Thursday, 4 October 2012

Impacts of Global Climate Change on Inclusive Growth in Sri Lanka

By Kanchana Wickramasinghe
Research Officer, IPS  

The scientific evidence proves that climate change is a reality.  Despite the negligible contributions towards global greenhouse gas emissions, and consequently to global climate change, Sri Lanka is a victim of the impacts of global climate change.  These impacts are numerous in Sri Lanka and a number of economic sectors will be drastically affected.  As the “National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy for Sri Lanka - 2011 to 2016” highlights; the major impacts would come in the form of increased frequency and intensity of disasters such as droughts, floods and landslides, variability and unpredictability of rainfall patterns, increase in temperature and sea level rise.  These impacts will have numerous impacts on agriculture, coastal zone, forests and natural ecosystems, human settlements and infrastructure, human health, energy, and industry1.

The increased intensity and frequency of natural disasters and its cost in terms of human, physical, financial and environmental losses have a significant impact on growth. The vulnerability to and impacts of natural disasters also differ across segments of society, which then becomes an additional dimension to existing economic disparities. Natural disasters affect inclusive growth by constraining the participation of vulnerable segments in the development process. They also lead to the diversion of resources, which otherwise could be allocated for pro-poor development activities. 

The impacts of natural disasters also tend to be unevenly distributed as the physical vulnerability of different regions to different natural disasters, varies across regions. In Sri Lanka, for instance, the Dry Zone is highly vulnerable to drought and certain districts of the Wet Zone are at risk of recurrent floods. Moreover, these vulnerable areas host a large proportion of the poor population, who are dependent on weather-reliant livelihoods such as agriculture and fisheries. The agriculture sector, in particular, is  going to be particularly affected by a range of climate change impacts.  The burden on agriculture will mainly be felt in the form of implications on food security and foreign exchange earnings through agricultural exports.  

Climate change can cause distributional impacts owing to two key reasons. First, physical vulnerability to climate change varies across regions. Second, natural disasters can lead to worsening regional disparities due to the differences in the ability to manage climate change impacts effectively among different endowment classes.

The Dry Zone, coastal areas, and certain parts of the Wet Zone, are experiencing most of the natural disasters occurring in Sri Lanka. Most of the Dry Zone districts depend on agriculture for livelihoods whereby concurrent droughts and floods will make significant adverse effects on output. Water scarcity in the Dry Zone can further exacerbate existing inequities in poverty outcomes. Moreover, adverse impacts on plantation agriculture, which shows the highest incidence of poverty in comparison to urban and rural sectors of the country, will lead to widening the equity gaps.

Climate-induced water scarcity has implications on energy security of the country as well. During 2000-08, for instance, hydroelectricity is estimated to have contributed 43 per cent on average to the national electricity supply.2 A lack of adequate water in the country’s major reservoirs, thus leads to a reduction in hydro power generation. If appropriate mitigation and adaptive strategies are not implemented, natural disasters and climate change can have considerable implications on poverty and inequality. 

The impacts of climate change depend on a host of varying factors such as, segments of society; income groups; livelihood categories; and geographical regions, etc. Further, the impacts are becoming more significant for vulnerable groups, with increased intensity and frequency of disaster events as well as changes in rainfall pattern. Therefore, adopting an inclusive strategy for managing disasters is critical.

Adaptation remains the way out when faced with the impacts of global climate change.  There is an important need to mainstream climate change into national development strategies, as it cuts across a number of sectors including agriculture, infrastructure, and poverty, etc .3 Given the wide-spectrum of issues in relation to climate change adaptation, a number of measures have to be taken to mitigate the impacts on inclusive growth in Sri Lanka. The measures should address the differential impacts of climate change, and aim to minimize the consequent implications on poverty and equality. Firstly, the reduction of physical vulnerability should receive priority attention in order to lessen the impacts. Secondly, in line with the physical measures, the socio-economic system, in terms of coping and adaptation strategies has to be strengthened to enable vulnerable groups to better manage risks. It is only with the adoption of both types of measures that efforts to reduce impacts of climate change will successfully support inclusive growth strategies. 

1Department of Census and Statistics, Statistical Abstract 2008Available online:
2Department of Census and Statistics, Statistical Abstract 2008, Available online:
3Senaratne, A., N. Perera, K. Wickramasinghe (2009), Mainstreaming Climate Change for Sustainable Development in Sri Lanka: Towards a National Agenda for Action, Working Paper Series No. 14, Institute of Policy Studies, Colombo, Sri Lanka

The article is based on the policy brief titled “Natural Disasters, Climate Change and Inclusive Growth in Sri Lanka” in the State of the Economy, 2011. 

The writer, Kanchana Wickramasinghe is a Research Officer at the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS).


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