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Climate change and Sri Lanka How big a threat?

2015-11-30 20:49:24
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For those who are not involved in the field, climate change in relation to Sri Lanka may not sound as much a pressing issue as compared to floating armouries and political changes within the country. If at all yes, it has become considerably hotter, the lighting at night can get somewhat disturbing, and the weather application on your phone seems to be in dire need of an update since the conditions of the island have become fairly unpredictable.

According to Margaret Gardner from the Guardian reporting in 2013, “In the next 55 years the greatest threat to Sri Lanka will be not from war, but from climate change. Sri Lanka is particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels and weather-related disasters have the potential to set back any gains made in agriculture, fisheries and even services such as tourism”

In addition the following is extracted from the report titled ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions’ by the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment, Sri Lanka, October 2015.

“As a small island in the Indian Ocean, the coastal region of Sri Lanka is susceptible to changes in sea level. The 2004 tsunami has indicated that low-lying plains in the coastal zone will be vulnerable to any future rise in sea level Emerging evidence from various sources suggest that climate change could alter natural systems connected to the water cycle, the ecosystems and the bio-diversity of the country. This could lead to decline of various ecosystem services that are indispensable for the welfare of human population.”

Therefore climate change does seem to be an issue of concern for Sri Lanka.

Yesterday, November 30,  2015, 195 parties convened in Paris for the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (‘COP21’) and for the first time in over twenty years, aim to achieve a legally binding universal agreement on climate change, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C, an objective that has been eluding the world for those twenty years. Research suggests that the area above this cap is the stage at which ice caps start melting and the world will be faced with natural disasters in all shapes and sizes.

The Arctic is warming faster than ever and scientists predict a part of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapsing.

This will lead to unprecedented rises in the sea levels which would affect land masses which are covered on all sides by that very sea. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the National Geographic in its November issue, predicts a loss greater than 5% with regards to changes in potential average yields for corn, potatoes, rice and wheat in 2050. Solutions are the need of the hour. Climate change isn’t an avenue which has resulted in much comparative success in relation to the problem. The general idea has been that purchasing a Prius is enough of a contribution to solving the issue. This has been the hue in the international arena as well.  Kyoto in 1997 was a failure even with the presence of a legally binding document while Copenhagen’s agreement in 2009 wasn’t even legally binding. The 2015 conference has introduced the submission of an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution from all parties which allows each country to list the emissions reductions it intends to make by 2030, as well as other planned efforts to combat climate change; information which will then be used to draft policy.

The following is an extract from the above mentioned report by the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment.

“Sri Lanka submits its INDCs under four areas;

Mitigation - Reducing the GHG emissions against the Business As Usual Scenarios in the sectors of Energy, Transportation, Industry, Waste and Forestry.
The key contributors to GHG are Carbon Dioxide (CO 2), Methane (CH 4) and Nitrous Oxide (N 2 O).

Adaptation - Mainstreaming climate change adaptation into main economic drives with attention to economic and livelihood diversification. Adaptation will focus on as the key sectors those of Food security, Health, Water, Coastal and Marine resources, Biodiversity and Ecosystems, Infrastructure and Human Settlements. Adaptation initiatives that derive mitigation co-benefits will be given due priority.

Loss and Damage - In order to contribute to the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage a local mechanism will be developed.

Means of Implementation External support for Finance, Technology Transfer and Capacity Building for the above sectors are considered in the implementation process of the INDCs of Sri Lanka”

In terms of climate change as a threat to Sri Lanka Mr. Buddika Hemashantha, CEO of the Sri Lanka Carbon Fund seems to think in less disastrous terms. The Sri Lanka Carbon Fund is a private-public partnership company which strives to build a new low-carbon business economy and low carbon life patterns.

Mr. Hemashantha feels that as per the Asia Development Bank report which was released a while back, Sri Lanka will be the least affected by climate change.

This does not however mean that we will not be affected at all.
 

Q   What are the current effects of climate change on Sri Lanka?

The tourism and agriculture sectors are those that are the most affected currently. There are also several effects of climate change that all Sri Lankans are experiencing as of now in terms of floods and heavy rain. The University of Peradeniya Agricultural Unit has also found in its research that the temperature of the country is increasing. The temperature rise will also cause an increase in mosquitos in the colder parts of the country such as Nuwara Eliya which may lead to the spread of mosquito borne diseases.
With regards to tourism there will also be negative effects that will have to be faced by the sector since tourists will be less willing to come to the island when there is more rain and the temperature is rising. There is also the treat of landslides that they will take into account.
 

Q   What are your views on the focus of the agriculture industry in this country with crop destruction being a key concern of climate change?

This focus on agriculture is there in many countries and food security is a focal point with regards to climate change. I saw a documentary which adduced evidence that the Syrian conflict was also linked to climate change in relation to a river drying up, resulting in no harvest being produced and the Government being unable to provide subsidies. With regards to a change in the development of the agricultural sector I personally don’t think that anything substantial has been done. There have been certain activities that have been carried out with regards to water however. The UNDP has put forward several proposals with regards to a solar powered water purification system which may be utilized in the agriculture industry.
 

Q   Talking about renewable energy, certain initiatives such as the windmill project has posed several problems to the residents of the area. What is being done about these concerns?

This is a very relevant issue. The Green Climate Fund has formulated stringent standards to make sure that the projects that they fund do not affect the people in that area. Our criteria is to protect people since the noise that is emitted by some of these windmills are even above international standards.
 

Q   How does Sri Lanka look on the map in terms of carbon emissions?

Within our country it is the energy sector that emits the most amount of carbon. However with it utilizing bio-gas the amount of these emissions are significantly less than other countries. We get 50% of our electricity also from hydroelectricity. Therefore in the South Asian region we are the second lowest emitter with .4 metric tons of CO2 emission per capita. Nepal is the lowest in the region with .2 metric tons of CO2 emissions.
 

Q   What has the Carbon Fund done so far in tackling climate change?

We are the local partners for the World Bank in securing finance to tackle climate change. We are lucky to be the first country in the world to be using the Scale Up Crediting Mechanism’ in the power sector which will help in attracting 12-15 million USD from the World Bank to combat climate change. This mechanism, unlike the previous clean development mechanism which provided credit for individual projects, will look at the entire sector as a whole.

Attracting finances is one of our main tasks since Sri Lanka may need around 2 billion USD over next 20 years to achieve its 20% Non-Conventional Renewable Energy (NCRE) target. We are also working on getting accreditation from the Green Climate Fund. Progress has also been made with the World Bank in getting market instruments to help us reduce our emissions. The Partnership for Market Readiness is impressed with our work so far and has given us an observer status. In addition we are cooperating with Costa Rica who have very ambitious targets to reduce emissions. Furthermore we have also introduced the Sri Lanka Carbon Offset Scheme which allows organizations to achieve carbon neutrality and the private sector is very motivated in getting involved. This scheme has attracted the attention of countries like Germany and Switzerland who want to purchase carbon credit and help in developing the scheme.
 

Q   Do you think COP21 will be successful?

I personally think that an agreement will be reached with the implementation of the new Intended Nationally Determined Contributions. Under the Kyoto Protocol only developed countries had targets which resulted in several countries leaving the Protocol. Now since more than 160 countries have agreed on their own accord to indicate what they themselves intend to reduce,there will be more of a general agreement to finding a solution. However the Kyoto Protocol was the best agreement we will ever have.
 

Q   In your opinion what is Sri Lanka’s doomsday scenario?

Sri Lanka will not be as affected by the rise in sea levels unlike countries like the Maldives. However we will be affected by frequent and intense floods. This will result in extensive damage to dams which will be chaotic especially in areas with less lakes and rivers.

The Daily Mirror’s attempts to contact the Climate Change Secretariat of Sri Lanka which was established to fulfil the commitments under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) & Kyoto Protocol to get their perspective of the matter were of no avail.


 


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