What can be done about sea-level rise in Sri Lanka?
Sea-level rise matters a lot for a country like ours. We are an island nation, so every inch in the coastal belt is getting affected and our agriculture is in deep trouble when we especially look at coastal agriculture areas.
A lot of measures are being taken to make sure that coastal erosion is minimized to the best possible extent around the country, and there are two ways that we are trying to tackle the impact on agriculture.
One way is to make sure that we have crop varieties that are tolerant to changing conditions, especially for rice paddies. That’s a major staple crop, so we are making an effort to breed rice varieties that will suit different climate conditions in our country that are, for example, varieties that are saline-tolerant.
The second is that the country is working hard to make sure that we have investments that protect our coastal areas and communities from erosion. This is especially important for a country like ours working on a very thin budget margin.
What is being done in terms of climate adaptation policies?
Sri Lanka adopted its National Climate Change Policy in 2012, which is helping tackle both mitigation and adaptation. We also adopted our first National Adaptation Plan in 2016 and we have already submitted our Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
When you look at preparedness, Sri Lanka also has an established Disaster Management Centre. Early warning systems are extremely important for us, both the Disaster Management Centre and Cabinet Ministers have already agreed upon disaster management action plans which mainly look at extreme weather patterns that Sri Lanka has experienced in the past. We have learned quite a lot from the 2004 tsunami.
Now tsunamis aren’t as frequent an event when compared to extreme weather conditions, but I think Sri Lanka is well positioned in terms of policy, plans, and systems, and we need to keep addressing implementation gaps. A lot of experimental activities are going on and trials are being done to make sure that we keep people informed.
We are an island nation, so every inch in the coastal belt is getting affected and our agriculture is in deep trouble.
What capacity does Sri Lanka have to adopt early warning systems routinely and effectively?
That’s the million-dollar question. Capacity in the sense of constant developments and continuous upgrades is key. In the past seven years, I’ve seen that Sri Lanka has the necessary capacity and technology, but we need to keep making continuous upgrades to keep all the people prepared.
More important is ensuring public trust in early warning systems – this is a very important part and Sri Lanka needs assistance from different countries and parties to keep this trust by sharing new knowledge and technologies.
Sri Lanka, as an island nation, has the highlands in the center, and the overall ecosystem dictates that when the west is wet, the east is dry, and vice versa. Because of this, it has been extremely difficult for us to predict the climate, even in the short run.
The feasibility of achieving the climate targets at this time frame is the biggest problem that we have. The political will is there but we are working on a very thin budget margin, yet we consider this a big priority in our country.
Professor Marambe spoke with ADPC at the 26th Conference of Parties (COP-26) in Glasgow, United Kingdom.