In a world full of climate risks, Sri Lanka is finding ways to adapt

  • In a landscape of interconnected and interconnected risks, climate change has emerged as a key risk factor for Sri Lanka, particularly for vulnerable sectors and groups.
  • Risk management frameworks must acknowledge and incorporate these emerging risks. While Sri Lanka already has risk management mechanisms and tools in place, there are opportunities to scale up these mechanisms, close existing gaps, and mobilize mechanisms for further implementation.
  • Sri Lanka is in the process of strengthening its national environmental policy on climate change, including through global and international processes that will help remove barriers and improve risk management in the country.
  • Key areas to improve and future-proof Sri Lanka’s risk management framework include awareness creation, education and enabling the broader environment; multi-stakeholder collaboration and decision-making processes; using new and innovative risk management tools; and linking the national to the international level, such as the UN Climate Change Convention negotiations or the Global Shield Initiative.

At 21St In the century, Sri Lanka faces an increasingly complex and interconnected landscape of risks. Climate change – along with environmental degradation, biodiversity loss, pollution, supply chain disruptions and other economic challenges – is one of the primary causes of risks affecting all sectors and levels, from individual households to entire industries.

The Sixth Assessment Report The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the international body for assessing climate science, published that „without rapid, deep and sustained mitigation and rapid adaptation measures, losses and damages will continue to increase … and will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable populations.” The report identifies South Asia as one of the „highest human vulnerability global hotspots” in a warming world and highlights that low-income households are particularly at risk across the region.

„In Sri Lanka, the spatial and temporal variability of the seasonal rainfall regime with frequent occurrence of extreme weather events and the slow and steady pace of ambient temperature are the main climate risks experienced in the current and future climate,” explains Ranjith. Punyawardena, Chairman, National Steering Committee on Climate Change Adaptation and former Principal Scientist and Director, Department of Agriculture.

Long-term climate changes and sudden extreme weather events such as floods, storms and landslides pose significant risks to all human lives and livelihoods in Sri Lanka. However, certain sectors, regions and groups such as women, children, the elderly and people with special needs are particularly vulnerable and affected.

A climate policy expert working on youth empowerment in Sri Lanka and internationally is one example: “Youth represent 24% of the population in Sri Lanka and are affected by climate change. Climate risks, including the risk of natural disasters, can hinder their access to resources and result in economic and financial instability and challenges related to education, livelihoods, food security and health.

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The agriculture sector is a priority sector for climate risk management, both due to its high vulnerability and its importance to Sri Lanka. Photo by Dennis Mombauer.

The changing landscape of risks

To protect vulnerable populations and sectors, risk management systems must keep pace with the accelerating pace of climate change and the worsening climate crisis. As the IPCC Assessment Report points out, „Although adaptation has borne some climate impacts, soft and hard adaptation thresholds have already been reached in some sectors and regions,” mainly due to financial, governance, institutional and policy constraints.

Risk management involves a variety of sectoral tools, many of which have become a topic of public debate, such as insurance, bonds, climate change debt, and others. From risk prevention to risk finance, these tools and mechanisms all start with risk awareness, risk literacy, data and understanding. „Meteorological advisories and disaster warnings are issued by the country’s mandatory agencies from time to time and when the need arises,” Punyawardena explains. „This improves the preparedness of communities and allows them to better respond to climate-induced risks.”

Based on risk information, advice and early warning, other mechanisms can reduce, modify or otherwise address climate risks. Astrid Zwick, Associate Director Global Shield Secretariat, provides some examples: “Mechanisms such as parametric insurance provide governments, businesses and individuals with rapid access to financing immediately after a disaster strikes. Contingency financing is another quick disbursement option post-disaster that allows governments to quickly act and respond to a climate event. The idea behind these pre-arranged financial solutions is to provide quick liquidity to governments or individuals after a natural disaster occurs. In this way, the impacts of these events can be mitigated through immediate action.

In Sri Lanka, existing risk management mechanisms include the Compulsory Crop Insurance Scheme, the National Natural Disaster Insurance Scheme and several social security schemes. However, as Punyawardhana points out, there is room for improvement: „Spatial resolution and lead time of forecasting and early warnings still require quantum improvement. This will enable the private sector to handle risk transfer portfolios and enter the insurance business with climate-focused insurance products. By addressing the barriers identified in the IPCC report, Existing tools can be further developed or scaled up – and work is already underway for this purpose.

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Low-income rural households are particularly vulnerable to climate risks. Image courtesy SLYCAN Trust.

Finding solutions for the age of climate change

As the IPCC report points out, if current constraints, including those related to governance, institutions and policies, are addressed, the soft limits of adaptation can be pushed further. To this end, Sri Lanka is working to strengthen its national environmental policy on climate change through a new climate law, a new national climate change policy, and an update. Nationally Determined Contributions and its localization National Adaptation Plan.

Sri Lankans Climate Prosperity ProjectIt was started by President Ranil Wickremesinghe At the UN Climate Change Conference in November 2022, aims to “enhance climate protection against key risks” and promote risk-informed investment. It includes a commitment to developing a rapid adaptation strategy for sectors most exposed to climate risks, such as agriculture or fisheries, and a comprehensive risk financing strategy.

Especially the UN regarding climate change. In the context of ongoing global negotiations on Loss and Damage Funding under the Framework Convention (UNFCCC), It was established at the 2022 Climate Change Conference, such initiatives are important to link national to regional and global processes. This includes Loss and Damage Fund, but also other related sites, partnerships and forums. For example, the A global shield against climate risks It is a collaborative partnership between the Group of Twenty and Seven Vulnerable States, of which Sri Lanka is a member, that aims to scale up action and support to address climate-related risks and climate-related loss and damage. solutions.

Zwick explains: “Global Shield’s ambition is to strategically collaborate with partner countries to develop comprehensive and relevant solutions. To this end, Global Shield facilitates inclusive consultation processes that help governments identify solutions that address their specific security needs. The role of international initiatives such as Global Shield is to help governments take the lead in this process and help them access internationally available expertise and support.

Engaging all sectors and stakeholder groups is essential for a holistic risk management framework that can address climate risks and protect the most vulnerable. „Youth represent one-fourth of the population and have a significant role to play in making the nation more risk-averse and resilient,” says Adiriweera. „Climate action in Sri Lanka can focus on youth, from building their own resilience to engaging them as key stakeholders in building overall resilience. Active and sustained engagement of youth will lead them to become key stakeholders and play an active role in policy-making, where they address the needs and concerns of their generation and future generations. Can contribute to doing.

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As seen here in the landslide-hit Kegala district, climate impacts can lead to displacement of people from their homes. Photo courtesy of Sanjaya Mendis for SLYCAN Foundation.

Building a sustainable future

Youssef Nassef, Director of the UNFCCC Adaptation Program, outlines the main challenge: „The global nature of climate change and its associated risks requires us to rethink our approach to risk management of climate-related extreme events, traditionally focusing on individual risks that are more holistic and interconnected, layered and long-term. Time trends; from an approach where policy boundaries are limited to individual countries, to an approach that recognizes that climate change is our world as infinite and therefore requires a transboundary response. An effective response to ecological crises, including climate change, will necessarily be multi-level, trans-boundary, multi-risk and forward-looking.

Engaging different stakeholders and linking the national to the international level can contribute to creating a successful risk management framework, Zwick explained: „A sense of ownership for these solutions at the governmental level is first needed. Once this is achieved, it is about bringing local stakeholders on board: local to understand where financial protection is most needed and to learn from existing efforts. We urgently need the knowledge of communities, researchers and financial service providers.”

Also, investing in an environment that implements risk management solutions is critical. „Engaging in education, awareness creation and knowledge dissemination processes, and building capacities and capabilities for resilient and sustainable practices will help Sri Lanka address the increasing impacts of climate change and the loss and damage caused by climate,” says Edirweera.

The challenge lies in bringing these elements together: creating an enabling environment, building partnerships and mobilizing funding and expertise to create a holistic, multi-risk, multi-level and perspective framework that will help Sri Lanka adapt to current and projected impacts. Climate change.


IPCC, 2023: Climate Change 2023: Synthesis Report. Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Core Writing Team, H. Lee and J. Romero (eds.)]. IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland, (in press).

Banner image: Landslide hazard affects many districts of Sri Lanka and can have severe impacts on human settlements and livelihoods. Photo courtesy of Sanjaya Mendis for SLYCAN Foundation.

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