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SL needs quantified goals for sustainable development: Dr. Mallawatantri

20 June 2012 06:55 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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By Dianne Silva
Assistant Resident Representative and Team Leader—Environment, Energy and Disaster Management Programmes of the United Nations Development Programme Dr. Ananda Mallawatantri spoke to the Daily Mirror about Sri Lanka’s progress towards sustainable development and youth involvement in the endeavour in the backdrop of the Rio+20 Summit taking place from June 20-22.

Q. How did Sri Lanka prepare for participation at the Rio+20 Summit?
I think that Sri Lanka goes to Rio+20 with a mixed mindset; the preparation was that Sri Lanka reviewed the last 20 years of development.  There were also different segments that did the review. The government on one side, using consultants, experts, university staff and others. The second group was the citizens group; that is the NGO community—that was looking at how the government has performed during the last 20 years. Then there was another innovative element in Sri Lanka, which was the youth component. The government came forward and called on youth groups to give their opinion as well. Sri Lankan youth were very positive about it and they came together and worked well together.  

Q. What was the youth involvement like in the process of preparation for the Summit?
There are a lot of youth groups involved in the green movement and they have already done a lot of work towards Rio+20. Some of these groups have also done a lot of ground level work: like planting trees, travelling in the Kelaniya River and school level projects, and earth walks. Therefore there were a lot of youth groups looking to share what they do and the other element was to engage themselves at a higher level. For these groups it is very easy to do the grassroots-level activities; but to get their voice to a higher level was more difficult and this is where we saw the opportunity to engage them.

Therefore the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Volunteers came forward and we created this enabling environment. We didn’t do anything spectacular—all we did was invite anyone who was willing to get involved to come into the UN conference room and listen to the senior officials speaking about the environment from different angles, including senior officials from the ministry of environment and youth services council.
Thereafter the government asked this group, to use the platform that they have and get their position documented in order for their input to be used in the Rio process. The government also requested that the young people be involved in the future and the post-Rio process.

Q. What areas does the Sri Lankan Position Paper on Youth, drafted by Youth for a Greener Sri Lanka [YGSL] highlight?
It highlights the potential for youth to contribute in this fast passed economic growth in a very positive way. Secondly, it highlights the need for youth to acquire the right kind of skills set to meet the modern day the demands of capturing green growth and attracting the right kind of green growth to Sri Lanka and the importance of capitalising on these new resources like the expanded economic zone, coastal benefits and new areas that the youth can contribute to. Sri Lanka has a 20 per-cent youth population, that is 5 Million so the paper looks at how the youth can be better engaged in sustainable development.

Q. How do you see the involvement of Lankan youth in environmental conservation and activism in comparison to young people from other countries?
I think Sri Lanka youth is improving a lot and moving towards a more factual approach rather than just rhetoric. I think in more advanced countries the youth always engage in measurements. For example if you want to talk about an issue of water quality they go and take a sample and then trace the pollutants that contributed to the quality of the water. They then take that to the authorities and call for accountability. Therefore it is a very constructive and positive dialogue. However the other side of the coin is that , you just shout—it’s a slogan based approach.

In Sri Lanka the positive transition from rhetoric to action is taking place; however there is a need for a lot of resources for this type of factual approach.



Q. What do you think Sri Lanka has to offer as a model for sustainable development?
One good example is how the Sri Lankan government looked at the efforts at sustainable development over the past 20 years. In this assessment there was an acknowledgement that we are the only country in the region that does not have power cuts and we are progressing well towards wind power, we are expanding on our hydro and we are trying to explore our bio-mass energy and other energy sources. On the environment side there are a lot of good things that the government is doing.
We also have much to contribute in terms of education and health therefore in terms of sustainable development Sri Lanka is emerging as a good incubator for these practices.

Q. What do you think is the attitude the public should have towards sustainable development?
If people understand the eco-system better then there is a greater chance of them contributing positively to the environment. We always tend to say that the government is bad or people are ignorant, but instead of always blaming someone; if we could explain to people how their day to day actions impact the eco-system, then they will understand that their actions make a difference.

There is another aspect to this as well, where individuals have no control over the bigger issues such as climate change. Therefore some people feel that, as Sri Lankans we will do all the good things, but we will still suffer—therefore it is better for us to enjoy the brief time we have.
However this is not the approach to take and it is at this time that we must get involved in the global community and while realising the impact of ones actions locally, thereafter take the message globally. It is in these cases that conventions like Rio come in; however people are very sceptical about the outcomes of these conventions, but nevertheless it is in such situations that people start talking about the important issues.

Q. Do you think we have the technical know-how to make significant contributions to the area of sustainable development?
Amazingly we have a lot of knowledge and a lot of good professors waiting for opportunities yet they are not linking up with the national action platform. Therefore it is important to go back to that resource base. We always talk about brain drain, but what about the people who stayed behind, who are willing to contribute something constructive to the country? I think there needs to be recognition of their contribution.

Further we have made good progress in the energy field, we have very clear targets that by 2030, 20 per-cent of the energy should come from renewable sources. At the moment we are at about 6 per-cent.

Q. In which areas do you think Sri Lanka is lagging behind?
I think the government is very keen on quantifying progress, because we have a lot of goals in a qualitative way but there needs to be a more concrete action plan. For example if you talk to some, they will say climate change will increase draughts, the question is: how much?
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