Sri Lanka faces a climate crisis far more severe than the just-ended political crisis, a top weather expert warned – a prediction reinforced by a separate report stating Lanka had been the second worst-affected country by extreme weather events in 2017.
The warning from Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) Executive Director Hemantha Withanage also comes as Professor Mohan Munasinghe, former vice chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), says the earth is facing climate change-linked temperature rises double the danger limit posited by scientists.
Professor Munasinghe, who shared the 2007 Nobel Prize for Peace, said the outcome of this year’s global climate summit, COP24, held in Portugal, was disappointing. “It will do little to halt the still-rising trajectory of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. At the moment, we are heading for a 3C-plus temperature rise by 2100, which is well above the danger limit of 1.5-2C,” he said.
The IPCC 1.5 Report states that limiting global warming to 1.5C, rather than simply below 2C, could help avoid some of the worst effects of climate change and potentially reduce bad impacts triggered by changing climate.
It also made clear that the world would have to slash greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide by about 45 per cent by 2030, a target many see as unrealistic, so countries such as Sri Lanka are bound to keep bearing the brunt of extreme weather events.
Sri Lanka is ranked the second-worst affected country in relation to extreme weather events in 2017, only next to Puerto Rico, in the report, Global Climate Risk Index 2019, produced recently by the climate think-tank, German watch.
According to the report, storms and their direct implications – rainfall deluges, floods and landslides – were a major cause of damage in 2017. Of the 10 most affected countries in 2017, four were hit by tropical cyclones, with a clear link being found between climate change and record-breaking downpours in hurricanes.
The report suggests severe tropical cyclones will increase in number with every tenth of a degree in global average temperature rise.
In the case of Sri Lanka, the disaster that was triggered by heavy rain brought about by the southwest monsoon in May 2017 caused 219 deaths with 74 other people still missing according to the Post-Disaster Needs Assessment Report produced by the World Bank-linked Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery grant-funding body.
While scientists are wary about saying global warming is entirely to blame for extreme weather events, the frequency and intensity of such events in Sri Lanka have clearly increased, with the May 2017 storms following a similar extreme weather event in 2016 that wreaked havoc in many parts of Sri Lanka.
Damage and losses from the floods and landslides in May 2016 topped Rs. 90 billion and damage from the May 2017 floods is estimated at Rs. 70.2 billion. Nearly five million people were affected by the May 2016 events, while that of May 2017 left eight million people in hardship. Both events left close to 10,000 houses fully damaged, and more than 100,000 partially damaged.
Environment Ministry Secretary Anura Dissanayake said the high cost of disaster management was a burden to the national economy as there was no-one to provide funds to face such disasters as happened in the case of the 20014 tsunami.
“The government should find funds for disaster management directly from the finance available for national development and for services such as education and health,” Mr. Dissanayake said.
Prof. W.L. Sumathipala, a former head of Sri Lanka’s Climate Change Secretariat, pointed out the need for carrying out proper scientific evaluation of data as factors beside global warming could contribute to extreme weather events and their consequences.
He pointed out while rainfall patterns could be altered by climate change, the resulting floods and landslides would be made worse by ad hoc, unplanned, non-scientific development that causes environmental repercussions.