The Need for Climate Change Adaptation in Sri Lanka

September 02, 2014

The Need for Climate Change Adaptation in Sri Lanka Weerasena is 64 years old. Hailing from a line of farmers for the past three generations, Weerasena’s wife and son of twelve, help him maintain their few patches of rice cultivation. However since of recent, Weerasena, who once made a decent harvest of paddy has not only realised a reduction in rice production but also run into financial difficulties as a result of it. Weerasena has found it increasingly difficult to pay his labourers and to purchase fertiliser from the local supplier. Moreover, it has also come into his notice that the harvest stored within the warehouses is spoilt sooner, due to the haphazard monsoons and scorching heat. Today, Weerasena and the other farmers are on a search for more climate resilient varieties of paddy, which would assure that they will have crops at the end of Yala season. 


The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) website defines Adaptation to Climate Change as “Practical steps to protect countries and communities from the likely disruption and damage that will result from effects of climate change.” Weerasena’s story is not a stand alone one, but the story of many farmers. The use of climate resilient crops in order to substitute for the losses caused by the change in climatic conditions is an example of effective climate change adaptation. The UNFCCC process has approved the preparation of the National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) “as a way to facilitate adaptation planning in Least Developing Countries (LDCs) and other developing countries.” In 2001, at the Conference of Parties (COP) 07, they established the LDC work programme to develop national climate change mechanisms to build capacity through the National Adaptation Plans of Action (NAPAs). However, by 2010 in Cancun, the UNFCCC agreed on NAPs for all countries, including LDCs and Developing to formulate the NAPs process taking into consideration loss and damage, institutional support, establishment of an Adaptation Committee (at global, regional and national levels) and effective stakeholder engagement. There are two primary objectives listed for NAPs:  To reduce vulnerability to the impacts of climate change, by building adaptive capacity and resilience;  To facilitate the integration of climate change adaptation, in a coherent manner, into relevant new and existing policies, programmes and activities, in particular development planning processes and strategies, within all relevant sectors and at different levels, as appropriate. The technical guidelines for preparing NAPs, tasked by the Least Developed Country Expert Group (LEG) are “not prescriptive” and entirely “country-owned and country-driven”. The guidelines have been primarily designed to effectively monitor and review the process regularly. The four primary elements include the following (they are further divided into four to five subtasks each):

  • Lay the groundwork and address gaps 
  • Preparatory elements 
  • Implementation strategies 
  • Reporting monitoring and review 


For Sri Lanka, the need for climate change adaptation is real and this goes beyond measures taken in the city capital. The Climate Change Secretariat of the Ministry of Environment and Renewable Energy has already begun working on Element A, under which they have identified and documented impacts on climate change including “gaps” when combating climate change. A few include: 

  • Vulnerable assessment to be conducted in the North and East provinces 
  • Existing vulnerability profiles to be updated 
  • Vulnerability to be assessed for central highlands, home to over 100 rives, hydropower generation, diversified ecosystems and world heritage sites 
  • Assessment to be conducted on socio-economic and environmental impacts of the coastal region

Moreover, the Secretariat in association with Climate Action Network South Asia, Janathakshan and Sri Lanka Youth Climate Action Network, recently conducted a workshop on preparing a NAP for Sri Lanka. The one-day workshop was a successful one and it captured the need for an action plan for climate change adaptation in Sri Lanka, NAPs experiences in South Asia and the way forward in moving ahead with the process.

Attending the event was Ministry of Environment and Renewable Energy Secretary B.M.U.D. Basnayake. He said, “The workshop organised by the Secretariat in collaboration with the rest of the organisations is a timely one. This not only portrays the strengthened ties between the Ministry and various organisations but most importantly, the multiple stakeholder engagement required to combat climate change. Sri Lanka already has a National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy in place, however it is also time that we begin formulating National Adaptation Plans as well.”

Interestingly enough the areas of focus for Sri Lanka’s National Adaptation Plan overlap with many of the climate change impacts listed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) regional analysis in the second Working Group of the fifth Assessment Report (AR5). 

Areas of Vulnerability to be addressed in the Sri Lanka NAPs process Areas of Vulnerability in Asia listed by the IPCC AR5 WG II
Food security: agriculture, livestock and fisheries Agriculture and food security: crops and fisheries 
Health and diseases  Human settlements, industry and infrastructure: floodplains and coastal areas; industry and infrastructure
Water resources Human health, security, livelihoods and poverty: floods and health, heat and health, livelihood and poverty
Coastal and marine resources Ecosystems: vegetation and animals, marine and coastal systems 
Ecosystems and biodiversity: forestry and wildlife  Water security
Human settlements and infrastructure  
Industry energy and transportation  
Tourism and recreation   
Export development sector  
Energy security and livelihoods  
“Being a tropical island, Sri Lanka is highly vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change including flash floods, landslides, intense rainfalls, prolonged droughts to name a few and also show significant changes based on each area’s geographical positioning. As per the National Climate Change Policy of Sri Lanka it is our goal to ensure that adaptation to and mitigation of climate change impacts within the framework of sustainable development is met,” said Climate Change Secretariat Director Dr RDS Jayathunga.
Having graduated to a middle-income country in 2010 and having ended a three-decade conflict in 2009, Sri Lanka has more time and therefore should capitalise on the capacity and resources available to start building on climate change adaptation strategies and thereby working towards a climate resilient Sri Lanka. 

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