The importance of preserving our forests is a fact that has been ingrained in our minds since preschool days. We have learned through our daily science lessons, that trees play the single most important role in balancing CO2 levels in the atmosphere, thus providing us with clean air to breathe in this age of fossil fuels and toxic industry waste. As such, our earth’s forest cover act as guardians of the future world that the youth of this generation will be inheriting for their children. Perhaps due to forgotten memories of their school science lessons, the business leaders and politicians of present, continue to clear our forests for short term industrial and urbanization goals, thereby setting irreversible damage in motion for the youth of this generation – particularly in developing nations such as Sri Lanka, where forests are destroyed in the name of development.
As per statistics from Mongabay, Sri Lanka has lost 17.7% of its forest cover from 1990 to 2005. As such, the country’s forest cover stands at a mere 17% today; a sharp drop from the luxurious forest cover of 82% that our country has enjoyed in the 80s, according to data from the Rainforest Protectors of Sri Lanka Movement. The main culprit for this calamity is man induced deforestation which, according to data by the Global Forest Watch, has contributed towards 28% of Sri Lanka’s total tree cover loss.
Although protection of the environment is often a theme of international forums and political manifestos, the above statistics are a testament to the failure of state authorities to protect our natural forest cover. For instance, illegal clearing of forest reserves (including nationally preserved forest reserves such as the Wilpattu Forest Complex) is carried out for the purpose of creating manmade settlements with the widespread support of the authorities. Not only does this lead to the deterioration of our air quality in the long term, but short terms effects such as human- elephant conflicts are quick to appear because of these actions. Notably in 2020, the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) revealed that due to the human – elephant conflict, Sri Lanka has recorded the highest number of men induced elephant deaths in the world in 2020. Likewise, the country was second in the world for the greatest number of human deaths due to the human-elephant conflict in the same year. As such, our dwindling forestry cover is also creating a loss of habitat for endangered species in our country who ironically also contribute towards tourism earnings which our political leaders and business establishments are keen to improve. Hence it is of utmost necessity for Sri Lanka to ensure that our forests are conserved as a national priority.
Bhutan can be considered a model country which preserves its forests as a strategic priority for the nation. Despite being a small developing South Asian country, Bhutan has constitutionally mandated its leaders to preserve 60% of its land under forest cover. As such, according to the WWF, Bhutan is a carbon negative country; a magnanimous feat achieved while maintaining an average annual economic growth of 7.5% since the 1980s, thereby proving that conservation efforts and economic development can move in tandem and reap benefits to all citizens.
Nations are enacting green policies and pledging investments towards eco-friendly infrastructure in a way that would not have been done fifty years ago - thanks to the awareness raised by committed youth around the world. As such, the youth have tremendous power to create change which we hope to achieve in Sri Lanka through the Hype Policy Tank which strives to increase the participation of the youth in the policy formulation cycles of Sri Lanka. Through the Youth Public Proposal on Potential Provisions to the Third Republican Constitution of Sri Lanka which was submitted by the Organization, we have called upon our country’s government to constitutionally mandate a forest cover of 35%. The execution of this goal would require the work of all citizens young and old, but it is in the political leadership’s power to enact stronger legal frameworks and regulations, while encouraging businesses and individuals alike to engage in reforestation initiatives through concessionary funding, tax incentives and public private partnerships (to name a few). Such actions would lay the foundation in protecting our great forests, the most powerful guardians of our future, on this planet.
About the Author
Imara Perera volunteers with Hype Sri Lanka as an independent policy thinker for the Hype Policy Tank, where she has contributed towards policy formulation and advocacy in education, persons with disabilities and constitutional reform. Outside volunteering, Imara works in corporate finance advisory in Sri Lanka and is a final year undergraduate at the University of Colombo.
Original article by Imara Perera, originally published on the Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth Office Reach Not Preach platform.