the social, environmental and economic elements. 

The second key principle is called making development more sustainable – and empowers people to act now! This is also called climbing the mountain. Basically, sustainable development is still not fully within our range of understanding. The mountain peak (sustainable development) is covered with clouds, but we climb up one step at a time and eventually reach the peak. There are many little things we can do to make Sri  Lanka and the world more sustainable (switch off lights, close taps, plant trees and so forth). We do not have to wait for great leaders to tell us what to do. If the citizens are empowered to act now, we can implement along this BIGG path, one step at a time. The third principle tells us that to harmonise the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainability, it is important to teach the younger generations to overcome unsustainable barriers within our minds – especially unsustainable values. Nowadays, we see greed, selfishness, violence and corruption in society. These unsustainable values are driving the world today, including Sri Lanka. They have caused what I have termed a model of economic mal-development. We are living off debt. Our grandparents saved a lot and invested. Thanks to their investments, we can live a very good lifestyle. But, what are we doing? We are not investing for our grandchildren. We are borrowing. We are more and more in debt, but living a good lifestyle. Our grandchildren will have to pay our debt. Economic mal-development is creating a huge environmental debt. Climate change is around the corner. We have shortages of energy, water and food. Unless we do something now, like what Sustainable Sri Lanka 2030 Vision tells us to do, our children and grandchildren will face a bleak future. Hence, changing our value system is extremely important. 

By transcending the barriers of space, we have to think about not just our own home or neighbourhood or even a city, but the whole country and planet. We have to plan decades or centuries ahead, not just tomorrow or next month. We have to think of other people. This is called a multi-stakeholder approach since we are all living in the same planet. Unless we cooperate, we will not solve the problem. In the world, what we find is that the government alone cannot solve all problems. We have to have business and civil societies, and of course the media which are an important aspect, to help the government and push it to do the right thing. We must not think only of ourselves in our little box, but think of others too. We must build a shared Sri Lankan identity and purpose. 

The fourth principle in the BIGG path is implementation. There are dozens of reports and laws in the country including our 2030 Vision which may gather dust on a shelf. Nothing will happen unless we stop talking and start implementing. There are many good examples that exist in Sri  Lanka and in other parts of the world. Today, with internet, we have access to it all. Let us take those examples and adapt and implement those. If we follow the four principles – empowering ourselves to act now; harmonising the sustainable development triangle; freeing up our minds to be innovative; implementing our plans – then we will be on the BIGG path to sustainability. 

Q Do you think the general public are aware of climate change and what needs to be done? 

I don’t think Sri Lankans are a hundred percent aware of all these climate and sustainability issues. But I do believe they are as much aware as others in the world. We are not particularly backward, but we can have a position of leadership for sustainability in Sri  Lanka. If we follow the 2030 Vision report, then by such time, we will be global leaders in sustainable development. There are 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out by the United Nations. Among them, some are more relevant to Sri  Lanka than to other countries. Let us say Sri Lankans are more aware of the priorities for us such as poverty and inequality or vulnerability of agriculture or scarcity of water resources in the dry zone or threats to coastal areas. We have to be aware of what our priorities are and then find the right solutions. The direct answer to your question really is that we are not fully aware, but we have plenty of information in the 2030 Vision report backed up by our own experts, especially the 40 members in the Presidential Expert Committee. They are a group of committed, patriotic professionals who have actually worked free of charge for more than a year on the master plan. Therefore, there is no excuse except to implement this report. Hopefully, by 2030, we can become a world leader in sustainable development. 

 

 

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