COP 27 – Sri Lanka Commitments and gaps to be addressed


by Savithri Sellapperumage    28 December 2022

The predicament of Developing countries

Conference of Parties (COP) 27th United Nations Climate Conference attracted global attention as it was held in Egypt in November 2022, bringing governments which have signed the UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protocol, or the Paris Agreement to Egypt. It was significant as Egypt is developing country representing African region, vulnerable to climate change while being a least contributor to it. This year’s conference came to spotlight with its announcement of loss and damage fund.

Climate financing though discussed and institutionalized much prior in the global arena, this move suggested that the developed nations accepted the vast magnitude of loss and damages the developing nations is forced to bear due to climate change despite being low contributors.

Sri Lanka Commitments

Sri Lanka has been adopting policies in line with the international conventions even prior to 2015. Some of the recent examples are National Policy for Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Mangrove Ecosystems, implementing the Commonwealth Pilot project for Climate and Ocean Risk Vulnerability, leading the Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Group on Mangrove Ecosystems and Livelihoods. Further, National Energy Policy & Strategies of Sri Lanka (2019) and Long-Term Electricity Generation Expansion Plan 2018-2037 have also been adopted. These strategies have been conceptualized based on commitments to UNFCCC.

According to Nationally Determined contributions to UNFCC 2021, Sri Lanka has commited to increase 32% forest cover by 2030 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 14.5% for the period of 2021-2030 from Power (electricity generation), Transport, Industry, Waste, Forestry, and Agriculture.

Gaps that need to be addressed

However, the commitments seem far reaching targets with the ongoing economic meltdown of the country. The country is facing an energy crisis partly due to high dependency in non-renewable energy sources. Strategies to achieve 70% renewable energy in electricity generation has been curbed due to lack of foresight coupled with bureaucratic and political incompetence. Further, from the launched initiatives, banning of agro chemicals, promoting organic fertilizer caused adverse impacts to food security in the country. Sri Lanka committed to no capacity addition of coal power plants however, Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers announced that Sri Lanka might face a black march if we do not manage to acquire coal supplies as the dry season would cause drop in hydropower generation. Sri Lanka is perhaps taken as a case study of failed green policies and dangers of green utopianism. However, it should be noted that these policies were hugely uninformed, taken without foresight, and planning.

Sri Lanka, to reach promised targets, is therefore in need of international aid and support. As the country is facing multiple crises, Ranil Wickremesinghe highlighted at COP 27 that,

“Developed nations should be giving leadership to overcome climate challenges rather than abdicating their responsibilities. It is no secret that climate financing has missed the target.

He proposed to establish an International Climate Change University in Sri Lanka; a transdisciplinary global center for green and blue studies – for scientists, environmentalists, researchers, policymakers, development practitioners, and students- with collaborations of multilateral institutions and organizations such as Commonwealth, World Bank and ADB amongst others.

In mitigating GHG commitments, Sri Lanka will seek climate financing and technology transfer support towards utilizing more renewable energy resources, expanding energy storage systems and upgrading its electricity distribution network, modernizing public transportation etc.

President Wickremasinghe appointed international and national Climate Advisors in 2022 to obtain investments for reaching national commitments including increasing renewable energy generation. However, the move is not viewed in positive light due to dissatisfaction of the public towards the government in their inability to provide energy requirements of the country and bring about policies required at the time.

Despite the energy crisis Sri Lanka is faced with, political will to provide solutions in overcoming bureaucratic red tape, institutional failures is lacking in great extent. The widespread corruption and lack of transparency in the energy importation and electricity generation has propelled national targets to international commitments out of the window.

Predicament of Developing countries

Countries like Sri Lanka are only a minute shareholder of GHG emissions. In 2019 the NDC to UNFCC Sri Lanka mentions it at 0.03% of global share. And when you take countries like Bhutan who is not only Carbon neutral but Carbon negative, yet they are faced with damages due to climate disasters. G20 countries, meanwhile, represent around 75 per cent of global greenhouse emissions. Meanwhile, Pakistan has seen US$30 billion in damages from severe flooding but emits less than 1 per cent of global emissions. Africa too is the least contributor to rising GHG but most vulnerable. These grievances of developing countries were addressed on a preliminary stage with launching following proposals at COP 27 along with the loss and damage fund.

Need for action

Even though developed countries agreed that developing countries must face vast impacts, the causes and parties are yet to be identified. Therefore, the criticism that COP 27 addressed impacts rather than the causes comes to the forefront framing the outcomes of the conference.

Further even though a loss and damage fund has been announced, ‘where money comes from’, and the allocation of money is yet to be discussed as this was only the first step of many to be realized. Simultaneously, the results and efficiency of existing mechanisms are much to be discussed. It is hoped that ‘loss and damage fund’ is not another frivolous initiative in place for climate financing.

At the same time, it is necessary to increase the engagement of non-state actors as accountable parties to the international commitments. In 2019, it was reported that 20 firms were behind a third of all carbon emissions in the world. Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, and Royal Dutch Shell are few of the investor owned firms listed. More than 100 CEO and senior executives of the Alliance of CEO climate leaders, shared an open letter for world leaders informing that they’re ready to work side by side with governments to accelerate the transition to net zero. And the report of Net-Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities including businesses, financial institutes take note of avoiding greenwashing measures.

However, the responsibility should be shared by the non-state actors as much as states in reaching net-zero emissions as well following the targets set for mitigating climate risks. While COP 27 helped ratify the need for developed countries to take more responsibility, there is much to do in reaching global targets with the developing nations.