The Sunday Leader

Heavy Price For The Folly Of Fossil Fuels

by Ifham Nizam

Knuckles Mountain Range

Understanding the close link between bio-energy and agriculture is of paramount importance for the rapid development of the agriculture sector, experts say.

According to Bio Energy Association of Sri Lanka President Parakrama Jayasinghe the country allocates some US$ 3,000 million for fossil fuel products, US$ 300 million for imported milk powder, Rs. 40 billion for fertilizer subsidy, US$ 164 million to import Urea fertilizer and Rs. 10 billion for Samurdhi benefits.

Sri Lanka’s contribution towards climate change from Greenhouse gas emissions however is minuscule.

“However, it will not be long before the developed countries impose stipulations on the use of clean energy as a pre-condition for buying our products. Hence we need to be conscious of this aspect,” he added.

Predictions by energy authorities, particularly in respect of electrical energy demands, indicate that the present plans based on the use of imported fossil fuels will only lead to a spiraling cost of energy of all types.

“This will naturally affect the price of all other goods, particularly food items for which we are sadly dependent on imports,” Jayasinghe told The Sunday Leader.

Sri Lanka has the potential to be largely independent for its energy requirements. In addition, the options available have a multitude of spin-off benefits with wide-ranging positive impacts on the social, environmental and economic well-being of the country.

Despite earlier plans to incorporate the value of the country’s forest bio-diversity which is estimated to be more than Rs 4.5 trillion, to the national revenue, nothing substantial has occurred to date.

Former Environment Minister, Anura  Priyadharshana Yapa instructed authorities to submit a well researched document on the country’s natural resources, which he believes is of paramount importance to discuss and set policies with regard to carbon funds.  But nothing substantial came out of this due to the country’s political climate.

The good news is that Yapa under his ministry of Disaster Management plans to re-introduce the programme. The Minister’s orders come despite Sri Lanka being a bio-diversity hotspot along with the Western Ghats in India.

According to Yapa, the carbon stabilisation process by forests in Sri Lanka, which is estimated to be more than Rs. 1.582 trillion, as well as the soil preservation service, valued at Rs. 3 trillion, would be added to the national revenue as goods and services generated through forests.

Sources at the Biodiversity Secretariat said that while the country’s forest coverage has seen a sharp decline over the years, the current forest cover stands around some two million acres.

 

A concerned Minister

A concerned Yapa believes that felling is taking place despite strict laws. However, he hopes with the support from the grassroots and villagers, authorities could put an end to the menace. He said the country lost nearly Rs. 70 million due to thousands of forest related offences that had taken place in 2010. Officials of the ministry are working on a comprehensive update in this regard. According to officials, 3,324 forest related offences had been reported in 2010. The Minister said though the trend had come down, it is definitely still taking place in most parts of the country.

The ministry had recorded 1,183 offences of illicit encroachment and clearing of forests. Among the other offences were 726 cases of illegal felling and 179 cases of illicit transportation of timber.

According to Yapa, some 154 cases of felling had been recorded in the Nuwara Eliya District. Anuradhapura had recorded the most cases of illicit encroachment and clearing with 246 cases.

Meanwhile, the ministry had also uncovered some 400 unauthorised timber depots in 2010. Yapa said loss of bio-diversity is a crisis that threatens human beings. The earth’s bio-diversity is crucial to human well-being, because it has important functions, scientists have been reiterating.

“It provides us commodities such as food, fresh water and fuel, and carries out regulating functions such as climate and disease regulation and water purification. It has cultural functions as well; aesthetic, spiritual, educational and recreational,” he added.

The Minister also said the estimated value of the ecosystem services is around USD 33 trillion a year, which is twice the Global Gross National Product. He added, “The cost of loss of bio-diversity is massive. Loss of topsoil due to de-forestation can reduce rice output by 1.5 million tons a year, an amount that would feed up to 15 million people.”

President Maithripala Sirisena is keen to increase the country’s forest cover to 32 per cent from the current 29 per cent.

The year 2015 saw the end of the National Tree Planting Month declared by the Ministry of Environment, setting different themes for each week. The concluding week focused on creative and sustainable planting. President Sirisena termed it Wana Ropa (planting of forest), a three-year programme to increase forest cover to a third of the country’s land area, and the programme began this year. It accompanies Punarudaya (renaissance), a larger programme to drive sustainable development. Forest resources have rapidly been destroyed during the past few decades by racketeers who made their profits while destroying the environment.

It is everyone’s responsibility to protect natural resources and strict laws will be enforced against those who destroy them, President Sirisena has said. Environmentalists hope more will come from this tree-planting programme than from previous initiatives. Tree-planting programmes have been one of the most common environmental activities, and over the last few decades millions of saplings have been planted. If only half of these plants survived the country would surely be much greener, environmentalists point out.

The natural forest cover that was around 84 per cent of the land area in 1880 is now reduced to 23 per cent. Although there are laws and enactments pertaining to the protection of flora and fauna, these are routinely violated. Typical examples are the marine turtle hatcheries and the large-scale robbing of turtle eggs and killing turtles for their flesh.

Reptiles are adaptable and less extinct-prone than most other vertebrates that adapt poorly to environmental changes. This could be a reason we witness appreciable populations of many reptile species. However, studies conducted by Sri Lanka’s leading herpetologist Dr. Anslem de Silva indicate that many endemic and relict reptiles face numerous threats. During a five-day workshop on amphibians and reptiles of Sri Lanka held at the University of Peradeniya, 119 reptile species were assessed using IUCN Red List criteria and 43 species were classified as Vulnerable, 27 Endangered and 18 as Critically Endangered .

The IUCN Sri Lanka, using different criteria reflecting the data available in the country, has determined that 86 species are threatened. The leaf nose lizard (ceratophora tennentii) was listed as an endangered reptile in the IUCN Red List for many years. These lizards inhabit only the Montane forests in the Knuckles mountain range.

Naturalist Dr. Ranil Senanayake believes that this species may become extinct if its habitat is lost due to clearing of the primary forests for cardamom (elettaria cardamomum) plantations.

A recent study at Knuckles by de Silva indicates the presence of healthy and appreciable populations of ceratophora tennentii widely distributed in the Knuckles mountain range. However, it was observed that there is a marked decline of cophotis ceylanica in the Knuckles mountain range though appreciable numbers were observed in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

In contrast, recent studies indicate that some species of reptiles which were earlier considered rare (e.g. lyriocephalus scutatus, calodactylodes illingworthorum, calotes liolepis, balanophis ceylonensis, etc) in the country show existence of healthy populations. They even occupy ranges larger than those hitherto reported by Deraniyagala (1953, 1955), P. H. D. H. de Silva (1980) and de Silva (1990a). In addition, the lack of data regarding the golden gecko (calodactylodes illingworthorum) has led to the assumption that they were uncommon (e.g., Manamendra-Arachchi, 1997, Wickramesinghe and Somaweera, 2003). However, after investigating nearly 50 specific sites inhabited by the golden gecko, and counting the number of individuals sighted or heard in each of the study sites as well as the number of healthy egg clusters, the conclusion is that calodactylodes illingworthorum is the dominant gecko species in its range (de Silva et al., 2004a).

Most of the endemic fossorial reptiles (e.g. the species chalcidoseps thwaitesii and the genus nessia etc) when kept out from their niche for 10 to 15 minutes show signs of skin drying and shrivelling up. Thus, the coolness and moisture content in its microhabitat is a critical factor for the survival of these fossorial relict reptiles. Chalcidoseps thwaitesii is mainly confined to the Knuckles ecosystem. Studies on the annual rainfall of the Knuckles Range have shown a decrease in rainfall. In addition, the negative impacts of the cultivation of cardamom at the Knuckles have been extensively reported.

Studies have shown that in natural forested areas without cardamom cultivation the ‘A’ horizon is well preserved and covered with mulch to a depth of 30-35 cm whilst in cardamom fields the mulch level has reduced to 15-25 cm.

This data is from a study conducted in the mid-1980s, thus, it is possible that at present this mulch level could be further reduced.

“When we measured the mulch level in some cardamom plantations at Kobonila, we found that it was less that 10 cm. In addition, the soil erosion was high. Thus, we see possible long-term irreversible habitat degradation at the Knuckles that could affect the microhabitat of these and other fossorial animals that inhabit the cool moist humus and leaf litter of the forest floor and lay their eggs,” De Silva added.

 

1 Comment for “Heavy Price For The Folly Of Fossil Fuels”

  1. Eng.M.V.R.Perera

    How is all this connected to your headlines ” Heavy Price for the folly of using Fossil Fuel at a time when economic Saboteurs are campaigning against BOT coal power projects which is the only way of obtaining direct investment of 1.2 million $ US for each such project why are such misleading headlines, for coal fueled electricity power stations have chimneys 150 meters high and as such they pump tracers of obnoxious gases into the global atmosphere and not to the local atmosphere the local atmosphere is polluted for the last 100 years from the time of the commencement of our railway with coal fueled steam engines and then by oil driven cars lorries buses ect . and there have not been any harm done to our agriculture as such the truth is apparent

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