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Climate realities

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As pockets of drought return Sri Lanka has to realise that broad economic challenges caused by weather is the new normal, whether they be reducing tea production volumes or paddy harvests. 

Rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns pose a threat to Sri Lanka and could reduce GDP and living standards, a new World Bank report says.

The report South Asia’s Hotspots: The Impact of Temperature and Precipitation Changes on Living Standards flags that almost half of South Asia’s population now lives in vulnerable areas called hotspots that could see their living standards decline as a result of falling crop yields, lower labour productivity, or related health impacts. Some of these hotspots, the report notes, are already vulnerable as they are less developed, suffer from poor connectivity, and are water stressed.

According to the report, in Sri Lanka, areas in northern and north-western provinces are the most likely to experience increases in average temperature and more variable precipitation by 2050. 

The analysis concludes that 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.

Weather changes will result in lower per capita consumption levels that could further increase poverty and inequality across South Asia.

The report provides options to prioritise investments and strategies to build local resilience to climate change. The analysis suggests that creating opportunities in less climate-sensitive sectors through enhancing education opportunities, improving market access, and generating non-agricultural jobs could reduce the overall severity of climate-related impact on the living standards of the vulnerable. If these interventions were implemented together, they would likely yield greater benefits than if implemented individually.

Development is the best adaptation strategy, since it is associated with improved infrastructure, market-oriented reforms, enhanced human capabilities, and stronger institutional capacity to respond to the increasing threat of climate change and natural disasters. 

As residual scientific doubts over global warning evaporate, the need for action by policymakers, businesses and private individuals becomes more urgent. Their response must combine “adaptation” to make society more resilient to the inevitable future impact of climate change with “mitigation” measures that cut carbon emissions.

The adaptation process is only just beginning and needs to accelerate. Almost every aspect of modern life is vulnerable to increasing meteorological disturbances and extremes, from housing and health to emergency services and the transport infrastructure. 

Comprehensive and sustained policies is the only way forward if Sri Lanka is to combine growth and climate resilience together.

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