Sunday, September 20, 2009

Adaptation for Sri Lankan communities

How Climate change will impact livelihood?

Hemantha Withanage
Executive Director, Centre for Environmental Justice

Climate change is visible in most parts of Sri Lanka. Majority of the people be­lieve this climate change is un­favourable to living beings and livelihood. However, local climate changes in certain areas are bet­ter compared to 30 years ago. For example, Mahaweli water feeding areas in the dry zone gets more water, are more favourable to people and the environment.

However, local people cannot distinguish these local climate changes from the global climate change. On the other hand some impacts can be explained as the impacts of local environmental changes. For example some water related impacts have direct links to the destruction of forests in the local envi­ronment. These unfavourable conditions are varying from community to community.

Most nature dependent livelihoods such as farming, fishing, different types of labour in­cluding labour involved in Tea and Rubber industry, natural resources based sustainable livelihoods have negative impacts. There are unfavourabe conditions due to the spread of vector borne diseases and also quick weather change including heat. These communities have made very, very negligible contributions to the GHG emissions except the farmers en­gaged in slash and burn cultivation or animal husbandry. So they have nothing to mitigate.

However, a survey conducted by the CEJ shows that people, especially those engaged in nature based livelihoods, are somehow suf­fering from climate change. They need alter­native livelihoods and living conditions have to adapt to the new climatic conditions.

Adaptation is a need of changes for the sur­vival of the living beings in order to respond to the natural changes. This is part of the natural evolution too. However, sudden natu­ral changes due to climatic impacts are det­rimental to the other living beings. Many of these species might disappear from the earth before they adapt to the changing climate. As the human species, we have a better ability to adapt to the changing situations. Yet, human species also suffer from unexpected cyclones, floods, sea level rise, heat waves etc.

Building awareness among the civil society is an immediate requirement in Sri Lanka. Meantime those policy planners can learn from the local communities. As we were go­ing through the survey we found that the fol­lowing areas need adaptation.

The farmers have to adapt to the increased in­tensity of floods and the dry seasons. Change of the rain pattern has negatively affected farmers, especially those engaged in slash and burn cultivation. This may need moving the cultivation seasons or change of crops and cropping pattern. They will have to con­sider moving away from Chena cultivation to permanent cultivation. They may also need to find plant varieties that suit the changing rainfall pattern.
Adaptation to water conservation, rain water harvesting is also important.
People living in the low lying areas need to adapt to the increased level of flooding. Some affects are due to the lack of climate proof­ing of the old and newly built infrastructures. For example, Kukule Ganga dam has created increased flooding in the low lining areas in the downstream. Some people might have to move their houses to the high ground to avoid increased floods in the surroundings of those mega development projects. Coastal low lying areas face salt water intrusion which destroys the agricultural lands, traditional live­stock, grazing lands, and the water table.

Fisher folk face loss of coastal houses due to see level rise or due to heavy erosion by in­creased size of waves. They also have to face the loss of fish caused due to the destruction of mangrove forests, sea grass beds, acidifi­cation, coral degradation or other unknown reasons.

Some water intakes are vulnerable to sea water ingression. This affects water facilities including the Kaduwela water intake. As the ground water table is going down in certain areas, the water scarcity is becoming a major problem. People in general have to adapt themselves to the mosquito menace as it is increasing in the areas that were considered as more cold. The earth slides have increased in some wet areas due to high rainfall over an extended period. People living in slopes and earth slide prone areas need actions.

Some houses may need stronger construc­tion to adapt to the increased intensity of winds. Perhaps older structures are more vul­nerable. Certain locations might not be suit­able for house constructions anymore.

Lack of climate proofing in mega develop­ment projects makes people and environment vulnerable to the climate damage. Most of the infrastructure projects have not consid­ered climate change in designing and imple­mentation. While some adaptations are part of the learning curve of the local people who have specialized in their locations, some ad­aptations need proper authority but careful and cautious intervention. As many people engage in nature related livelihoods are los­ing jobs there is a need of creating green jobs in the future.

The result also shows that climate change is not only a business of the environmental agencies of the government. It needs to be a crosscutting issue for many other authorities including agriculture, water and irrigation, fisheries, meteorological, coastal, disaster mitigation and academics. The research team felt that even the provincial and local authori­ties have a role to play.

Local communities have lot to contribute to the climate plans. Keeping them out of cli­mate business will create unnecessary dam­age to life and livelihood as we have seen in some Asian countries in the recent past. Bringing them to the climate planning will allow them to understand and contribute to the mitigation and adaptation. Therefore, democratizing of climate plans and action should be done without further delay.

Can “Biochar” make a country carbon Neutral?

Hemantha Withanage

Executive Director, Centre for Environmental Justice

Several patent applications have been made for industrial charcoal use in soil and for “Pyrolysis” for charcoal production. Industrial Charcoal or “Biochar” is one of the solutions sug­gested by the corporations to mitigate climate change. The promoters suggest “biochar” is similar to the “Terra Preta” a mixture of charcoal and varieties of bio­mass developed by the Central Amazo­nians thousands of years ago.

These “biochar” producers suggest that this is the “silver bullet” for reducing glob­al greenhouse gases thereby mitigating climate change. This has been already proposed to the UNFCCC and for clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Sev­eral African governments also proposed this in order to promote private sector involvement in climate Mitigation.

The Maldivian Government is targeting to become the first Carbon Natural na­tion by developing three small islands producing waste into “Biochar”. The com­pany involved in this business is Carbon Gold, a UK based entity.

However, many environmentalists dis­agree with this approach and suggest not including “biochar” in climate miti­gation proposals. One argument is that industrial “Biocharcoal” is not close to “Terra Preta”. New science has so far not unveiled the techniques used by the ancient people to produce it. If the new companies granted patents, those will ensure that any future profits from the technology will go to companies, not communities. According to the FOEI and other groups, given that successful strat­egies for combining charcoal with di­verse biomass in soils were developed by indigenous peoples, ‘biochar’ patenting raises serious concerns over bio piracy. The inclusion of soils in carbon markets, just like the inclusion of forests in carbon trading will increase corporate control over vital resources and the exclusion of smallholder farmers, rural communities and indigenous peoples.

The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) has perpetuated, rather than re­duced fossil fuel burning by permitting industries to purchase “rights to pollute” and further delaying the social and eco­nomic changes which are essential for addressing climate change. The climate impacts of fossil fuel burning are irre­versible, yet so-called ‘soil carbon sinks’ are highly uncertain and impermanent.

“Biochar” producers suggest production of gigatones on “biochar” will reduce the CO2 into pre industrial levels. How­ever environmentalists state that it will require millions of hectares of lands to convert into biomass production which will be mostly monoculture plantations which are already problematic. This is not different from the controversial “Agro­fuel” production. A UNEP report found that industrial charcoal release most of its carbon content in 30 years time, al­though the “Biochar” producers suggest that this carbon will remain in soil for thousands of years.

There is no consistent evidence that charcoal can be relied upon to make soil more fertile. Industrial charcoal produc­tion at the expense of organic matter needed for making humus could have the opposite results.

Combinations of charcoal with fossil fuel-based fertilizers made from scrub­bing coal power plant flue gases are be­ing marketed as ‘biochar’, and those will help to perpetuate fossil fuel burning as well as emissions of nitrous oxide, a pow­erful greenhouse gas. According to the experts the process for making charcoal and energy (pyrolysis) can result in dan­gerous soil and air pollution.

Using waste for composting is the best solution for carbon minimization. How­ever, turning waste into “biochar”, perhaps will be better than burning them. How­ever, carbon in waste is not the problem for climate change. The biggest problem is burning fossil fuel. However “biochar” is not an alternative to fossil fuel. There are many scientific uncertainties over “biochar”. It is not a proven technology for making a country carbon neutral.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Coal, renewables and the CO2 meter

How Sri Lanka is increasing its Carbon emission?

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Hemantha Withanage,
Centre for Environmental Justice

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 renewable 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 generating 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 annually. 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