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Haritha Lanka program:

National Green Reporting system, a catalyst for cleaner environment



Padmini Batuwitage

Finding high levels of heavy metals, fertilizer residues, toxic waste, sewage and manymore industrial waste in the water we drink and bathe, in the air we breathe and in the soil we walk on and grow our food, is sounding the final alarm of a perilous future. The time has come to put a halt to it. Understanding this fact, the Ministry of Environment is taking rapid action to stop this aggravated pollution considering the fast pace of the development activities taking place and the rapid boon in the newly emerging economy in the post war era.

National Green Reporting program is a result of these initiatives by the Ministry under directions of Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa. “We have tried at numerous levels to bring policies and strategies to create a healthy safe environment for the people. With more industries coming up today we definitely need solid public-private partnership to meet the goal,” said Additional Secretary (Environment and policy) of the Environment Ministry Padmini Batuwitage in an interview with the Sunday Observer . Shedding the earlier concept of pollute first and remedy second we need to develop world class industries to succeed in the global market, she said.

Following are the excerpts of the interview:

Q: The Environment Ministry launched the ‘National Green Reporting System’ in order to mitigate environment problems cropping up due to the rapid growth of industries and development works. What is the structure of the new concept? Could you explain this as it is a new concept to Sri Lanka?

A: This is a new concept to Sri Lanka but actually similar projects are implemented in many other countries specially in the developed world. The Sri Lankan concept is solely a public-private partnership. With the lessons learnt from previous experiences of nearly two decades we strongly wanted to narrow the gap between the policy-makers and implementors and make it more of a collaborative effort.

This National Green Reporting system is a result of years of studying, research thus it caters a wider perspective. The objective is to recognise, appreciate and reward the manufacturing and service sectors based on their sustainability performance, which would also facilitate them to compete with the international and local markets efficiently and effectively. The goal is to enhance the capacity of the country to address the challenges of economic development with a sustainable development framework.

Q: Why a new policy? Sri Lanka has been operating under many number of policies and protocols for the past few years.

A: Yes we agree we had many initiatives to address environment problems. Luckily we were on par with world when the environment conservation became a global trend against the adverse effects of environment pollution the world felt as a result of industrial revolution. In 1972 the Stockholm Conference (United Nations Conference on the Human Environment) was the first major UN conference that addressed world environment issues - basically environment and development. In 1990 the Ministry of Environment was established. The Earth Summit held at Rio de Janeiro in 1992 could be considered the international event that created a major global impact on environment conservation for the second time. It was the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. By this time the world was aware of the adverse impacts of environment pollution as a result of disastrous development acts.

In 1993 the Central Environment Authority with the assistance of the UNDP started an Industrial Pollution Reduction Program.

This proves Sri Lanka has been taking appropriate policy decisions on par with the rest of the world to mitigate adverse effects of industries on environment. Projects were implemented to control environment pollution. Under such initiatives government institutes such as NERD found environment-friendly strategies for industries including bio-gas production etc. Yet they were not sufficient to meet the demand. In 2005 Sri Lanka launched National Policy and Strategy for Cleaner Production. Yet its implementation was poor. Until recently the industries focused on ‘pollute first - remedy second’ concept. The world does not accept that concept now. Considering trade agreements the developed countries, where we have to sell goods, are considering environment concerns of companies, labour laws etc.

This is the new trend in the industrial sector. To meet this demand we need more skilled human resources to produce clean and quality products. The National Cleaner Production Centre of Sri Lanka works excellently yet its capacity is not sufficient to meet the demand.

The Central Bank report 2006 indicates that 50% of the Provincial Shares and GDP and per capita income is concentrated in the Western Province. Three provinces are below 5%. As a country we need to rapidly answer the unequal distribution of economic benefits within the country. As a remedy the Government has launched the rural economy development programs. These are industries and it is essential to expand the green concept in the same phase to this rural industrial sector.

Q: Cannot we see any positive development as a result of the previous policies?

A: There are definitely. One of the significant improvement was from the Health sector. Implementing the 2005 National Policy and Strategy for Cleaner Production the Sri Lankan health sector initiated many steps to train medical staff on environmental and occupational health. Cleaner production was included in the curriculum of the postgraduate (M.Sc) course on community medicine.

Cleaner production was included in the Environmental health policy. They drafted a policy for healthcare waste management. And manymore steps are either already implemented or in drafts. This is one of the significant developments.

Q: What sort of difference could this new policy create?

A: If we take lessons from the world history we see that with the industrial revolution countries in the Northern Hemisphere gained a rapid development yet this was either ignoring or ill considering the environmental conservation factors.

Thus their environment became heavily polluted. Yet even by then we, Sri Lankans, had environment friendly sustainable development practices. In order to create a hazard-free environment to live the concept of environment conservation culminated from the Western world.

In today’s world three pillars are considered in development activities - i.e. Environment, Economy and Social dimensions. It has become necessary of doing business transforming end-of-pipe line solutions to pollution prevention and reduction and minimisation of resource degradation. By the time environment conservation became a key concern globally many Western countries had already reached the developed stage, whereas countries like Sri Lanka had to adhere to these concepts while progressing in development activities competing with the world market. Following the industrial revolution the focus of the business world was solely on the quality of products.

This is what stated in ISO 9000. Yet with time as the concern for environment conservation grew the criteria determining the quality of the product expanded. ISO 14000 which was established later explains this. So in order to keep up with the world trend we cannot be considering profits alone. The industrial sector need to be upgraded to meet this demand and that is what ‘Green Reporting System’ would create.

Q: On what basis was this launched? What was the strategy behind?

A: In 2009 the Ministry adhering to the Mahinda Chinthana development strategy launched the National Action Plan for Haritha Lanka Program. It was launched in ten thrust areas. Clean Air - every where, Saving the fauna, flora and Eco systems, Meeting the Challenges of Climate change, Wise use of the coastal belt and the sea around, Responsible use of Land Resources, Doing Away with the dumps, Water for all and always, Green cities for health and prosperity, Greening the industries, Knowledge for Right Choices were those ten thrust areas.

The program includes short, medium and long term targets spanning the period 2009 - 2016 and performance indicators. The ‘Green Reporting System’ was initiated in line with the requirement set out under the thrust area number 9. The outcome is a team effort of many stake holders. The initial draft guidelines were developed with the technical assistance of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce through SWITCH-Asia program funded by the European Union. The final guidelines were prepared following reviews by key Government stake-holders including the Ministries of Industry and Commerce, Finance and Planning, the Central Environment Authority, the Board of Investment of Sri Lanka, Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, Industrial Technology Institute.

Q: How do you plan to implement?

A: The reporting system is dynamic. The Governing Council and the National Steering Committee of the reporting system will monitor the progress regularly and effectively guide the industry and service sector to improve the performance. Identifying and addressing both policy and institutional failures will be the key to meet the objective, goals and vision.

Universities are excellent resources to address this demand. Universities can spread the green concept at the regional level. We need to create responsible agents to implement the green concept. It is cheap to pollute, thus a demand needs to be created to make the costly environment friendly systems to be effective.

This was the concept behind green reporting. We need to create a structure that includes entities creating Public policies and environment regulations, Responsive agents to sensitise, promote the public on going green, and agents to develop, adapt/adopt and transfer green technologies and provision and technological services. We need skilled persons in the category of Green Human resource developers and responsive funding agents as well.

This all would result effects on producer making sustainable production of products and services. Accordingly the larger companies will support their subordinating Small and Medium Scale Enterprises in Green Reporting.

This would raise the quality levels of the SMEs as well. The large industries will be recognised and prioritised at every event under the Ministry of Environment for their contribution.

This is to meet the demand of the present industrial world. This also creates demands in different principals in the higher education sector. We need to use a maximum possible number of youth who pass the Advanced Level examination while increasing the number of study opportunities that has a market locally as well as internationally. This is one of the demands green reporting create in the community.

 

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