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Sri Lanka: Navigating the Turbulent Waters of Climate Change

Sri Lanka, a mesmerizing island nation graced with lush emerald hills, unspoiled beaches, and dynamic ecosystems, stands at a critical juncture. The escalating threat of climate change, a global phenomenon that endangers coastlines and disrupts weather patterns, presents a formidable challenge to this tropical paradise. Sri Lanka’s susceptibility to climate change is rooted in its distinctive geography and its reliance on climate-sensitive sectors such as agriculture and tourism.

The repercussions of climate change are palpable across Sri Lanka. Rising sea levels gradually erode valuable coastal lands, displacing communities and contaminating freshwater sources with salt. Unpredictable rainfall patterns upset the rhythm of life, with droughts desiccating fertile lands and intense monsoons instigating catastrophic floods and landslides. These climatic shifts disrupt agricultural production, a linchpin of Sri Lanka’s economy and food security. Coastal communities, integral to the tourism industry, bear the brunt of sea level rise and erosion, threatening their livelihoods and infrastructure. Recent floods underscore the gravity of climate change and its potential to disrupt the daily life of Sri Lankans.

The ramifications of climate change extend beyond the immediate impacts. Rising temperatures foster conditions conducive to the spread of vector-borne diseases like dengue fever and malaria. Moreover, alterations in rainfall patterns disrupt hydropower generation, a vital source of renewable energy for Sri Lanka. This, coupled with the escalating demand for irrigation during droughts, strains the country’s energy resources. The delicate equilibrium of Sri Lanka’s ecosystems is also under threat, with coral reefs experiencing bleaching due to increasing sea temperatures and biodiversity suffering due to habitat destruction caused by extreme weather events.

In response to this looming threat, the National Climate Change Policy (NCCP), adopted in 2012, serves as a strategic guide for adaptation and mitigation strategies. The NCCP acknowledges the urgency of climate action and outlines a holistic framework to tackle the challenges. The policy underscores the importance of fortifying Sri Lanka’s resilience to the impacts of climate change. This encompasses endorsing water conservation practices through rainwater harvesting and efficient irrigation systems. The development of drought-resistant crop varieties and the promotion of climate-smart agricultural practices are pivotal for ensuring food security. Enhancing early warning systems for extreme weather events like floods and landslides enables communities to prepare and evacuate promptly, minimizing loss of life and property. The National Adaptation Plan (NAP) offers a detailed blueprint for implementing these adaptation strategies in vulnerable sectors such as agriculture, water resources, and human settlements.

The NCCP also concentrates on mitigating climate change by curbing Sri Lanka’s greenhouse gas emissions. This involves advocating a transition towards clean energy sources like solar and wind power. The policy encourages energy efficiency measures in buildings and industries, promoting the use of LED lighting and energy-efficient appliances. Sustainable land management practices like reforestation and improved soil conservation techniques contribute to reducing carbon emissions and augmenting Sri Lanka’s natural carbon sinks.

International Collaboration: A Shared Responsibility

Sri Lanka’s commitment to combating climate change is laudable, but the island nation cannot weather this storm in isolation. International cooperation is indispensable to bolster its efforts. Developed nations, the primary contributors to global greenhouse gas emissions, bear a responsibility to assist developing countries like Sri Lanka through technology transfer, climate finance, and capacity-building initiatives.

 A Proactive Approach: New Initiatives

In a recent development, President Ranil Wickremesinghe has announced the establishment of a National Consultative Committee. This committee, which may consist of about 100 to 150 members, includes every agency involved in the public or private sector. The committee is expected to meet at least once every six months to discuss the progress being made. The President emphasized the importance of resilience on both local and global fronts and noted the critical role finance plays in supporting climate initiatives. He also highlighted the need for expertise in international economics, especially in climate financing linked to debt management.

In addition to the committee, the President proposed the establishment of an International Climate Change University as a global research hub. This university will serve as a testament to Sri Lanka’s dedication to tackling climate change. By incorporating these new initiatives into the National Climate Change Policy (NCCP), Sri Lanka is taking a proactive approach to address the challenges of climate change. The establishment of the new committee and the International Climate Change University signifies a commitment to a holistic decision-making process regarding new energy projects.

Meanwhile, The Cabinet of Ministers has approved the President’s proposal to implement Article 6 of the Paris Agreement in Sri Lanka. Under this Sri Lanka is planning to develop a carbon market strategy and guiding principles with technical assistance from the Dubai Regional Cooperation Center of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. According to the Cabinet,  this initiative is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

The Cabinet has also agreed to appoint a committee, led by the Secretary of the Ministry of Environment, to evaluate project proposals related to greenhouse gas emission reductions. The proposed committee will make decisions until the new carbon market strategy and guiding principles are in place. These proposals cover key sectors such as electricity, industry, waste management, transport, agriculture, and forestry.

Challenges in Implementation

Despite a robust policy framework, Sri Lanka encounters obstacles in translating these plans into action. Limited financial resources pose a significant barrier, as the implementation of large-scale adaptation and mitigation projects necessitates substantial investments. Competing national priorities can sometimes eclipse the urgency of climate action. Additionally, a dearth of technical expertise in specific areas like renewable energy technology can impede progress.

One of the major issues is the lack of public awareness about climate change and its consequences. Despite the government’s efforts to integrate climate-smart programs into school curricula and raise risk awareness among communities, the general public’s understanding of climate change remains limited. This lack of awareness can lead to a lack of community support for adaptation measures, which are crucial for the successful implementation of climate change policies.

Moreover, the President’s National Consultative Committee, despite its broad representation and regular meetings, has been criticized for its lack of impactful work on climate change. While the committee has been involved in initiatives like Debt for Nature Swaps and presenting a project on the Kelani River Basin, there is a perception that it has not been able to effect significant policy changes or implement major projects to combat climate change. The President’s emphasis on finance as the lifeblood of climate initiatives underscores the need for substantial financial resources to implement large-scale adaptation and mitigation projects. However, the reality is that limited attention is given to the vital matter of financing, and this poses a significant barrier to the implementation of these projects.

 Looking Ahead: A Sustainable Future

By prioritizing the adaptation and mitigation strategies outlined in the NCCP and fostering international collaboration, Sri Lanka can navigate the turbulent waters of climate change and secure a sustainable future for its people and its environment. The island nation’s success story can serve as a beacon of hope for other vulnerable countries grappling with the rising tide of climate change. However, it is clear that there is still much work to be done. Overcoming these challenges, raising public awareness, ensuring the effectiveness of the President’s Committee, and securing the necessary resources are crucial steps towards a sustainable future.