Rethinking climate change adaptation in Sri Lanka
The year 2020 has been transformative. The COVID-19 pandemic, and other climate change-induced disasters and hazards that came about during the year have torn what we have typically considered our social fabric.
While the pandemic raged on, our oceans continued warming, glaciers kept melting and our biodiversity and natural ecosystems continued to deteriorate. It has challenged us to rethink our approaches to development, and to look at recovery through the lens of social and climate justice.
Marking the 5th anniversary of the Paris Agreement
Ahead of the Climate Ambition Summit which marks the 5th anniversary of the Paris Agreement – where countries have pledged to reduce national emissions and adapt to climate change impacts by keeping global temperature rise to 1.5°C - a multitude of climate talks, dialogues and campaigns are being held to take stock of where we currently are, and to chart new commitments and multi-sectoral solutions to achieve net-zero by 2030.
Such global ambition is commendable as it generates attention around the issue and brings hope in finding solutions to mitigate the effects of climate change. It is abundantly clear that the threat of climate change is now a severe crisis and is already affecting millions of people. The effects of cyclone Burevi in the northern region of Sri Lanka is, unfortunately, a prime example of how natural hazards, pandemics and epidemics and other resultant losses and damages will compound on communities and the world over.
Need for urgent climate action
Adaptation Week, held from 30th November to 4th December 2020, highlighted this urgent necessity of climate action and the need for a resilient and green recovery. As COVID-19 made apparent, our health, economies and climate change are all interconnected, requiring intertwined and holistic solutions. Therefore, to leave no one behind, our adaptation efforts must address and inculcate a green economic recovery including efforts to enhance innovative climate financing, food and water security, disaster mitigation and preparedness, climate-resilient livelihood development, nature-based solutions to development, ecosystem conservation and climate-conscious governance.
Towards green recovery in Sri Lanka
While climate change adaptation takes many different forms, in Sri Lanka, adaptation means empowering local smallholders, ensuring food and water security, biodiversity conservation, sustainable biomass energy production and increased disaster risk reduction and management.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Sri Lanka as the leading UN organization working to end the injustice of poverty, inequality and climate change, supports the Government of Sri Lanka on all these fronts. For instance, to empower and increase the climate resilience of the vulnerable populations like the smallholders in the country, UNDP’s projects work on climate-smart livelihood development.
Together with our partners, these interventions specifically focus on increasing the resilience of the most vulnerable demographics including women. In a similar vein, strengthening the resilience of smallholder farmers in Sri Lanka’s Dry Zone to climate variability and extreme events by capitalizing and improving the traditional local tank systems of cascades (or “ellangawa” in Sinhalese) is another adaptation effort.
On the biodiversity conservation front, UNDP identifies Environmentally Sensitive Areas to conserve globally significant ecosystems that are outside protected areas. These activities are carried out by partnering with local communities through sustainable management strategies in agriculture and tourism. Similarly, UNDP works in three ecologically sensitive areas in the country, namely; the Colombo wetlands, the Knuckles world heritage site and the coastal region from Mannar to Jaffna, and provides financial and technical support to projects that conserve and restore the environment while enhancing people's well-being and livelihoods.
On the energy front, UNDP promotes sustainable biomass energy production and modern bio energy technologies as a substitute for imported fossil fuels to reduce Sri Lanka’s carbon footprint. Most recently, as part of UNDPs Climate Promise, UNDP is working with the Government of Sri Lanka to revise Sri Lanka’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) which are each countries’ self-defined targets towards the Paris Agreement. Sri Lanka is contributing to this global effort by formulating more ambitious NDCs to help limit global warming and set the world on a path towards sustainable development.
The achievements, and what we’ve learned from these projects about what works and what doesn’t is the blueprint to successful and transformative adaptation action. However, the dynamics of potential climate change-induced risks are becoming more and more unpredictable, and severe in nature. Therefore, inclusive and sustainable adaptation action, that centers the wellbeing of our communities, is crucial to our small island nation.
Climate change induced weather events we are facing currently are signals; this Decade of Action, it’s time to get to work and examine how our adaptation action can deliver resilience and, climate and social justice – for both people and planet.
This article first appeared on UNDP Sri Lanka's website.