February 23, 2019

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    Climate Change awareness through education Featured

    January 15, 2019

    Most Sri Lankans perceive climate change as a distant problem. They think it won’t affect them personally. One young graduate, employed as a senior marketing executive in a large organisation, told this writer, “It’s just one of the many thousands of issues that are out there. If I have to worry about getting myself settled down in this job, I’m less concerned about melting sea ice in the Arctic.”

    The writer wasn’t surprised. Two years ago, even President Trump called climate change a hoax. He said that he didn’t believe the findings of potentially devastating impacts. Trump has since backed away from his assertion that climate change is a hoax, but apparently feels that the threat is overstated.

    A Yale University research paper last year based on a Gallup World Poll survey of residents of 119 countries found that 40 per cent of adults worldwide reported having not understood what was climate change. That figure rises to more than 65 per cent in some Asian countries and Middle East countries.

    Reality

    But climate change is already affecting us. It is the reality. The temperatures are going up everywhere, not just in the Arctic, but cities everywhere - whether in USA, China or Sri Lanka. The heat waves are becoming more frequent.

    These facts are proven. They are demonstrated by multiple lines of evidence. First, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has now reached such levels that have never been seen in the history of human civilization. Second, carbon dioxide is known to be a greenhouse gas. Third, the average surface temperature of the earth and the world’s sea levels are rising. And as the temperature increases, glaciers melt. Both factors add to the sea level, which has already risen by four to eight inches. Eventually, this results in loss of coastline, and low-level islands.

    Sri Lanka

    According to the global statistics, Sri Lanka has not fared well in handling the climate change. In a new global index, Sri Lanka has been ranked second among the countries most affected by extreme weather events in 20 years since 1998. The 2019 Long-Term Climate Risk Index, published by German-watch, has listed Puerto Rico, Sri Lanka, and Dominica as the top three affected countries.

    The index is part of a report – Global Climate Risk Index 2019 – which was released at the annual climate summit in Poland recently.

    The Index analyses to what extent countries and regions have been affected by impacts of weather-related loss events such as storms, floods, heat waves, etc., from data available for 2017 and from 1998 to 2017.

    In a report published in the Guardian in 2013, it was stated that “in the next 55 years the greatest threat to Sri Lanka will be not from war, but from climate change. Sri Lanka is particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels and weather-related disasters have the potential to set back any gains made in agriculture, fisheries and even services such as tourism”.

    Therefore, climate change definitely is an issue of concern for Sri Lanka.

    Education

    Sri Lanka is a country whose economy is highly reliant on climate-sensitive sectors. For example, agriculture, forestry and energy production. The Government has adapted some measures in these fields to promote better environmental management. Programmes have been established for the agricultural sector to manage soil erosion, support better water management and encourage the diversification of agricultural production.

    In the energy sector, policies have been developed to support increased energy efficiency and to reduce associated environmental pollution. The Government also has realised that to effectively respond to anticipated climatic changes the existing adaptation measures need to be extended and action needs to be taken in other areas.

    So, how can we slow the process of global climate change? First and most important of all, it needs more education and more public awareness.

    Education has two obvious effects on the fight against climate change. Firstly, it impacts citizens’ general awareness of the issue, and secondly, it determines how enabled they are to develop the necessary solutions and innovations to overcome the problem.

    In fact, so important is education in the fight against climate change that Article 6 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is wholly dedicated to education, training, public awareness and access to information related to climate change.

    Effects

    However, general awareness alone would not necessarily equate to public concern, especially in countries like Sri Lanka where climate change is not regarded by citizenry as an urgent issue. In such countries the climate change should become part of the political debate. This solidifies the importance of ensuring that the information shared about climate change is as accurate as possible and that the public is educated enough to understand the scientific concepts at its core.

    A basic scientific literacy in the population can help increase a community’s ability to solve and adapt to climate change by enabling the citizens to make informed decisions about climate and the factors that impact it, such as pollution.

    The second benefit of education on the fight against climate change is the development ofthe citizens’ ability to solve and mitigate its impacts.

    This requires the development of a modern educational infrastructure, from primary through to higher education, that has a strong focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). A STEM-focused education will provide students with both the understanding of the cause and effects of climate change, and also, the tools and know-how to solve them.

    Since the government is responsible only for a proportion of greenhouse gas emissions, they must persuade other stakeholders to adjust their behaviour in ways that limit emissions and promote adaptation. In this respect, as the economy’s most powerful and largest source of spending power, businesses have an opportunity to take the lead and invest in a climate-smart future, be it through the generation of renewable energy, green infrastructure or scaling up carbon capture and storage.

    The National Adaptation Plan also recognises that collaborative efforts by all stakeholders, which include the government sector, corporate sector, academics, researchers, small and medium-sized enterprise (SMEs), civil society organisations along with local community-based approaches, can deliver the ultimate objective of enhancing the adaptive capacity of sections of society that are highly vulnerable to the impact of climate change.

    Tools

    The government itself has a number of tools at its disposal for motivating people to make these changes. Policies and legislation can be used to raise the cost of activities that emit greenhouse gases or create vulnerabilities to climate change impacts. They can also be designed to reduce the costs of activities that lower emissions and promote adaptation.

    Regulations and standards can mandate changes in products and practices. Taxes and subsidies can also be adjusted to influence behaviour.

    Such policies and measures, however, can encounter inertia, passive resistance or active opposition, particularly from those concerned about the imposition of a new cost. Providing information and explanations is therefore vital for generating public and stakeholder support for government policies and regulations.

    At the same time, public outreach can also encourage voluntary changes in habits, address the arguments of those who oppose specific actions and help to prepare the younger generation for living in the climate-changing world that they will soon inherit.

    The Government and many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are already working actively to raise awareness. The scale of the change is required, however, and the vast number of people and interests that must be influenced, calls for outreach activities of a much greater magnitude. The government must encourage local authorities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), educators, the media, the entertainment industry and individuals to play a role.

    They may also consider building partnerships with many of these diverse actors.

    Education and awareness-raising enable informed decision-making, play an essential role in increasing adaptation and mitigation capacities of communities, and empower women and men to adopt sustainable lifestyles.

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