- As highlighted by the newest IPCC AR6 WGII report,the South Asian region, including Sri Lanka, is particularly vulnerable to the hazardous effects of climate change. The report emphasizes the strong and highly context-specific impacts of climate change on vulnerable countries such as Sri Lanka.
- The region’s mass dependency on climate-sensitive livelihoods such as rural, non-industrialized agrarianism, fisheries, aquaculture, and forestry further exacerbates the vulnerability of its human systems.
- Climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts are vital to address the risks and challenges on human systems associated with climate change. If implemented in evidence-based and participatory ways, adaptation measures can generate a wide range of additional benefits to livelihoods, food security, human wellbeing, and ecosystem conservation.
- In addition to mitigation and adaptation, climate-induced loss and damage is also highlighted as a key area to focus on, including both economic and non-economic losses and damages as well as those to natural ecosystems.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was created jointly by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) in 1988. Since then, the IPCC has been involved in the compiling of assessment reports on the status of climate science with implications for climate policy-making with the involvement of hundreds of international experts. The IPCC’s assessment reports bring together peer-reviewed science of the relevant thematic areas of focus and offers a comprehensive overview of the state of climate science in the world. There are six reports published so far, with the most recent output being the Sixth Assessment Report’s second working group (AR6 WGII) contribution titled: “Climate Change 2022 Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability.”
The fifth IPCC assessment report published in 2014 highlighted the fact that humans are the main cause of global warming and provided an overview of the current and projected global impacts of climate change. The IPCC AR6 WGII report updates these findings and additionally puts a special focus on the regional and sectoral impacts of climate change, making it a very valuable resource for regional and national adaptation planning.
The IPCC AR6 WGII report has identified several categories of risks including risks in the near term (2021-2040), mid- to long-term risks (2041-2100), and risks that are compounding, complex, and cascading. The report defines “risk” as “the potential for adverse consequences for human or ecological systems, recognizing the diversity of values and objectives associated with such systems.”
The three main elements of risk are hazards, exposure, and vulnerability, with hazards being events which cause danger to humans and the physical environment, while exposure is understood to be the presence of humans and the physical environment with potential to be affected. The third element, vulnerability, describes the inclination to be adversely affected by hazards, which can be influenced by the presence or absence of coping and adaptative capacities.
Global warming reaching 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures in the near term is recognized as an imminent risk. It could also be called an overall compounding risk, as climate change causes multiple risks which are cascading across different regions and sectors. For example, South Asia has been identified as a global hotspot for climate-related disasters and vulnerability with key vulnerable sectors such as agriculture, water, coastal, marine, health, and energy.
Climate-induced risks and vulnerabilities in South Asia include water insecurity caused by hydrological changes, precipitation variability, and changes in streamflows; food insecurity and nutrient deficiencies due to declining crop yields and prolonged dry spells; the depletion of terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems; high frequency flood risks; expansion of vector-borne diseases such as dengue; heat stress; and others. Estimates suggest that climate change could result in a significant loss of GDP over the course of the century as well as increased climate-induced migration and internal displacement across South Asia.
According to the report, imminent climate risks to natural and human systems will be determined by the intrinsic vulnerabilities, resilience, and adaptability of these systems rather than general emissions-driven climate change scenarios. For example, coastal regions, human settlements closer to upper thermal limits, and settlements in the vicinity of glaciers and riverbeds are more vulnerable to climate-induced risks.
This observation is pertinent to Sri Lanka as an island nation, where certain coastal regions are vulnerable to rising sea levels while other parts of the country experience droughts, landslides, and floods in varying degrees, causing disruptions to economic activities and resulting in adverse socio-economic consequences. The IPCC report also projects climate-related price volatility and price spikes for food staples such as rice and wheat as well as the extinction of endemic species as likely impacts for Sri Lanka over the coming decades.
Climate change adaptation is the process of adjustment to actual or expected climatic changes through human intervention, adaptation planning, and disaster risk management. In the long run, resilience can be built to cope with hazardous events by expanding the capacities of social, economic, and environmental systems. However, the IPCC report has identified several main adaptation gaps, which are defined as “the difference between actually implemented adaptation and a societally set goal, determined largely by preferences related to tolerated climate change impacts and reflecting resource limitations and competing priorities.”
The report emphasizes adaptation gaps and challenges in cities and settlements with rich and poor urban populations for whom all conceivable adaptation measures might not be sufficient to address climate risks, particularly risks to water and food security. The inequalities regarding adaptation gaps for urban food security are highest in South Asia, Central Asia, and Africa. However, adaptation and development efforts have already reduced vulnerabilities in some places, with observed progress in adaptation planning and implementation across all sectors and regions. Ecosystem-based adaptation, for example, has been found to enhance adaptive capacities and climate resilience, particularly of vulnerable groups or communities, while generating multiple benefits to both human and natural systems.
The Sixth Assessment WGII report provides a comprehensive overview of the state of climate science and offers key insights relevant to developing countries in South Asia, particularly coastal states. While there are many takeaways for Sri Lanka from the report, one key highlight is the importance of acting in context-specific ways, take national, regional, and international commitments seriously, and pay close attention to vulnerable demographics when formulating and implementing climate-related policies.
The National Adaptation Plan for Climate Change Impacts in Sri Lanka 2016-2025 presents a variety of adaptation gaps such as information gaps, technological gaps, policy and governance gaps, institutional and coordination gaps, and resource mobilization gaps. The IPCC report provides an opportunity for Sri Lanka to galvanize grassroots communities for enhanced understanding, awareness, and advocacy on climate change and climate action, particularly among the agrarian and coastal communities most vulnerable to climate risks. These communities are also critical contributors to Sri Lanka’s food security and face a multitude of challenges due to climate-related risks as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, it is important for government entities and other organizations that focus on climate issues to work closely with affected communities to gather, synthesize, and make sense of data that could potentially aid climate policy formulation and interventions.
The IPCC report suggests that for collective local and indigenous resilience in island communities, strong social safety nets and social capital are required together with an adequate flow of information on how to adapt and build resilience in the face of climate change. A lack of knowledge on the fundamentals of climate change and how it impacts livelihoods and socio-economic development in the long run can be particularly problematic for the formulation of effective policies and plans. Therefore, it would be important to generate more awareness of climate change impacts on humans, ecosystems, the economy throughout all levels of society and create a commitment to climate adaptation across different vulnerable sectors.
Sri Lanka’s agrarian economy which faces these climate hazards require considerable attention. More research and development for climate-smart agriculture and incentives are needed. In addition, it is important to ensure an equitable distribution of and access to technologies for climate-smart agriculture. Viable public-private partnerships to make such resources accessible to farmers as well as regional or transboundary actions to address region-specific problems have been further identified by the report as potential measures to be taken.
The findings of the IPCC report provide a basis for actionable and practical solutions that can close identified gaps and vulnerabilities, presenting a way forward to enhance climate change adaptation and resilience-building in Sri Lanka and across the world.
SLYCAN Trust is a non-profit think tank. It has been a registered legal entity in the form of a trust since 2016, and a guarantee limited company since 2019. The entities focus on the thematic areas of climate change, adaptation and resilience, sustainable development, environmental conservation and restoration, social justice, and animal welfare. SLYCAN Trust’s activities include legal and policy research, education and awareness creation, capacity building and training, and implementation of ground level action. SLYCAN Trust aims to facilitate and contribute to multi-stakeholder driven, inclusive and participatory actions for a sustainable and resilient future for all.