Public Lecture -
“CO2 : The Exhaling Breath of Our Civilization”

by Ms. Anoka Abeyrathne


NOVEMBER 30, 2012

Ms. Anoka Abeyrathne

Keynote Address

When I was first asked to speak, I wanted to say something that would not just create awareness of the impact of CO2 but also of ways to harness it and how it is portrayed by the media. So I’d start off with my journey into mitigating climate change which started off with Mangroves and go on to Carbon trading and the role of media in climate change.

I have always been interested in biology, but it was when the tsunami struck and curiosity got the better of me that I discovered that had the mangroves been intact in the affected areas, there would have been a massive reduction of the loss of life and property.

So my friends and I started replanting Mangroves, and we discovered the immense benefits the Mangroves have for everyone. It was joined in by youth groups, school networks and other stakeholders, so our simple replantation became one that exceeded 12,000.

This gave major benefits to the community who has been in peril of soil erosion, depletion of fish and prawns and the loss of income from eco-tourism due the varieties of migratory species who come to the lake.

But it came to a point where we realized that we cannot expect the community to give up their livelihoods and do replantations because most of them were fishermen, farmers and handicraft makers. Without their livelihoods, there would be no food on the table and no kids going to school.

So we realized that we needed to come up with a solution, a monetary one that would give them an incentive to continue the replantation.

So we explored business models and came upon the Danone-Grameen model by Dr. Mohomad Yunus where probiotic yogurts were made for by Danone and sold at a subsidiary rate by the community women to reduce malnutrition.

We adopted it to a social entrepreneurship model where the communitiy replanting the mangrvoes were able to utlise some of them to create custom handicrafts that would be sold directly to consumers through the web and at a dedicated sales centre. A portion of the income was resued by the community to expand their sales, thus creating an entrepreneurship that was sustainable and self-reliant. They were also taught to train some of the youth so that the mangrove-community partnership would thrive without our intervention.

But another way we wanted to help was to create a carbon trading system to really allow them to earn money. The carbon trading would work by trading one tonne of carbon sequestered by the mangroves as one unit carbon credit. As the mangroves are one of the most carbon rich plants, this would have worked. Unfortunately the extent of area was not sufficient. Without proper guidelines, mechanisms or regulations, trading wouldn’t be done right. So I wouldn’t we have given up, but we wait for carbon trading to take off in Sri Lanka.

Carbon trading was one of the sustainable solution offered by the Kyoto Protocol in its efforts to reduce the CO2 levels to the 1990 levels. This is not impossible but needs massive investments and sustainable rechnology due to the industraialistaion and growth the world has faced for the past two decades.

It has been projected that by 2050, the global poulation would have hit the 9 billion mark.

So its essential that the Kyoto protocol is upheld.

When I was at the UN climate talks last year, the world leaders were unable to come up with a solution to address the Kyoto protol so they decided it would be easier to kill it off.

When we the youth got wind of it, we leapt into action, we got t-shirts saying I 3 KP and staged press conferences and protests. So when I was walking around, some of the Sri Lanka delegation asked me why I liked KP, so I had to explain that we were trying to save the Kyoto protocol : the same happened wen I gave a Christmas wish to a tv crew who were bufuddled about me wanting to save KP! So this is where the role of media is immensely important in the fight against climate change It’s sad to see important climate change new crammed into spaces in newspapers, a journalist friend of mine told me that it was because environmental news is considered boring and doesn’t sell, unlike gossip of the likes.

So why not make it interesting? We’ve all had a subject we might not have liked in schools, but one day a teacher came and got us so interested in it that we ended up getting really good marks for it and remembered it even after ages!

So its imperative that media ensures the message of awareness and action is widely dispersed.

It’s vital that we work on the reduction of Co2 in our atmosphere which is reaching dangerous levels and has the capability to poison us all. The main reason that earth supports life is because the poisonous gases were sequestered and deposited deep in the planet. But we’ve found it, exploited it causing it to get back in the atmosphere. There’s a ticking time bomb of massive methane deposits in the arctic which might resurface due to the melting of the permafrost. And the millions of extinctions that happen due to the weather change.

This is where the global shapers come in. last month I was in India for the world economic forum meeting and got the opportunity to speak with Mr.Gordon Brown, who stressed the importance of education on the subject.

So we have already launched an environmental music video with MIGA , we are working on making a documentary to be presented at the UN climate talks next year to push Sri Lanka as one of the main proponents of environment in the Asian region.

We will also be developing online platforms and games for young people to use and learn more about the environment and the impact of Co2. We will also be working with youth organizations to create awareness through campaigns and workshops.

We will also be meeting the leaders, the key decision makers to ensure that our message is heard by the people who can make a difference, the ones who have the power to make changes.

We the global shapers of the Colombo hub will ensure that we make Sri Lanka a better place, not just for us but for every being living here.

Thank you.