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Climate change as policy

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The United Nations in a recent report ranked Sri Lanka as second among countries most affected by extreme weather events in the 20 years since 1998. The latest index highlights several large-scale droughts, floods, landslides and other disasters that have impacted thousands of people and impacted the economy. Given the weight of the research Sri Lanka clearly needs to include climate change in its policy making to build resilience and protect people.  

The 2019 Long-Term Climate Risk Index, published by Germanwatch, has listed Puerto Rico, Sri Lanka, and Dominica as the top three affected countries. The index is part of a report – Global Climate Risk Index 2019 – which was released at the annual climate summit in Poland in December.

The Global Climate Risk Index 2019 analyses to what extent countries and regions have been affected by impacts of weather-related loss events such as storms, floods, heat waves, etc., from data available for 2017 and from 1998 to 2017. 

Sri Lankans would be familiar with the highlights of these disasters. In May 2017, heavy landslides and floods occurred in Sri Lanka after strong monsoon rains in south-western regions of the country, and more than 200 people died. The monsoons displaced more than 600,000 people from their homes and 12 districts were affected. The inland southwest district of Ratnapura was most affected, where over 20,000 people faced flash floods.

This was also the time when many other parts of the country were hit by the worst drought in 40 years with rice production dropping drastically. Even though agriculture only accounts for 7% of Sri Lanka’s GDP, it employs about 27% of Sri Lanka’s labour force. By some estimates as much as 70% of Sri Lanka’s population has some connection to agriculture and weather disasters that reduce harvests hit the industries segment as well. 

In the second half of 2018 the agriculture sector began slowly recovering after three quarters of substandard growth. When weather disasters strike it can knock public expenditure sideways as well because the government has to set aside funds to provide aid. Last year the budget deficit, which was targeted at about 4.6%, ultimately ended above 5% as funds were dispatched for relief. 

Since the financial burden of climate change is one that affects everyone it has become imperative that policies are formulated to include climate change at every point. Integrating climate change, especially into investment strategies is incredibly important as the government should not encourage projects that will cause more pollution and build-up of greenhouse gasses. 

Putting climate change at the core of policymaking will also open up new funding measures, investment opportunities and allow the country to set itself apart from the competition provided by other developing countries. South Korea has done so very successfully and many other countries are following by focusing on climate related innovations to boost growth.     

A recent report by the World Bank showed Sri Lanka’s average annual temperatures could rise by 1.0°C to 1.5°C by 2050 - even if carbon emission reduction measures are taken as recommended by the Paris Agreement of 2015. If no measures are taken average temperatures in Sri Lanka could increase by up to 2.0°C. The writing is clear. Now it’s time for the policies to kick in. 

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