Promise in Peril
June 05, Colombo: It is 2023, and the world is at the mid-way point to 2030. Yet, the world’s progress on delivering Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are moderately to severely off track.
The SDG Progress Report’s Special Edition from May 2023 outlines that the SDGs are disappearing in the rear-view mirror – and with them the hope and rights of current and future generations. A fundamental shift is needed – in commitment, solidarity, financing and action - to put the world on a better path. And it is needed now.1
The report sounds the alarms on the short sightedness of prevailing economic and political systems that are ratcheting up the war on nature. The report stresses that the small window of opportunity to limit global temperatures to 1.5 degrees and prevent the worst impacts of the climate crisis, to secure climate justice for people, communities and countries on the frontlines of climate change, is fast closing.
A Circular Economy
One key component in the path to climate, environmental and social resilience in our society to accelerate progress on sustainable development, both locally and globally, is the circular economy approach. Estimates show that more resources than naturally available on Earth are being used. If current trends were to continue, the world would need three planets by 2050. Currently, only 7.2 percent of used materials are cycled back2 into our economies after use. This has a significant burden on the environment and contributes to the climate, biodiversity, and pollution crises.
Circular economy, on the other hand, aims to minimize waste and promote a sustainable use of natural resources, through smarter product design, longer use, recycling and more, as well as regenerate nature. Besides helping tackle the problem of pollution, circular economy can play a critical role in solving other complex challenges such as climate change and biodiversity loss—particularly noteworthy on the heel of this year’s World Environment Day theme to “Beat Plastic Pollution”.
Waste & Sri Lanka
The plastic pollution and the waste issues are not just a global problem – but a very real local problem as well. Sri Lanka imports over 500,000 MT of virgin plastic annually, straining the country’s waste management systems. An estimated 1.59 million tonnes of plastic waste are mismanaged. About half of this amount ends up in canals, rivers, and eventually the ocean, endangering marine ecosystems.
Currently, only 33% of all plastic waste is collected, out of which only 3% is recycled nation-wide.3 With an average 0.4-1 kg daily per capita waste generation, Sri Lanka produces 10,786 tonnes of waste per day.
According to the Waste Management Division of the Central Environmental Authority, only about half of that gets collected as municipal waste. Overall, 85% of waste generated is estimated to be disposed inappropriately, mainly through indiscriminate open dumping and burning, giving rise to health and environmental impacts.
Nearly 16% of the country’s total GHG emissions is generated from waste. Continued business as usual trends would substantially increase current emission levels (3.42 million ton4) over the coming years—particularly worrying for a country already listed as one of the most impacted by climate change.
Pollution to Solution
Important steps have been taken, particularly by the government, in the right direction over the last few years to address regulatory, technology and financing gaps that restrain investment in waste solutions. However, the statistics are a stark reminder of the work that remains to be done.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Sri Lanka is supporting the Government of Sri Lanka to meet this need, and transition to a green development trajectory using the circular economy principles.
From sustainable healthcare waste management, strengthened management of persistent organic pollutants (POPs), unintentional persistent organic pollutants (UPOPs) and Mercury, waste-to-energy initiatives including the recently launched e-Tuk Tuk pilot project, and towards sustainable final disposal solutions, UNDP and the Government are exploring comprehensive and sustainable waste management solutions. Building on this, steps have also been taken in working towards leveraging more innovative approaches to this issue, including carbon payments, Internationally Transferred Mitigation Outcomes (ITMOs) and more.
These interventions seek to promote a circular economy, feeding into Sri Lanka’s green recovery and development—for a country that has reduced GHG emissions, green and dignified jobs, a stable economy, and climate and environmental resilience.
World Environment Day 2023 is a stark reminder of the work that needs to be done to ensure the safety and resilience of the current and future generations. It is time to accelerate this action and transition to a circular economy, moving from pollution to solutions.
1 United Nations. May 2023. “Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals: Towards a Rescue Plan for People and Planet. Report of the Secretary-General (Special Edition).” United Nations General Assembly Economic and Social Council.
2 Circle Economy. 2023. “The Circularity