Sri Lanka's Preparedness to Address Climate Hazards

May 15, 2019

Sri Lanka, being a party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), has submitted its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and its National Adaptation Plan (NAP) in 2016.

The NDCs are considered the heart of the Paris Agreement, which embodies efforts by each country to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. The NAP is formulated to identify medium- and long-term adaptation needs and develop and implement strategies and programmes to address those needs. It is a continuous, progressive, and iterative process which follows a country-driven, gender-sensitive, participatory, and fully transparent approach.

According to a decision made at the 21st annual Conference of the Parties (CoP 21) to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), parties have been requested to review and communicate the updated NDCs by 2020. That reviewing process is currently being done in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan NDCs for adaptation are listed mainly under nine sectors and a tenth sector has been suggested in order to address other cross-cutting issues.

Loss and Damage in Sri Lanka

The loss and damage sector gets high attention in Sri Lanka because of the climatological hazards the country is facing. Since Sri Lanka has been ranked as the second most vulnerable country to climate change impacts according to the Global Climate Risk Index 2019, it goes without saying that the country has already faced numerous losses and damages due to climatological hazards. But the availability of a proper mechanism to tackle this issue is questionable.

The first NDCs of Sri Lanka have identified as key elements the need for expanding the institutional capacity for observing and forecasting meteorological related hazards; the capacity of institutions involved in assessing losses and damages related to climate change induced disasters; the institutional capacity to develop plans for disaster recovery and implementation and having a proper mechanism to transfer or share disaster risk among parties have been identified as strategic policies.

It has also been identified that efficient and effective coordination among the agencies working on disaster preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation remains one of the key constraints to be addressed.

Suggestions for Review

Additionally, the need for creating a multi-hazard profile for Sri Lanka also remained an important aspect to be addressed, based on the input received from different stakeholders. Due to various disasters that some parts of the country face during a year, the importance of considering collaborative impact has been noted.

Sri Lanka has been facing prolonged and severe droughts, but adequate amount of assessments, researches and databases are not available. Extreme heat related incidents have been recorded in Sri Lanka since 2016, stressing the need to add a component to NDCs which could address that issue.

In addition, the gender perspective of Climatological Hazards has also gained higher attention, although it has not been discussed in any of the NDCs. To have a better mechanism to address this, there should be a proper database with gender segregated information. Women are disproportionately impacted by climate hazards, aggravating existing vulnerabilities. It is important that gender dimensions are considered in decision making processes related to climate hazards.

EIAs (Environmental Impact Assessments) have become a compulsory step to go through prior to any kind of a development activity, which is an encouraging, environmentally friendly step. But climate change impacts are not being considered in EIAs. Therefore, including a section to tackle climatological changes would be ideal.

Compensation Mechanism

Losses and damages due to natural disasters are currently compensated by the National Insurance Trust Fund (NITF) and relevant sectoral budgets. NITF has paid natural disaster claims worth of over 5 billion rupees in the 2016/2017 period. In addition to that, Sri Lanka also has a crop insurance system which was introduced several decades ago.

The addition of a separate budget component to address losses and damages would make the process more transparent and easier to manage, and there is an ongoing debate on who is should be among those compensated through the above mechanisms.

Generally, even illegal constructions get compensated by the government during a disaster event, incentivizing people to ignore laws and policies and go for illegal constructions. The existing laws need to be better enforced and awareness needs to be created on the benefits of green buildings.

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