Sri Lanka is in the final stages of compiling its National Adaptation Plan (NAP), designed to help the country achieve sustainable and climate resilient economic development.The plan identifies recommendations to improve the preparation for climate impacts and cope with emerging or expected climate impacts. To discuss the NAP in detail, the Climate Action Network Sri Lanka organised a press workshop and discussion at the Sri Lanka Press Institute on March 12, inviting members of civil society, academia and policymakers involved or monitoring the NAP in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka cannot ignore the risks
Sri Lanka’s vulnerability to climate impacts depends on its exposure, internal conditions and risk management. While it cannot avoid climate change, it can manage the impact a changing climate will have on its economy and its people. Sri Lanka, in particular will find that rising sea levels and rising temperatures are amongst the most pressing threats.
A rising sea level poses severe threat to important economic sectors. According to the IPCC, even the most optimistic climate scenario expects seas to rise by anywhere between 40cm (0.2-0.43 metres), by the end of the 21st century. This could increase flooding to affect more than 94 million people from 13 million today. More than 60% increase will affect South Asia and Sri Lanka will bear the brunt along with India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and others in the region. In Sri Lanka, the coastal areas account for 80% of tourism-related activity and about 60% of all industrial towns and factories established within the last 40 years. As a result, Sri Lanka’s exposure to sea level rise is already serious.
Increasing temperatures, like rising sea levels, pose a myriad of risks, especially to agriculture and energy. One of the more optimistic climate change scenarios expects an increase of temperature ranging from 1.7-4.4 degrees. This will invariably result in more droughts and threaten food supplies. For instance, by 2050, the dry-low regions, which account for a bulk of agriculture, rice yields could decline by about 16% during the Maha season, and about 19% in the Yala season. Moreover, rising temperatures will increase demand for energy (for cooling) while simultaneously affecting hydroelectric capacities, which currently account for more than half the country’s electricity. In a broader context, even the more conservative estimates energy demand-supply gap of about 0.5 TWh by 2050 (1 TWh is roughly enough energy to power a city of 200,000 people for an entire year). These are amongst the more serious risks the country faces and it must acknowledge the demand and supply pressure for energy.
Negative climate shocks do not automatically lead to vulnerability
The most pessimistic estimates of costs required to adapt to climate change hover around 1.2% of GDP per year by 2050 (roughly about $4 billion an year, assuming the GDP grows to about $333 billion by 2050), albeit assuming the world doesn’t implement any mitigation action, which is highly unlikely. Even more optimistic estimates, however, cannot ignore adaptation costs altogether. Despite the potential gloom, the costs of climate resulting from impacts such as sea level rise and increasing temperatures, need not translate to vulnerability. This is because vulnerability depends on various social, economic and political circumstances, and the status of a risk management system that combines mechanism to prepare and cope negative climate shocks.
Sri Lanka can reduce vulnerability by reducing its exposure, improving its internal conditions and enhancing its risk management (preparation and coping mechanisms). Building a diverse and sustainable economy is perhaps the best option available to Sri Lanka and the National Adaptation Plan is an important component of such an option.
Research Fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, Dr. Athula Senaratna mentioned that in its basic form, “the National Adaptation Plan for Sri Lanka builds on the guidelines of the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC), the most important UN body responsible for working on global climate change initiatives and treaties.” He further explained that it also “builds on previous plans such as the National Climate Change Policy (2012), the National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy 2011-2016 (2010) and the National Climate Change Adaptation Plan (2014). The National Climate Change Secretariat (CCS) guides the process with support from the National Expert Committee on Climate Change and partners from civil society, government ministries, academia and the private sector.”
“Sri Lanka has already completed a lot of preparatory work on climate change including Sector Vulnerability Profiles (SVPs) and a Technological Needs Assessment (TNA). The areas of concern identified in these processes have set the stage for the initial scope of Sri Lanka’s adaptation plan: programmatic areas, sectorial planning issues and regional planning issues,” explained National Experts Committee on Climate Change Adaptation, Professor Buddhi Marambe (University of Peradeniya). “Programmatic areas include everything from policy and governance to resource mobilisation and disaster risk reduction. Sectorial issues focus on specific sectors such as bio diversity, health, ecosystems, tourism, and water resources. Regional planning issues examine climate impacts and responses at provincial, district and local government levels. The ultimate goal is to use the constituent features of the plan to push climate change adaptation into the political and social mainstream.”
Introducing the Joint Principles of Adaptation
Sri Lanka’s National Adaptation Plan is a risk management tool to address impending climate impacts but to ensure that such a tool is as effective as possible; the Joint Principles of Adaptation are a valuable resource. “The JPA provide partners of the adaptation process a toolkit that allow them to evaluate the national adaptation plan to ensure that it is inclusive and consultative, accountable and transparent, flexible and robust, and pays attention to marginalised and vulnerable groups.” Policy Analyst at the Climate Action Network South Asia, Vositha Wijenayake. “Ideally, this would be useful to constantly improve the JPA process over time. Moreover, since the JPA is a global initiative, the standardisation of the basic principles will also help countries like Sri Lanka compare its adaptation progress with other countries and perhaps learn and share valuable lessons.”
A working NAP for a climate resilient future
Sri Lanka has invested a lot of energy and expertise in preparing its NAP and the tremendous effort taken to coordinate the design and implementation of the strategy will likely be an ongoing process, improving with time. There is a great deal of optimism riding with the NAP process in Sri Lanka but continued vigilance is necessary.
Sri Lanka can never really avoid all the possible impacts created by climate change. Nor can it afford to ignore them. What is important, however, is that Sri Lanka’s early investments in a clean, diverse and sustainable economy will help cushion climate impacts and help maintain the development goals it has strived to achieve over the last 60 years. Failing to adapt to climate change is a threat to the future and a betrayal of the past.