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COP26 regional ambassador at the Colombo Development Dialogues

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Speakers and Panelists at Session 4 of CDD on Green Development

The Colombo Development Dialogues on Green Development, an initiative of the Ministry of Environment, together with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Sri Lanka, and other co-convening partners, successfully concluded recently.

A UNDP has said: Building on rich discussions, spread over two weeks, the final two sessions, held on Oct 21 and 22, sought to explore green financing possibilities and frame a multistakeholder approach to green development.

With a special address from the UK government’s COP26 Regional Ambassador to Asia-Pacific and South Asia, Ken O’Flaherty, highlighted the importance of countries adopting greener growth trajectory to avoid a spike in greenhouse gas emissions as well as how Government, private sector, and others, including the general public, have a vested interest in pursuing climate action. The COP26 summit, currently taking place in Glasgow until mid-November, will convene a broad spectrum of stakeholders to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. This year’s summit is expected to be decisive– with many stakeholders believing this year’s event to be the final global opportunity to agree on climate change controls and the ramifications of planetary pressures caused by unsustainable development practices.

The session on green financing, featuring prominent government stakeholders such as, T.M.J.Y.P. Fernando, Deputy Governor, Central Bank of Sri Lanka, who spoke on the role and contribution of the finance sector towards leveraging green finance for development, and Central Bank’s commitments for sustainable financing. This was discussed in the context of a ‘Roadmap for Sustainable Finance in Sri Lanka’ launched by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka with the financial assistance of the Biodiversity Finance Initiative (BIOFIN) of UNDP along with technical assistance of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), in consultation with multiple other key stakeholders.

Thomas Beloe, Chief of Programme, UNDP Finance Sector Hub, emphasised the need to bridge the SDG financing gap and the inefficient allocations of resources such as through continuous investments in carbon-intensive sectors, thus stressing the need for a systemic change to incorporate sustainable development at its core.

In addressing the need for a multistakeholder approach to green development, Sanjaya Mohottala, Chairman, Board of Investment of Sri Lanka, outlined the aim and vision of the Government as well as opportunities from and challenges to green financing and green investment through collaboration. Bringing in a private sector perspective, Manjula De Silva, Secretary General and CEO, Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, stressed upon the importance of monetary incentives and concessionary financing for a sustainable transition of traditional business practices to develop better corporate citizens.

The government’s commitment and drive to take this initiative forward was further emphasised by Dr. Anil Jasinghe, Secretary to the Ministry of Environment and the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on ‘Creating a Green Sri Lanka with Sustainable Solutions to Climate Change’ at the closing session, who spoke to how this multistakeholder Mobilisation Platform will facilitate not only the overall implementation of a National Framework for Green Development in Sri Lanka, but will also support to the realization of other specific plans of action, including the Nationally Determined Contributions and the National Environment Action Plan, among others yet to be developed by the PTF.

The final two sessions also featured Mr. Reda Souirgi, Country Director, French Development Agency; Jonathan Drew, Managing Director, ESG Solutions, Global Banking, HSBC; Hajar Alafifi, Chairperson and Managing Director, Unilever Sri Lanka Limited; Dr. Hong-Sang Jung, Director, K-Water in Daejeon, Republic of Korea; Bettina Heller, Programme Officer, Consumption and Production Unit, UNEP; and Robert Juhkam, Resident Representative, UNDP Sri Lanka.

Panelists also included Dr. Dushni Weerakoon, Executive Director, the Institute of Policy Studies; Gulshan Vashistha, Regional Investment Lead – Asia-Pacific, Global Green Growth Institute; Ranga Pallawala, National Climate Finance Advisor, Commonwealth Secretariat; Victor Antonypillai, Country Officer, International Finance Corporation (IFC), Stuart Rogers, Interim Chief Executive Officer, HSBC; Dr. Kokila Konasinghe, Director, Centre for Environmental Justice; Mushtaq Memon, Regional Coordinator for Resource Efficiency, Asia-Pacific office, UNEP; Dr. A. Sivakumar, General Manager, Regulatory Affairs South Asia, Unilever; Kumudini Vidyalankara, Director, Climate Change Secretariat, Ministry of Environment; and Dr. Rene Van Berkel, Representative of the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation for Sri Lanka, Bhutan, India, Maldives, and Nepal.

The Colombo Development Dialogues on Green Development brought together 20+ partners and close to 40 speakers joining from nearly 10 countries across four days. The dialogues aimed to reaffirm Sri Lanka’s climate and environmental commitments, by encouraging policymakers to consider bringing cohesion to diverse green initiatives and creating a multistakeholder platform to support the positioning of green development in the country as an urgent and all-encompassing priority.

Aligned with the foci of the Sustainable Development Goals, the dialogues helped frame narratives on innovative policy making, sustainable financing, and multi-stakeholder collaboration that will allow key stakeholders to articulate policy underpinnings to support the formulation of a National Framework for Green Development in Sri Lanka.



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SL defenceless, warn experts

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New COVID variants

By Rathindra Kuruwita

Due to the lax testing at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA), there is a strong possibility that any new variant of COVID-19 entering the country, College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) President, Ravi Kumudesh told The Island yesterday commenting on the detection of a new coronavirus variant spreading in South Africa.

Even a travel ban would be useless unless the country enhances its testing and surveillance capacities, Kumudesh said.

Kumudesh said that PCR tests were not conducted on passengers on arrival and that it was likely that even those not fully vaccinated were entering the country. “Gene sequencing in respect of those infected with COVID inside the country was at a minimal level, and therefore, there is no way we can find out whether a new variant has entered the country until it is too late.

“There are two state-of-the-art labs in the BIA but no tests are done there. We are not ready, at all. Several nations are imposing travel bans on travellers from South Africa and the region. Perhaps, we should follow suit. However, the fact that we don’t test those coming in means that even a travel ban might be useless,” he said.

Kumudesh added that the number of PCR tests conducted had dropped to such a low level that reagents used in some labs for PCR testing are now nearing the expiry dates. The attitude of health officials at the airport is such that everyone operates on the basis that testing of passengers is not important.

Executive Director of the Institute for Health Policy (IHP), Dr. Ravi Rannan-Eliya yesterday said the detection of the new South African variant was potentially very bad news for all countries, and certainly for Sri Lanka.

“We still don’t have sufficient data on this, but I am very worried. It was only discovered a few days ago, but the scanty evidence strongly indicates that this new variant is driving a rapid increase in infections in S Africa. Only 100 cases have been confirmed officially, but reports indicate it may be 90% of new cases since Wed in Johannusburg,” he said.

Dr. Rannan-Eliya said that his best guess was that three out of four South Africans had been infected by COVID during the pandemic. Thus, a large number of them had acquired natural immunity. Moreover, 25% of others have been vaccinated.

“So this rapid spread despite a lot of immunity is very disturbing. This really points to this new variant—B1.1.529—being both more infectious and also significantly immune resistant. Something that also matches with its particular mutations,” he said.

Dr. Rannan-Eliya said he was not surprised at the emergence of the new variant because contrary to many experts who drink the kool-aid, there is no scientific basis to think SARS-CoV-2 had matured in its evolution. It might still have a lot of potential to evolve greater immune evasion and virulence, and that we should act on that basis.

“Second, because most of the world is following the misguided strategy of just accepting the virus (hey you – USA, UK, Sri Lanka…), the virus has plenty of chances to keep on mutating more because the truth is more of the virus is circulating than ever before. Third, despite a lot of nonsense about how T-cell immunity is going to protect us, there’s really no evidence that either infection or current vaccines and boosters will ever give us long-lasting immunity. We simply don’t know.”

Countries like South Africa, Peru, etc., who had such high levels of infection that much of their population was infected more than once, still continue to suffer new waves of infection.

“So this is bad news for all of us humans on planet earth, but very definitely for us in Sri Lanka. Why? Because based on how our medical establishment and govt authorities think, we will be slow or refuse to put the necessary border controls in to prevent this entering. And when it does enter-which is inevitable if this variant spreads globally–we will be slow to detect its entry, we will refuse to sound the alarm, and we will do everything but actually attempt to stop it. That’s been our track record, so why would it change? Worth noting that if this starts a new wave in Southern Africa, it’s just three to four months after their third wave. So just as immunity starts waning appreciably from natural infection (or vaccines). That gives us a strong hint of what our future holds unless we end this pandemic.”

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Navy deploys lagoon craft at Kurinchankerny until construction of new bridge

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Residents waiting for the boat

Sri Lanka Navy began providing transport facilities at the Kurinchankerny lagoon following the recent tragedy that claimed several lives. This service will continue until the construction of a new bridge at Kurinchankerny, Kinniya in Trincomalee is completed.

This initiative was set in motion following the directives of Commander of the Navy, Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne. The Navy deployed a Lagoon Craft, capable of carrying 25 passengers safely at a time from Thursday (25) under the supervision of the Eastern Naval Command. The lagoon craft will be in service from 7.00 a.m. to 8.00 a.m. and from 12.00 noon to 2.00 p.m. each day. Further, the Navy erected a temporary jetty to allow passengers to board the vessel safely.

A schoolgirl on her way to the ferry
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UN Assistant Secretary General during talks with President pledges to work closely with Sri Lanka

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The United Nations will always work closely with Sri Lanka, said Khaled Khiari, UN Assistant Secretary General for Political, Peacebuilding and Peace Operations. Khiari made these remarks when he met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Presidential Secretariat, on Thursday (25).

UN Assistant Secretary General Khiari is visiting Sri Lanka as a follow-up to the bilateral meeting with the President and the UN Secretary- General Antonio Guterres held in September this year on the sidelines of the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly. Khiari conveyed the best wishes of UN Secretary-General Guterres to President Rajapaksa and said that the UN is willing to engage in a constructive and positive engagement with Sri Lanka.

Expressing satisfaction over the President’s affection and interest in the environment, the Assistant Secretary General appreciated Sri Lanka’s commitment to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The President explained that steps are being taken to plant 100,000 mangroves with the assistance of the Navy and actions are being taken to prevent climate change through environmental conservation programmes.

President Rajapaksa expressed gratitude to the UN agencies and donors that have assisted Sri Lanka through the COVAX facility to make the vaccination drive successful and in facing other challenges in the face of the COVID-19 epidemic.

The President pointed out that the government’s development programme implemented in the North and East after the end of the war in 2009 had brought about rapid development. The President recalled his invitation made while participating in the UN General Assembly to the diaspora to work together with all communities after visiting Sri Lanka. The President said that he hoped that the invitation would be met with positive initiatives.

The two sides exchanged views on unity and relations between communities. An environment where all communities can live freely has been made available in Sri Lanka. The President pointed out that the Minister of Justice is from the Muslim community, the Attorney General is from the Tamil community and many of those holding other key posts are of different communities. President Rajapaksa said the government has undertaken a great task in building unity among the communities and therefore, no one should have any doubt in this regard.

Both sides were of the view that education was fundamental to unity among the communities. President Rajapaksa said that the process by which South Africa has been able to end apartheid and move forward will be studied and the lessons that can be learned from it and what can be implemented will be looked into. The President also expressed hope that the United Nations will provide assistance in this regard.

Secretary to the President Dr. P.B. Jayasundera and Principal Advisor to the President Lalith Weeratunga, Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in Sri Lanka Hanaa Singer-Hamdy, and Political Officer at the UN Peace Operations Department’s Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Department Chiaki Ota were also present.

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