Assessing Sri Lanka’s State Response Readiness to Mitigate Climate Disasters

Climate Change Scenario

Contemporary humanity is experiencing discernible impacts of a changing climate and extreme weather events. The inevitable consequences of anthropogenic climate change often expressed as loss and damage, along with adaptation and mitigation, have become indispensable topics of climate policy discourse. 

Though climate-related disasters have become a global phenomenon, their manifestation has varied across regions, wherein the island countries have some specific concerns. The small island nation Sri Lanka located in the Indian Ocean has a total land area of 65,610 km2, with as many as 48 climatic zones with varied dimensions. 

The country has been facing severe extreme climatic events and disasters year after year such as cyclones, monsoonal rain, and subsequent flooding and landslides. Despite being an island, the country observes similar climatic change like that of the high Himalayas. In the Himalayan region, during previous century, average temperatures have increased between 1 to 2 degree Celsius, leading to melting of glaciers and eventual flooding of the foothills. Sri Lanka recorded gradual rise in mean temperature by 0.20 C between 1961 to 2001, which is expected to rise to 20 C by 2060, and that may cause sea level to rise in the range of 0.2 to 0.6 meter by 2060 as compared to average of 1971-2010. Rising sea level has a potential threat to inundate the low-lying coastal areas, leading to enormous loss of lives and property and leaving many of them homeless, landless and poor.  

With the rising gap between day and night temperature, erratic rainfall, frequent occurrence of flood and draught and intensity of cyclonic events, a stronger climate resilient disaster management policy is crucial. Sri Lanka’s policy on risk reduction and response mechanism is therefore of vital importance as individual efforts can hardly mitigate any large-scale disaster except for gradual adaptation as an option for reducing personal damage. Not only the property and crop damage, climate disaster in the coastal plains also brings about epidemics through waterlogging and contaminating the drinking water sources. This has enormous socio-economic implications especially for the remote communities and region, low-income households and gender dynamics.

The State Response Mechanism

Being an upper-middle income country with a small population of around 22 million, and the Sri Lankan policy to generate almost half of its energy needs from the renewable resources, greenhouse gas emission well within the limits. Furthermore, its target is to reduce GHG emission by 20% till 2030 through utilization of more and more non-conventional sources. Since fuel consumption in transport, which is another significant contributor of Green House Gas emission, has increased 3 times during 1990 to 2015. Keeping in mind the rising transport demand more fuel efficient, low carbon vehicles, and public transport systems are being encouraged. 

The Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) were introduced in 2015 under the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment in Sri Lanka as the National Focal Point to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) adopted in line with the Kyoto Protocol (adopted in 1997 and effective from 2005), Hyogo Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction (2005-15), Paris Agreement (2016). The primary objectives are to identify the policy gaps, institutional gaps, improve human technical capacity and provide technical as well as financial support to achieve the targets by 2030. NDCs of Sri Lanka is being implemented under the guidance of the Climate Change Commission of Sri Lanka, in coordination with the aforesaid ministry.

The following measures are covered under the following categories:

1. Mitigation Measures – By adopting sector-wise measures e.g., energy (generation of electricity), transportation mode and mechanism, industry, waste management, forestry etc. to reduce GHG emissions along with maintenance of production of goods and services. Sri Lanka has already adopted a policy to gradually abolish the use of coal for energy by 2030.
2. Adaptation – Adopting climate resilient various policies on healthcare, food security measures, agriculture, livestock and fisheries, water and irrigation, coastal area management, biodiversity, urban infrastructure, human settlement, tourism and recreation.
3. Loss and Damage – Adopting local mechanism being developed in accordance with the Warsaw International Mechanism and introducing insurance schemes to recover the loss and damage resulting from extreme weather events. 
4. Means of Implementation – that requires external support for finance for achieving the set of targets and technological development and transfer in order of mitigation and adaptation without giving much burden on the country’s socio-economic development. Also, capacity building through human resource development and institutional support mechanism are important in the implementation process of NDCs. 

Major Areas of Concern

NDCs identified 7 most vulnerable sectors for the implementation of adaptation strategies. These are health, food security (agriculture, livestock and fisheries), water and irrigation, coastal and marine area, biodiversity, urban infrastructure and human settlement and tourism & recreation. Among these extreme climatic disaster affects mostly the agriculture and fishery sector. Thus, following strategies have been identified for adaptation and implementation in these two sectors. 

For agricultural adaptation, the mechanism is to (1) develop Integrated pest management practices for the pest control, (2) develop climate resilient, heat, drought, flood, salt tolerant varieties of crops, (3) demarcate Agro-Ecological Regions in Sri Lanka with current and future climate, and recommend appropriate crops for different areas to reduce vulnerability, and (4) introduce suitable land and water management practices for central highlands and other marginal areas to minimize land degradation.
This requires rehabilitation of the cascade system of the dry zone, introduction of livestock species, production systems processing, promotion of traditional knowledge and practices of livestock, technological innovations and dissemination of knowledge and technological innovation and extension. 

Fishery sector requires measures for adaptation through (1) fish barricade devices for perennial reservoir to prevent fish escape and identification of vulnerable perennial reservoirs, (2) cryopreservation for stocking fish sperms for artificial breeding, (3) identification of the suitable species, (4) conversion of existing open breeding facilities into indoor facilities, (4) appropriate fish fingerlings stock enhancement and (5) identification of suitable species, new reservoirs, capacity development for fingerling breeding. 
This requires development of temperature tolerant species to aquaculture and promotion of mariculture; research and development and minimization of the aquatic pollution owing to water scarcity in lagoons and inlands water bodies.


The measures are expected to achieve self-sufficiency in food and nutritional security along with the reduction in climate change related risk and disaster. The states’ policy on mitigating energy requirement with reduced carbon credit, replacing coal by 2030 and using non-conventional sources, energy efficient vehicles and mass public transportation is a vital move towards sustainable progress with climate risk aversion. 

Since climate change causes mostly the hydrometeorological disasters, the countries in South Asia including Sri Lanka need to apply the development approaches integrating with disaster management strategies. In most of the developing countries climate change and disasters have been ignored in broad-based development activities framework especially in the early stages. Disasters have been considered as uncertain phenomena and tackled through emergency response, like responding to flash floods as is common in most of South Asian countries. Neither the development programs have been assessed in the context of disasters – Sendai framework for action new approach “Manage disaster risk rather than managing disasters”. 

However, the climate change issues, global warming, sea level rise are the global externalities associated with the human anthropogenic activities across the countries and emissions of GHG gas, deforestation etc. Sri Lanka barely contributes (0.1%) to the global GHG emissions and majority of the negative externality is created due to the industrial and consumption activities in the developed world. Hence, a concerted effort of all the nations with more participation of rich, technologically advanced nations in the form of resource allocation and technological support is essential.

Global communities should act together not by looking at the disaster faced by the nations but for being the major cause of externality. For the capacity building and disaster preparedness, technological dissemination must commensurate with the states’ policy in accordance with the internationally agreed formula that have been arrived at in various conventions like UNFCCC Paris Agreement, Kyoto Protocol etc.       

Prof Rekha Nianthi 1
The State of Economic Development in South Asia – #EconDevDiscussion on Nationally Determined Contributions to Climate Change in Sri Lanka

This report is an extract from the Lecture on Nationally Determined Contributions to Climate Change in Sri Lanka delivered by Prof K. W. G. Rekha Nianthi of University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka on 23/10/2020 in The State of Economic Development in South Asia #EconDevDiscussion Series, organized by South Asian Studies Center (SASC) at Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi, Counterview as Media Partner and Centre for Development Communication & Studies (CDECS), Jaipur.