SL experiencing climate change effects, says Sir Robert Tony Watson
The global climate will change in the present century swiftly at rates unprecedented in recent human history. The risks associated with these changes are real but highly variable. Societal vulnerability to the risks associated with the climate change may exacerbate ongoing social and economic challenges, particularly for those parts of societies dependent on resources that are sensitive to changes in climate. Risks are apparent in agriculture, fisheries, tourism and many other areas that are critical to the livelihood of both the rural and urban populations especially in developing countries such as Sri Lanka.
" All countries do suffer from climate change as it affects physical systems including the coral reef system, rainfall, rivers and lakes. However, when you consider the situation in Sri Lanka, it could be observed that the island is vulnerable to climate change. "
Sir Robert Tony Watson is a British chemist who has been described by the New York Times as “an outspoken advocate of the idea that human actions—mainly burning coal and oil—are contributing to global warming and must be changed to avert environmental upheavals,”.
During his recent visit to Sri Lanka he expressed his views with the on climate change, its consequences and how it affected the world and Sri Lanka in particular. He has worked on atmospheric science issues including ozone depletion, global warming and Paleo-climatology since the 1980s.
He was the former Director of the Science Division and Chief Scientist for the Office of Mission to Planet Earth at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
What is climate change?
Over the last 100 years or so, people across the world have released greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and they have changed what we call ‘radiation balance’ or ‘atmospheric temperature.’
As a result of this immoral practice, we have seen changes in the temperature, precipitation patterns as well as the sea level. This is climate change.
How has it affected Sri Lanka?
All countries do suffer from climate change as it affects physical systems including the coral reef system, rainfall, rivers and lakes. However, when you consider the situation in Sri Lanka, it could be observed that the island is vulnerable to climate change.
The most recent example that could be drawn is the drought that severely affected the whole of Sri Lanka. The country also saw the sea levels rise every now and then, thereby causing saltwater intrusion.
We also monitor changes in commodities like agriculture-based products. The current drive in Sri Lanka is having adverse impacts on paddy fields, and is giving a second chance to dreadful maladies including Dengue and Malaria to raise their ugly heads.
On a different note, we should also discern that Sri Lankans have a responsibility to protect its treasured forests and other natural resources.
The people should care for agriculture, coastal draws, and natural habitats and especially be conscious about conserving water as all these elements directly or indirectly impact on climate change.
As a scientist, how do you view the eco-system in Sri Lanka?
Sri Lanka is undoubtedly battered with a massive drought. When I toured the Yala National Park a fortnight ago, I was disappointed to see the tanks drained. We cannot, however, infer that this drought situation is solely due to human-induced climate change; although it significantly contributes to the cause. Anyhow, we should expect similar and much more destructive droughts in years to come.
It is now high time to think of an effective and long-lasting mechanism to conserve water as it affects the eco-system in Sri Lanka.
As global warming is considered an alarming situation, in your capacity, what do you recommend as safety measures to protect our nation from this danger?
I believe that all countries fall victim to human-induced climate change; the poor countries suffer the most. We see developed countries equipped with technological, financial and institutional capabilities to address climate change. In the Sri Lankan context, the main weakness I see is that the people fail to manage the freely-available water system. They should assure that water is not wasted.
The people of Sri Lanka should give serious thought to means of managing one’s agriculture, cropping and shifting into the right crop, rising sea levels, putting up seawalls, retreating land of the seabed and so forth, as they determine to what extent climate change affects the island nation.
We now find climate adaptation funds in abundance, which Sri Lanka could benefit from. Sri Lanka should improve on the efficient use of energy. The people should utilise the specified equipment and other apparatus in construction and transportation industries. Further, Sri Lanka should reap the harvest of technological advancements -- people should concentrate more on cost-effective channels of using renewable energy and what we call ‘modern bituminous.’ So what Sri Lanka needs to do is to reduce earth’s gas emission.
How can the public and private sectors contribute to save the green?
In my opinion, it is imperative that the administration works closely with the private sector. Climate change could be addressed only if the government puts in place apt policies, follows effective procedures and enforces stringent laws. It should encourage renewable energy and water resource management in agricultural practices. Then, the private sector will see opportunities in establishing advanced energy and irrigation schemes. Thus, both sectors will collaborate to mitigate climate change. It’s a win-win situation.
You reiterated many a time that humans were instrumental in causing climate change. Why?
Well, as individuals, all of us can use our energy more efficiently to deal with climate change. The public should push the government towards real action, and the industries towards ‘sustainability.’
As individuals, we can save energy, water and other valuable resources. We should exert pressure on the government and other responsible governing bodies for this worthy cause. The media would undoubtedly be an effective channel of approach. The people should be made aware of the subject and its consequences. They should know how destructive it could get if this practice was to continue. As I mentioned earlier, climate change is human-induced. Hence, the human race does not merely have a duty but a responsibility to resolve this dilemma.
Finally, what is the message you wish to convey to the world?
I would say climate change is a very serious issue that could affect everyone. With the height of technology, we surely have what it takes to address, or at least to limit, climate change. Thus, we should utilise renewable energy and adapt to climate change thereby managing water, agriculture and coastal zones more effectively.