Rio+20: Towards a ‘Green Growth’ Path


Rio +20 Conference is now underway and is being considered a landmark event which takes place 20 years (+20) after the first Earth Summit held in 1992. The Conference is the second opportunity to revisit the issues of “sustainable development”. It will be based on two major themes – a) ‘green’ economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and b) the institutional framework for sustainable development. The seven areas identified as needing prioritized attention include; decent jobs, energy, sustainable cities, food security & sustainable agriculture, water, oceans and disaster readiness.


At the end of the proceedings the Rio+20 aims to: secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development; assess the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development; and address new and emerging challenges.


There has been some degree of expectation and also doubt about the actual outcome of the Rio+20. Therefore, at the onset of the Rio+20, it is vital to revisit the progress that we have made following the first ‘Earth Summit’ in 1992. Most of the Rio+20 arguments are aimed the fact that the world has not seriously included “sustainable development” in their ongoing development agendas. In addition, the definition of ‘green economy,’ has been an issue raised to be tackled as one of the two major themes of the conference.


Sri Lanka’s ‘Green’ Efforts


Sri Lanka has taken a number of initiatives in order to ‘green’ its development activities. Sri Lanka has launched the ‘National Action Plan for Haritha Lanka Programme’, which includes short, medium and long term targets for the period of 2009 -2016 along with performance indicators. The ten thrust areas which are covered by the programme include; clean air, saving the fauna, flora and ecosystems, meeting the challenges of climate change, wise use of the coastal belt and the sea around, responsible use of the land resources, doing away with the landfills, water for all and always, green cities for health and prosperity, greening industry and knowledge for right choices.


After having identified the need to account for the contributions made by the natural environment, the Ministry of Environment, with the collaboration of relevant stakeholders is in the process of developing a ‘green’ accounting system for Sri Lanka. The process is aimed at providing estimates that would lead to sustainable policy options at a national level. The contributions of the forestry sector are currently being assessed as part of this effort.


In addition to government initiatives, there is an increased trend within private sector to adopt ‘green’ business approaches. The booming tourism industry, following the end of civil war, also shows interest in taking significant ‘green’ steps. The ongoing Greening Sri Lanka Hotels is an important example of the private sector encouraging the adoption of ‘green’ options in their businesses.


A recent IPS study showed that the relevant stakeholders have very minimal knowledge on the concept of ‘green jobs,’ which includes both decent work and environmental sustainability. Internationally, there have been no criteria set for identifying and quantifying ‘green’ jobs. Several research initiatives are ongoing in this regard and it is important to develop criteria specific for the context under consideration as well as for different sectors.


High dependence on imported fuel and escalating fuel prices have highlighted a need to look into alternative “local” energy sources and to instigate renewable energy projects. The government envisages increasing the contribution of renewable energy sources to national energy supply to 10% from the current level of 7%.


Private sector involvement in this regard is highly essential as the private sector is expected to be the engine of growth in Sri Lanka for the future. Therefore, in addition to political commitment, effective private sector involvement has to be encouraged in order to meet these goals.


Meeting the Challenges


Balancing growth and sustainability is itself a challenge, especially for developing countries. Also, such initiatives are largely constrained due to high priority being given to growth related aspects, which do not necessarily concern environmental sustainability and social equity. Besides human, financial and other resources, technology is a must for taking a ‘green’ approach to development, which is a major constraint in the developing world.


The South Asian region, including Sri Lanka, is aiming for faster growth in order to bring subsequent benefits to a number of prioritized areas in human development. In particular, Sri Lanka has entered an era which focuses on accelerated growth following the end of civil war. Apart from other development challenges this raises, environmental sustainability and social implication aspects remain additional challenges.


The poverty levels have significantly dropped in the case of Sri Lanka, but inequality still remains a problem. The country should take meaningful measures to reduce inequality while assuring environmental sustainability. Minimizing regional disparities should be a target – while assuring minimal damage to the environment, as natural resources can be under increased threat due to the anticipated accelerated growth in Sri Lanka.


Also, with the impacts of global climate change there can be implications on increasing disparities. For instance, increased frequency and intensity of natural disaster incidents due to global climate change can push people towards poverty. The poor populations who are primarily dependent on natural resource-based livelihoods such as agriculture are highly vulnerable in this regard. Climate change remains a serious cross cutting issue in the seven key areas which are to receive a great deal of attention in the forthcoming Rio +20 conference.


Also, as a developing country with a number of development goals to achieve, financing sustainable development also remains a major issue. Financing will mainly be required for research, technological development and implementation of greening initiatives.


Sri Lanka should stay up for the outcomes of the Rio+20 and take the event as a milestone in making strides in greener development.


There will also be new avenues opening up that the country can make use of. Particularly the private sector should be mindful to take full advantage of the emerging ‘green’ opportunities. Measures will have to be taken to encourage effective private sector involvement in ‘green’ activities.


Expected Outcomes of Rio+20


Sri Lanka and other developing countries are expecting several positive outcomes of Rio+20 to enable the country to pave a ‘green’ path for growth. Rio+20 is anticipated to bring the issues into meaningful discussion and bring in sustainable solutions for developing countries as well as the rest of the world. As Sri Lanka, and the South Asian region, are likely to experience an array of issues due to global climate change, the Rio+20 will have to specifically consider the cross cutting issues and possible solutions to help these countries adapt to and effectively mitigate these impacts. Rio +20 should not be a mere endless discussion, but one that would offer up tangible inputs which would help ‘green’ development initiatives across the globe. Existing gaps and emerging challenges are yet to be explored during the Conference. Getting the political commitment of all the members to share the responsibilities would be the most desired result at the end.