|Hot and cold
issues of climate change
A look at Sri Lankan
strategic plans and surrounding world politics
Nuwara Eliya is a city most Europeans love to visit
after coming to Sri Lanka. One factor is the
historical and cultural richness. The other most
important factor is the cool pleasant climate.
This January Nuwara Eliya became cold. The tourists,
who came to Kandy, with an intention of visiting
Nuwara Eliya, mostly stayed in Kandy because of the
unbearable cold at Nuwara Eliya.
One day during January the city of Colombo too
became cool and indeed cold at night. The recorded
temperature was 18o Celsius. The sudden and extreme
deviations of climate are becoming common. Extreme
floods and extreme droughts are now becoming a fact
of life. Lush fields of rice, reaching its harvest
became submerged in a day or two in North Central
and Eastern Provinces during recent weeks. The
climate is showing its strength over the human
Are these events just isolated incidents or are
they a part of a large climatic incidence? This is
the question many experts now try to answer. The
recent events around the world give some indications
of a changed climate. The world climatic change
because of the global warming is now a known fact to
many. Because of the increase of carbon dioxide in
the atmosphere – largely due to industrialisation –
the world temperature is rising. The rising
temperature is melting the ice in the north and
south poles of the Earth, and as a result the sea
level is rising. The sea level rise may entirely
submerge some of the islands like Maldives.
Sri Lanka is also in a crucial state being an island
which is very sensitive to climatic conditions.
Sri Lanka has now drafted a national climate change
adaptation strategy from 2011 to 2016, with an
expert panel aided by ADB and facilitated by Climate
Change Secretariat of Ministry of Environment.
Now the Ministry of Environment is waiting for final
Cabinet approval for this. It is important to draw
attention to climate change especially before we are
too late to take actions and this is a positive
initiative taken by the authorities and interested
Climate change and development are not separate
issues. When we talk about development, environment
issues become a concern and one of the hottest
issues of environment today is the climate change.
It is utmost important to incorporate climate change
mitigation and adaptation strategies into the
country’s development programme. The years ahead are
very important for Sri Lanka, to achieve the
development goals, especially after the dawn of
peace. Therefore, this is the time we should be
talking about climate change and development issues.
Why is climate change important for development
goals in Sri Lanka? Climate change is an issue which
will impact directly on the development goals.
Development goals in Sri Lanka heavily depend on
sectors such as agriculture, fisheries, water,
health and urban development. Also, biodiversity and
natural resources play an important role. These very
areas are more or less impacted by climate change.
Some of the natural resources are presently under
threat by human activities and climate change will
increase that threat on some of the ecosystems.
Some are of the view that there is a long time
before the repercussions of the climate change will
be felt. We should understand that some of the
climatic conditions in the recent past have given an
indication that present climatic conditions are
changing, even in Sri Lanka.
One observable phenomenon is the increased
frequency and intensity of natural hazards such as
droughts, floods and landslides. These natural
phenomena are causing much damage to the key
economic sectors such as agriculture, fisheries and
infrastructure. Also, another observable condition
is the vector-borne diseases which are increasing
and spreading widely. The changing climatic
conditions may create a favourable condition to
breed for the vectors such as mosquitoes.
It is a known fact that, in Sri Lanka, though the
concept is wide spread about the climate change, it
is still not incorporated into environmental and
development planning processes. For example,
Environment Impact Assessments have still not
incorporated the impacts and considerations of
climate change. Most development projects do not
consider the climate change as a noteworthy issue.
In this scenario present awakening shown by the
authorities is a positive signal.
The drafted national strategy looks into hotspots of
development such as human settlements and
urbanisation. The settlements along the coastal line
and the infrastructure such as roads and railways
are to be considered. It is indeed a key sector to
be discussed. Just like the tsunami, the
repercussions of climate change will come in one
fine day and the impact will be gradual and
continuous. The coastal road and railways should be
planned keeping in mind about the climate change.
One other economically important sector is the
agricultural sector. The rainfall pattern may be
affected by the climate change. This will effect the
paddy cultivation – which is cultivated according to
the traditional rainfall patterns. Yields may be
affected by the increase of drought and changes in
Water security for agriculture and other human
activities in the face of climate change is one
other major issue. Our water resources are still not
fully utilised in a sustainable manner. These
include the ancient manmade reservoirs. Given this
scenario, the water availability will be changed due
to the changed climatic conditions. The fresh water
quality will also be affected because of saline
water intrusion due to the sea level rise.
Climate change will also have an impact on the
fisheries industry. How the fisheries sector will be
affected is still under study. Fishing community
settlements will also get affected due to increased
erosion and sea level rise.
The effect on the infrastructure is another
important factor. Impacts of climate change are
still not considerations when it comes to the
construction industry. Some of the coastal
infrastructure such as roads and railways are
directly under threat by sea level rise.
The most recent event in climate change discussion
is the Cancún Summit held in Mexico. There the
governments met to negotiate again on cutting down
emissions. The situation has not changed much from
the past. The main concern of scientists today is
how to cut down the carbon dioxide emissions to keep
the global warming incidence at a lower level. The
industrialised nations are pointing their finger at
developing nations such as India and China, forcing
them to cut emissions.
What they do not seem to understand is the
developed nations are still polluting the
environment by increased carbon dioxide emissions.
When we calculate the per capita carbon dioxide
emissions (carbon dioxide emitted by each person),
still the industrialised nations are the highest
emitters. For example, the United States has less
than 5% of population and account for more than 20%
of global carbon dioxide emissions. India with
almost 17% of global population, accounts for less
than 5% of emissions.
Scientists and experts, especially in the Third
World, agree that the historical responsibility lies
more with the industrialised countries. Carbon
dioxide emitted to the atmosphere lasts for more
than 100 years. It is a known fact that the
industrialised nations emitted so much carbon
dioxide during their rapid phase of development in
the 19th century. It is estimated that rich
countries account for seven out of 10 tonnes of
carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Activists and environmentalists from Asia
strongly point out that the developing countries
must be given a chance to develop while cutting
emissions and developed countries must get their
emissions cut more than the developing countries.
They should invest more in renewable energy sources
to get the energy requirements.
Environmentalists such as Sunitha Narayan from
Centre of Science and Environment from India blame
the US and other developed countries for drafting
policies that always favour the rich countries.
Sunitha Narayan, writing to the Indian newspaper The
Tribune says, “Despite the talk going on about
renewable energy, the rich would remain seriously
addicted to the fossil fuels – coal, gas and oil –
for its industries and huge fleet of vehicles.”
Sunitha’s concern gives voice to the worry of the
entire developing world.
In late 1997, in terms the Kyoto Protocol,
industrial countries agreed to cut its emissions by
just 5.2% – which is below 1990 level – by
2008-2012. The world is still nowhere close to
achieving this reduction targets. This is because
the industrial world did not keep its promises. The
world’s largest polluter – the United States –
walked out of this agreement and some European
nations are finding it difficult to reach this
Present-day development models of the countries
create emissions. The developed nations got their
wealth by emitting huge amounts of gases to the
atmosphere, which is still contributing to the
climate change. The developing countries will add
some more stock to the atmosphere during their
development. Already, the nations which are
developed must realise that they should cut
emissions more to allow the developing countries to
reach their goals.
Thinking globally acting locally
Given the nature of the climate change, Sri Lanka
being an island nation cannot be in isolation. The
climate change is a global phenomenon. We should be
aware of world strategies and actions of the peer
countries, especially the developing countries
should get together to raise their voice
cumulatively. Though the larger policies are drafted
globally, the local communities have much to do
about the mitigation of impacts of climate change.
The coastal communities must get an understanding
about these phenomena and this will reduce future
conflicts. The farmers should look into different
systems of cultivation under environmental stress.
The researchers should find alternative methods of
farming, fishing and alternative energy sources. In
other words, now is the time to think globally and