Sri Lankan Civil Society Voice Concern for the 2024 Sri Lankan Climate Summit

The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce held a climate summit on May 7-9, but civil society members criticized it for being non-inclusive, transparent, and alleged greenwashing.

Sri Lankan Civil Society Voice Concern for the 2024 Sri Lankan Climate Summit
A supermarket in Sri Lanka, by Eddy Billard, 2019/January


Dara Masita

Human Rights Researcher

Global Human Rights Defence


On May 7th to 9th, the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce presented the Climate Summit 2024, which was themed “Code Red: Climate Risks and Opportunities for Sri Lankan Businesses.” This climate summit aims to discuss the opportunities and impacts of climate change for business. National and international experts on climate policy, including industry veterans and leading figures in climate action, led the sessions The topics covered revolved around understanding climate risks, risks to businesses, integrating climate action into business strategy, and decarbonisation. Including businesses in the climate discussion is important as businesses can contribute significantly to promoting green initiatives.

However, several Sri Lankan civil society members have voiced their concerns about the climate summit, mainly because it is allegedly a greenwashing attempt by corporate entities. The press release from MONLAR (Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform) and other civil society members reads, “It was published that this event hopes to examine the economic sector’s threats and potential opportunities and outline desired policy changes for a low-carbon, resilient economy. Among several concerns about the nature of this event, calling a business summit that aims to ensure economic prosperity with the profit motive amidst the climate crisis a “Climate Summit” is misleading and is greenwashing a business summit.”

There were several issues with how the summit was organised. Firstly, there was an alleged lack of inclusivity. The Chamber of Commerce charged LKR 40,000 (≈EUR 123) for each participant of the climate summit. That is quite out of the range for the average Sri Lankan. This led to concerns about accessibility and true commitment to change, especially when the common folk are the ones who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Excluding the voices of farmers, fishermen, women and women-led businesses, and other marginalised communities, it connotes that these corporations only care about how their businesses will profit amidst this climate crisis.

The second issue is regarding accountability and justice. The policy outlines are being drafted exclusively with the business community. It will not include accountability or justice for the small-scale farmers, freshwater fishers, coastal fishing communities, and women who were heavily affected by climate change that can be partly blamed on businesses from deforestation, heavy machinery, monoculture agricultural methods stunting biodiversity, etc. Furthermore, the climate crisis fuels Sri Lanka’s debt crisis, as the nation is going through an economic crisis.

The third issue the community had was with greenwashing. Civil society organisations believe that climate change should not be viewed as an opportunity to seek more profit. Rather, it should unite various actors to develop holistic solutions and prioritise people’s livelihoods. Corporations such as Nestle are sponsors of the Climate Summit. The organisations thought this was ironic since Nestle is one of the worst-polluting brands in the world. This ultimately raises questions about the Chamber of Commerce’s sincerity in addressing climate change and promoting sustainability. Allowing polluting multinational corporations to use the country as a market for greenwashing impacts Sri Lanka’s access to clean and transparent climate funding and undermines the efforts of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that are genuinely striving to be sustainable.

The civil society members have formulated several recommendations for the Chamber to consider, such as evaluating its sponsorship and partnerships and prioritising transparency. They also ask the media to report the summit responsibly and ask fellow citizens to scrutinise its agenda and outcomes.

It is substantial that Sri Lanka held a climate summit since many of its citizens are feeling the effects of climate change. However, their execution is flawed. Climate change is a complex issue because many stakeholders are involved. To solve the issue, different stakeholders must be addressed appropriately. With the high participation fee, non–inclusive policy drafting, and attempt at greenwashing, we could see that this climate summit will offer a one-sided solution. The Chamber of Commerce should take into account the civil society’s recommendations if they are truly genuine in solving the issue.

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