18 May, 2024


Tailoring Our Needs To Match International Legal Requirements

By Upatissa Pethiyagoda

Dr. Upatissa Pethiyagoda

Two recent developments at International level, that should concern us, are the “UN Law of the Sea Convention” and “The Carbon Credits Scheme”.

Both of these initiatives promise much that match our own priority needs and plans. It is imperative that we evolve ways to profit maximally, by integrating our needs with the opportunities on offer. To achieve this, it is justifiable to even create a separate body, that is  charged solely with evolving means of profiting from these initiatives.

The UN Law of the Sea Convention was designed to preempt conflicts between States. This is by defining ocean areas, with designated  boundaries, for activities to be conducted by neighboring littoral states. These were designated Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ’s). These were to be 200 nautical kilometers from the shoreline. Sri Lanka is advantageously located, with no land masses to the South, and distant Indonesia to the East. Where there is an intervening State, (India in our case), to the North, and West, economic rights are shared equally.

It is reckoned that the area of The Indian Ocean that qualifies as our Exclusive Economic Zone, is about seventeen times Sri Lanka’s land area. The Law interestingly, provides for the rights to cover marine, subterranean and aerial resources, within the designated zone. Thus, fish resources, mineral deposits and Solar and Wind Energy installations, are all covered.

With a view to identifying areas holding promise as sites for petroleum extraction, the Soviet Union and Norway have carried out resource surveys, in significant locations within our EEZ. The results of which should have been shared with us (?). The Mannar basin is said to hold promise for petroleum (Oil/gas) reserves.

India is said to be already tapping oil and gas reserves from wells in the nearby Cauvery Basin. It is held that the initial costs of development (prospecting and drilling) of marine oil wells, is beyond our financial capacity. For this, foreign participation is necessary.

We should be in possession of the findings of the detailed Soviet and Norwegian surveys. Analyses of the pre-project sample drillings are said to indicate good prospects. There is a massive ocean area yet to be surveyed.

Incidentally, the recent “Ocean Pearl Disaster,” which compelled us to seek assistance from India and other states, to help in assessing the damage, might also be an additional source of information. It is up to us, to secure the survey information from the relief crafts. With all this, there still remains an enormous extent of our EEZ, which yet remains unexplored. A treasure may await us, by tapping into these hitherto unknown potentials.

The “Carbon Credits Scheme” could also be a treasure trove. Our forest resources have been brutally decimated from over 60% cover at the turn of the last century, to about 17% today. Incidentally, Bhutan which is considered, a commendable model, has a Constitutional requirement to retain in perpetuity, the current 60% forest cover. This is honored, and has had a profound effect on the country’s pristine environment, and not least, as a significant tourist attraction.

The best efforts of our Forest Department have failed to reduce the erosion of our tree cover. Tea Plantations have scorned the Law prohibiting forest felling above the 4,000 foot contour elevation. If the authorities are keen and bold enough, they could even now, compel the observance of this important law. The incursions have been mainly by tea plantations. The released extents should seek alternative land uses. The wisest and least damaging option, would be to leave tea within this trespassed area, to grow to its natural modest height of about fifteen to twenty feet, on a temporary tenancy, until the natural forest takes over. If forest planting is envisaged, bamboo plantations would be aesthetically attractive, while also providing material for fencing, scaffolding, and other construction needs. Bamboo is also excellent for erosion control.

Will these and similar options qualify under the “Carbon Credits” program? Also, do forest and fruit trees, grasslands and even new plantings of rubber, cocoa, coconuts qualify?

Some intelligent and “out of the box” innovative approaches, may open up a fresh opportunity to translate our needs into profits.

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