While climate change has disastrous effects on Sri Lanka and with the country unable to stop its impact, the public can prepare for these changes, safeguard themselves from them and mitigate the impact.
The observations were made by Dr. Lalanath de Silva, Attorney-at-Law and Head, Independent Business Mechanism, Green Climate Fund while addressing the Annual CEO Forum of the Sri Lanka Business and Biodiversity platform held last week at Hotel Ramada, Colombo. He was making personal comments which doesn’t represent the views of the Green Climate Fund.
Sri Lanka has a record of droughts, floods, geographic changes to vector borne diseases (brought by insects, etc), coastal erosion, tropical storms, lightening, crop failures, landslides and siltation of reservoirs which are related to temperature and rainfall changes.
He indicated that the cost of climate change costs billions of dollars as in the case of the coconut industry in Sri Lanka in the wet zone where major losses would occur.
“Without extra adaptation measures this is predicted to result in a loss to the industry of Rs. 4,795 million annually by 2020, which is nearly 4.7 per cent of the total value of the industry at equilibrium,” he said.
Coastal erosion is due to sea level rise, river-bed sand mining and unplanned coastal building activities resulting in adverse impacts on the environment, citizens, infrastructure, businesses, and the national budget.
Quoting a report from the Asian Development Bank and UK Aid, he said that tropical and subtropical regions of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Sri Lanka are projected to be vulnerable to increasing temperature and CO2 level, with a decline in rice yields as much as 23 per cent by 2080.
Citing a June 2017 World Bank report, he said that over the long term, annual losses for housing, infrastructure, agriculture, and relief from natural disasters are estimated at Rs. 50 billion with the highest annual expected losses from floods at Rs. 32 billion, cyclones or high winds at Rs. 11 billion, droughts at Rs. 5.2 billion and landslides at Rs.1.8 billion.
To overcome these challenges the report suggests that it is of utmost importance for Sri Lanka to reduce its impact of disasters and to deal with the impact when disaster strikes.
To improve physical resilience, the World Bank is supporting the Government’s Climate Resilience Improvement Project (CRIP) and recommends that the country should identify current climate risk, and implement immediate risk mitigation interventions; Identify future drivers of risk and create basin-level long-term risk mitigation investment plans, followed by physical investments, he said.
He noted that in the last two decades climate change has played havoc with humanity facing major issues and the international community struggling to tackle the issues.
He said that though there are action plans on paper they are not implemented; and that to meet the issues there should be funds, policies and laws in place while the public should be educated. “Our agro-businesses, fisheries, local government institutions on the southern and western coast, businesses in vulnerable areas along the coast – including tourist hotels, and our plantation sectors will suffer massive adverse climate impacts and they will either fail and go bankrupt or suffer massive losses,” he said, adding that plans look great on paper, but remains impotent until acted upon and funded.
He drew attention to the need to create the right economic and political incentives and disincentives for climate adaptation. He said that the private sector should be proactive and influence the government to take climate change seriously and put adaptation on a war footing for their best financial and economic interests.
Dr. de Silva pointed out that the private sector must take unilateral action within the law to protect itself from climate impacts. He advised: “Don’t wait for the government, because when the impacts come it will be you who suffer the losses. Mitigate those losses now.”
He said that all this will work if only the country has a good climate and weather prediction early warning system in place and solid research is needed from the universities, IWMI (International Water Management Institute), IPS and other such centres of excellence.
Dr. de Silva pointed out the country’s Meteorology Department has remained a small unit with around Rs. 200 million annual expenditure. “For a nation that is as vulnerable to climate change as we are, this is a wholly inadequate budget for a department that is critical for our survival. We need this department to be revamped, upgraded and adequately funded as a top priority matter.”