This LKI Explainer, ‘The Paris Agreement on Climate Change and Sri Lanka’ explains key aspects of the Paris Agreement, which entered into force on 4 November 2016.1 It considers the implications of the Agreement for Sri Lanka’s policymakers in tackling climate change at home.
What are the aims of the Paris Agreement?
Adoption, ratification, and entry into force
States’ commitments under the Agreement
Critiques of the Paris Agreement
The Paris Agreement post-Trump
International responses to US withdrawal from the Agreement
Sources of funding for state commitments under the Agreement
Implications of the Paris Agreement for Sri Lanka
Conclusion: summary of policy recommendations for Sri Lanka
On 12 December 2015,2 195 states adopted the Paris Agreement. Both developed and developing states signed the Agreement for several reasons, including:
Increasing evidence of global warming; 2016 was the hottest year on record3 since 1880 (when records began), and the third record year in a row. Scientists have observed4 that if emissions continue to rise at the current rate, global warming will become “catastrophic and irreversible;”
Hold the increase in average global temperatures to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius7 above pre-industrial levels, while “pursuing efforts” towards a higher standard – which is to limit the increase in average global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius8 above pre-industrial levels;
Sri Lanka was one of the 195 states that adopted11 the Paris Agreement, at the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris.
President Maithripala Sirisena submitted Sri Lanka’s instrument of ratification12 of the Paris Agreement at the UN General Assembly in New York on 21 September 2016.
The Paris Agreement entered into force on 4 November 201613 after meeting twin thresholds;14 (i) ratification by at least 55 states, which (ii) were collectively responsible for 55% of the world’s total GHG emissions. As of 25 August 2017, 160 states15 have deposited their instruments of ratification.
3. States’ commitments under the Agreement
State contributions under the Paris Agreement are voluntary, which distinguishes it from other climate change agreements like the Kyoto Protocol, whereby states committed to binding emissions reduction
The rationale of this approach is to allow states to design their own contributions, taking into account their development targets and capacities. This is expected to increase the likelihood of their compliance.
In 2015, at COP 21, it was decided that developed countries will continue22 to collectively mobilise USD 100 billion a year by 2020 for climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts in developed countries.
Developed states have agreed to biennially communicate23 quantitative and qualitative information on their financial contributions to assist developing country parties to the Agreement.
The Paris Agreement does not mention easing the production and use of fossil fuels, or transitioning to clean or renewable energy. Activists have argued26 that this omission could delay the transition away from fossil fuels, which is imperative to achieving the goals of the Agreement.
The Paris Agreement does not explicitly reiterate the agreement at COP 15 in 2009, that developed states will mobilise USD 100 billion a year by 2020. It is only mentioned in related documents27 and the UNFCC climate finance webpage.28
Commentators have highlighted that the Paris Agreement also fails to specifically address29 the effects of climate change on marginalised and vulnerable groups of people, including the poor and elderly.
Some have criticised the accord as costly and ineffective. For instance, conservative think tanks in the US have argued30 that the Paris Agreement will cost America jobs, slow economic growth, and only lead to a miniscule reduction in global temperature (provided every state party fulfills its contributions to the Agreement).
5. The Paris Agreement post- Trump
In June 2017, US President, Donald Trump, announced that the US will withdraw31 from the Paris Agreement, and indicated that the US would seek to renegotiate32 the Paris Agreement or enter into a new climate change deal.
The announcement caused widespread concern, especially since the US is one of the world’s largest33 GHG emitters, a key source of funding34 to achieve the Agreement’s objectives, and has been a global leader35 in climate change initiatives. Specific concerns included:
In addition to funding, transfers of technological expertise38 are essential to achieving the aims of the Paris Agreement. The withdrawal of the US could mean minimal US support in terms of climate-smart technology transfers.
The US will join Nicaragua and Syria as the only states of the 197 member states of the UNFCCC that have not joined the Paris Agreement.
“The EU and China are joining forces to forge ahead on the implementation of the Paris Agreement and accelerate the global transition to clean energy…in these turbulent times, shared climate leadership is needed more than ever.”
The EU has stated that the US would not be able to renegotiate48 the terms of the Paris Agreement. To achieve the aims of the Agreement, the EU has pledged to continue working with business leaders and the Governors of individual states of the US.
8. Implications of the Paris Agreement for Sri Lanka
According to 2012 figures, Sri Lanka accounts for less than 1% of global GHG emissions.62 Transport and electricity are the two sectors largely responsible for emissions in Sri Lanka. Figure 1 provides a sectoral overview of the country’s CO2 emissions.
Despite being a low emitter, Sri Lanka is vulnerable to climate change. In 2017 alone, the country experienced severe climate-related disasters in the form of droughts63 and floods.64 The consequences of these disasters included food and water shortages, and the loss of life.
It is therefore in Sri Lanka’s economic and security interest65 to tackle climate change, especially via (i) climate finance from developed countries, (ii) climate-smart investment, and (iii) geopolitical relations.
The GCF approved a grant of USD 38 million66 to finance a climate adaptation project (Project FP016) in Sri Lanka. This project aims to strengthen farmers’ resilience to climate variability and extreme events, by establishing an integrated approach to water management.
The GEF has approved grants of approximately USD 259 million,67 to finance 47 climate change projects in Sri Lanka.
The Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub prioritises assistance to small states and developing states70 in the Commonwealth. Recipient states would receive climate finance advisers for one to two years at a time, to assist host ministries to identify and apply for funding.
It is insufficient to only state the country’s need for financial assistance for climate change in policy documents. Climate finance is an additional and more specific type of funding for developing states than official development assistance (ODA). Climate finance and ODA may overlap, but tackle two different developmental issues;76 climate change and poverty.
Therefore, Sri Lanka should recognise climate finance as a separate need and source of funding to address its development challenges.
Sri Lanka should ensure that either its Climate Change Secretariat,77 or another relevant organisation, monitors climate finance. This would help reveal whether Sri Lanka is maximising and tapping into all available sources of climate finance.
The International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World Bank Group has estimated that the Paris Agreement will create climate-smart investment opportunities worth USD 23 trillion80 in emerging markets by 2030.
Sri Lanka is not mentioned in the IFC’s analysis81 of states ready for climate-smart investment. By contrast, the IFC has stated that China, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam have an investment potential of USD 16 trillion82 in green buildings; and India and Bangladesh of USD 2.2 trillion83 in climate-resilient infrastructure. Figure 2 provides a snapshot of the IFC’s analysis.
Figure 2: Snapshot of IFC Analysis
Sri Lanka should reframe climate change as an issue of economic development, rather than as only an environmental issue. One way to do this is to move ministerial responsibility for climate change out of the ‘Ministry of Environment’84 to a portfolio like National Policies and Economic Affairs, to signal that climate change projects are central to the country’s economic development.
Colombia85 (a country noted by the IFC with potential for climate-smart investment), shifted the responsibility for its climate change policy from the Ministry of Environment to the National Planning Department, to better integrate climate change issues into development planning.
Similarly, Sri Lanka should plan and market its ‘Megapolis’ project in the Western Region, and other national development plans, in ways that attract climate-smart investment.
In the face of US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, China has committed to honouring its own commitment to the Agreement.
There is an opportunity for Sri Lanka to recognise China’s leadership on climate change, and thereby advance relations with China beyond issues of trade, investment and tourism.
China and India are also turning to sustainable transportation: the sale of electric vehicles in China increased by 70%89 in 2015 because of government incentives, and India aims to sell only electric cars90 in the country by 2030.
These developments may present opportunities for Sri Lanka to work with both emerging powers, in strengthening its own climate change efforts.
9. Conclusion: summary of policy recommendations for Sri Lanka
Include “climate finance” in state policies like the National Climate Change Policy of Sri Lanka and National Adaptation Plan, to make climate finance a central objective of policymakers.
Engage the Commonwealth Climate Finance Hub to gain technical expertise of the sources and mechanisms of climate finance, so Sri Lanka can maximise climate-related funding.
Reframe climate change as an issue of economic development instead of the environment, and thereby foster policies and plans that attract climate-smart investment.
Recognise China for its leadership in climate change, and work with both China and India in efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
*Anishka De Zylva is a Research Associate at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKI) in Colombo. The author acknowledges Ashvin Perera and Dinuka Malith for their research assistance. The research included in this Explainer was supported by the John Keells Holdings PLC. The opinions expressed in this Explainer, and any errors or omissions, are the author’s own.
A think tank engaging in independent research of Sri Lanka’s international relations and strategic interests, to provide insights and recommendations that advance justice, peace, prosperity, and sustainability.