Today’s climate politics | Sunday Observer

Today’s climate politics

6 November, 2022

The COP27 climate summit is something that people in this country would not think about when they are traveling in the battering rain that’s usual in most parts of the country this season.

But the climate summit is a political minefield for some leaders. Rishi Sunak the new British PM wanted to avoid the conference, but now has to go, it seems, after a U-turn.

If he doesn’t go he would be seen as insensitive — perhaps as insensitive as the former Australian leader Scott Morrison was to climate-change related issues. Of course that aloofness probably cost Morrison his job.

But climate change is a loaded issue for some reason, because even activists such as Greta Thunberg say that the COP27 is a green washing conference. In other words she is of the view it’s a talk shop.

What does she expect? A lot of these conferences are, aren’t they? Of course it doesn’t mean that world leaders and governments should not take concrete action on climate change.

But don’t expect that change to come too fast because they are working within a system that’s recalcitrant. Rishi Sunak learnt it at his cost.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe wants the world climate university to be established in Sri Lanka. On that he seems to have known how to play his cards right.

Leaders who are seen to be gung-ho or aloof on climate change issues have discovered that they are not welcome. At the COP27, does that mean?

It seems they are not welcome anywhere in the world, for that matter. But some leaders know how to play their cards and this includes the newly elected Brazilian leader Lula da Silva who has promised to enlist international help to save the Amazon after his predecessor almost literally set fire to it.

But while climate change is the number one issue on the planet, the ordinary people in most countries are suffering existential crises with food shortages, high prices of essentials and so on.

They do not feel the immediacy of the climate crisis unless of course they experience terrible weather, which the scientists say is due to climate change.


Preparing Sri Lanka for the climate crisis is a good idea because the country would be in step with the times even though it’s facing difficulties in many other areas, with deprivation being the result of what happened during the recent economic meltdown.

But countries that are sensitive to the climate issue are generally respected in the global community these days.

So are leaders that are savvy enough to say that they are conscious about the environment even if they are not.

Take Boris Johnson the former Prime Minister of England for instance who had to give up his job due to various provocative omissions and commissions. Even though he made some rather silly speeches at earlier climate conferences, he announced recently that he would be attending COP27 and that immediately rang alarm-bells for the newly appointed premier Rishi Sunak who still has to live under the shadow of Johnson, who narrowly escaped being Prime Minister again in a manner of speaking, because he didn’t quite have the requisite votes, though he tried. But he may be luckier next time around, and Sunak would have to be on his toes and looking over his shoulder all the time.

But, be that as it may, it would be a good idea for any Sri Lankan leader, future and present to embrace the issue of environment and climate the way the leftist new leader of Brazil Lula da Silva has done.

Lula has made the Amazon issue a sacrosanct article of faith in his new administration, and is being admired the world over for his stand. They say that the Amazon forests are the lungs of the world.

The entire globe therefore has an obligation to protect the Amazon, and Lula left nationalism aside and called on any country that would help him to step up by way of aiding the campaign to save the Amazon.

This is great thinking because even though the former president Bolsanaro was not your average admired politician, and was generally reviled all over the world, Lula is still a leftist and leftists are not looked at always with fondness in the rich half of the world.

But now Lula is a climate-change leftist and for that he would be championed by Left, Right and Centre. It’s the same kind of strategy that should animate our own leadership, and it’s a good sign that the World Climate University concept was born here in this country.

Whether it would be a success or not is a different matter, but this kind of commitment to climate is important and while it’s one thing that it’s imperative from a moral standpoint, it’s also another that it’s important from the point of view of political strategy.

That’s what Sunak learnt to his dismay when he rather brusquely declared that he would not attend COP27, only to reportedly reverse that decision after he was pilloried by the Opposition and sections of the media for that decision.


Climate change or not, taking up the cry of environmental preservation is all important in Sri Lanka, when there are so many loose cannons running amok posing a threat to everything from sanctuaries to wetlands, as the recent crazy spree of some SUV riding spoilt brats in Yala seemed to indicate.

The video footage of that was surreal. The SUVs were racing each other in circles right in the heart of Yala where animals are free to roam unmolested and undisturbed. That there was no tracker or official that was able to arrest this tendency and knock sense into these people shows the confident impunity with which the brats operated.

With this kind of general disdain for the environment from among some of the younger people, it is imperative that we begin to elect leaders in the future based on their commitment to climate.

We can survive an economic meltdown however bad it is, but we cannot survive without our forests, our catchment areas, and our other vital habitats such as mangrove forests, and wetlands.

But there is very little awareness about these issues among some of the younger ‘educated’ folk, even though it is a fact that some of the most valuable contributions to the issue of climate change awareness is made by some of the more enlightened among the younger set of activists.

But the educated young are going abroad, and perhaps the crazy SUV types are left here to go racing in Yala and the other reservations.


That’s not a good prospect, and it’s in this context that it’s vital there is climate and environment-based leadership that trumps all in the future, because that’s what would be most vital to future generations — the preservation of a livable planet.

There are countries where already Prime Ministers and other leaders lose elections because they were climate insensitive — and Scott Morrison was the prime example of it.

The Australian leadership race was to a very great extent about the climate-tone-deafness of Morrison who made light of environmental concerns of the Australian voter, perhaps of course because he believed he was a ‘pragmatist’.

But that stance didn’t pay off. He lost to a more environmentally sensitive agenda of a liberal left of centre politician, even though you don’t get Lulas growing on trees, certainly not down under in Australia. Sadly, there isn’t a green party equivalent in Sri Lanka, and the UNP’s greenness doesn’t count, as it is only a party colour.

Considering the activism in some parts of the world where activists glue themselves to famous art works to wake up leaders on environmental matters, our activism and awareness in this regard is still very much in the waking-up stage. But there may be radical new changes in the future in this regard.

The new leadership says five years from now may be greener than ever, and not just green-washed.