A low-carbon industrial sector will pay dividends for Sri Lanka’s economy and the planet

World Environment Day 5 June, 2022: Sri Lanka’s current economic and fuel crisis is crippling the industrial sector – a critical employer that provides income for 30 percent of the nation’s workforce and delivers the second highest share of GDP. By decoupling the country’s industrial development from imported fossil fuels, we can avoid this devastating situation in the future and help slow down global climate change.

Today, Sri Lanka relies on imported fossil fuels to meet its growing energy demand. Over the past months we have seen first-hand how vulnerable this makes the country’s industrial sector. As war and political instability on the international stage drove up global fuel prices, Sri Lanka’s dwindling foreign exchange reserves were increasingly inadequate to meet soaring costs. This has affected all aspects of our lives, including in the valuable industrial sector, which has seen long power cuts and already high production costs increase even more, threatening jobs and valuable exports.

Women in Sri Lanka working on sewing machine in apparel industry. The manufacture and export of textile products is one of the biggest industries in Sri Lanka.

While there are no short-term fixes, in the medium and long-term we can change this situation by moving Sri Lanka’s industry toward a sustainable, energy-secure future. A new € 7.56-million (approximately Rs. 2.8 billion) partnership between Sri Lanka, the European Union and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) is set to support this move by helping industries become more energy efficient and increase the sector’s use of renewable energy sources. The ‘Accelerating Industries’ Climate Response in Sri Lanka’ project is a key support in the industrial sector for the implementation of Sri Lanka’s global climate commitments, captured in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

With Sri Lanka among the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change – a reality that was again underscored with recent devastating floods and other extreme weather events – the country has already made bold commitments on the global stage to reduce carbon emissions under its NDCs. The country has also pledged that 70 percent of its energy needs will come from renewable sources by 2030.

With the industrial sector key to helping Sri Lanka meet its important climate commitments, this new project will work across multiple fronts. These range from creating a policy environment where industries are encouraged to decarbonize, training government and industry managers, and unlocking funding opportunities, to helping the industrial sector confidently invest in low-carbon technologies. Led by the Ministries of Environment, Industries, Power and Energy, the project will also build a cadre of low-carbon experts who can guide industrial organizations as they transition away from fossil fuels.

Leading Sri Lankan industrialists are already taking action to decarbonize and become more energy- efficient. They know that switching to greener, more efficient technologies is a win-win move – generating savings and enhancing predictability of operations, while supporting economic growth and green jobs.

Sri Lanka’s industrial sector needs to be put on a trajectory of green recovery to ensure a more resilient and shock resistant economy. With a concerted effort from all those who have a stake, the decarbonization of Sri Lanka’s industrial sector will deliver dividends for the economy, the environment and the planet.

By Dr Anil Jasinghe, Secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Sri Lanka; and the EU Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, H E Denis Chaibi. Originally published in The Sunday Times Sri Lanka.