by Helani Yapa Bandara
Published on Colombo Telegraph on 24th October 2023.
What comes to your mind when you think about “Climate change”? Today, the topic of climate change is one of the major problems that people face. People are calling it is the crisis of our time. In the past decades, natural causes such as volcanic eruptions, variations in solar radiation, and natural changes in the Earth's orbit and axial tilt have influenced to these changes of climate but currently, human activities have rooted to increase the issue of climate change. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), "Climate change refers to a “long-term alteration of Earth's average weather patterns and the resulting shifts in temperature, precipitation, wind patterns, and other aspects of the climate system”. Importantly, United States Environmental Protection Agency (2023) has stated that greenhouse gases are primarily driven to the changes of climate, by releasing numerous gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O) to the Earth's atmosphere. Accordingly, these gases are form due to various anthropogenic activities especially the deforestation and burning of fossil fuels including coal, oil, and natural gases etc.
According to the International Climate Alliance (ICA), International Climate Action Network (ICAN) and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the current trend of global warming is primarily driven by human activities connected to the industrialization and high demand in consumptions and consumerism patterns. The evidence for this includes the close correlation between rising greenhouse gas concentrations and rising temperatures, as well as the use of climate models that account for both natural and human factors. The rate and scale of temperature increase observed in recent decades are unprecedented in natural climate history and align closely with the increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
According to Buhaug et al (2023), Climate change is widely regarded as one of the greatest threats to peace and security in the 21st century. Additionally, in Sri Lankan context, per Jeevethan Selvachandran in his work titled “Preparing for the impact of climate change in Sri Lanka” has stated that “...the country is relatively well-positioned to meets its obligations in combatting climate change.”. Except, Sri Lanka was listed among the 65 countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, which threaten health, education and the environment, and called for immediate and effective action.
Climate Change as a Significant Environmental Security Threat to Sri Lanka
Climate change is a significant and growing threat to environmental security. It poses a range of risks and challenges to ecosystems, natural resources, and the stability of nations and communities. The destabilization of the ecosystem, triggers resource scarcity, and intensifies extreme weather events cause to amplify the vulnerabilities in societies. Likewise, rising temperatures, shifting precipitation patterns, and sea-level rise cause to disrupt agricultural practices as well as, exacerbate food and water insecurity, and displace the populations. Ecosystem disruption and biodiversity loss further strain natural resources and livelihoods. Extreme weather events damage infrastructure, increase economic risks, and challenge emergency response capabilities, often leading to human displacement and heightened insecurity. Thus, as the effects of climate change have grown more obvious, it has taken centre stage in the conversation. What is not at all evident is the situation in which climate change might end up becoming a danger multiplier that causes environmental security.
Environmental security is a concept that encompasses the preservation of the environment as a fundamental component of national and international security. Environment security is a major part of national security in a country. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (2023) Environment Security addresses threats caused by environmental events and how those threats impact on individuals and the entire community. Additionally, Giovanni Zurlini (2008) stated that environment security is “the major challenge concerns the global environmental change, focusing on the interactions between ecosystems and mankind, the effects of global environmental change on environmental degradation, the effects of increasing social request for resources, ecosystem services, and environmental goods.” The importance of environmental security is the ecological framework required for sustainable development. It includes considerations of how environmental security and climate change are related, more general global policy challenges that relate resources and international relations to the need for new approaches to development and security. Further, recognizing climate change as an environmental security threat is crucial for fostering global stability and resilience amidst the rapidly changing climate.
In Sri Lanka, due to the geographical position and dependence on climate-sensitive sectors like agriculture, fisheries, and tourism, climate change presents a complex and multifaceted challenge with significant implications for the country's environment, economy, and society. Asian Development Bank in their work title “Climate Risk Country Profile: Sri Lanka” (2020) has stated that, one of the most pressing concerns in Sri Lanka is the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, including heavy rainfall, floods, and landslides, which have become more common in recent years.
Climate change impacts are exacerbating existing environmental issues in Sri Lanka, such as deforestation, habitat degradation, and water pollution. These challenges have implications for biodiversity conservation, freshwater availability, and overall environmental health. Deforestation and habitat degradation disrupt the delicate balance of ecosystems, reducing their resilience to climate impacts and contributing to resource conflicts. Loss of forests not only releases stored carbon into the atmosphere, worsening climate change, but also diminishes the capacity to absorb excess rainfall, elevating the risk of floods and landslides. Similarly, habitat degradation further weakens natural defenses against climate-related disasters. Additionally, water pollution compounds these challenges by affecting both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Polluted water bodies not only harm biodiversity but also exacerbate climate change through methane emissions and increased energy consumption for water treatment. Therefore, the environmental security implications underscore the urgent need for comprehensive climate adaptation and mitigation strategies in Sri Lanka to safeguard the well-being of its population and protect its natural resources and ecosystems.
Further, climate change issues such as rising temperatures and changing precipitation patterns are also affecting the country's agriculture sector, which is a significant source of livelihood for a large portion of the population. Erratic rainfall and prolonged droughts can lead to reduced crop yields and food insecurity, while temperature increases may promote the spread of pests and diseases. Sea-level rise and coastal erosion are threatening Sri Lanka's coastal communities and vital infrastructure along the coastline. Rising sea levels not only inundate coastal areas, displacing communities and causing loss of arable land, but also lead to saltwater intrusion, contaminating freshwater sources. coastal erosion, exacerbated by sea level rise, erodes shorelines and vital infrastructure, including roads and buildings. Furthermore, coastal ecosystems like mangroves and coral reefs, which provide essential habitat and protect against erosion, are at risk. Addressing sea level rise and coastal erosion is paramount for Sri Lanka's environmental security, necessitating sustainable coastal management strategies and adaptation measures to protect its coastal communities and ecosystems.
The Role of Responsible Government Bodies in Climate Change
Climate change is an ongoing global issue that affects all countries around the world, including Sri Lanka. On the other hand, Climate change considered as an Environment security threat under the soft notion of national security in a state. Therefore, many organizations play a significance role to protect Environment. Especially, the Ministry of Defence in Sri Lanka actively participate in addressing the security and strategic implications of climate change.
Firstly, the Ministry of Defence is often involved in disaster response and relief efforts. As climate change causes increasingly frequent and severe extreme weather events, coastal erosion, and environmental security threats including increased risks of flooding, landslides, droughts, and displacement of communities. According to the Extraordinary Gazette No. 2289/43 dated 12th July, 2022 under table No. 01, Column 1 para 18, 19, 20, 21, 22 and 23 have highlighted that Ministry of Defence is responsible for “Provision of weather and climate related services”, “Meteorological surveys and research”, “Landslide disaster management and related research and development”, “Forecasting natural disasters and sensitizing relevant sectors regarding them”, “Coordination of awareness programmes on natural and man-made disasters” and “Conduct rescue operations during natural and man-made disasters”. Accordingly, the Ministry of Defence has established departments and institutions to address and prevent disaster risks including Department of Meteorology, National Disaster Management Council, Disaster Management Centre and National Disaster Relief Services Centre.
Therefore, the Ministry of Defence has a responsibility for disaster management that cause to Climate Change, essential infrastructure protection, and vulnerable area security. In addition, the ministry is active in humanitarian aid and disaster relief activities, since climate-change-related disasters necessitate quick reaction and relief measures. By working to improve climate resilience in defense infrastructure, supporting climate adaptation strategies, and participating in international cooperation on climate security issues, Sri Lanka's Ministry of Defence contributes to the country's efforts to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change, protecting the well-being and security of its citizens and resources.
Climate Change is a Barrier to Achieving Sustainable Development Goals
Climate change poses a formidable barrier to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, as outlined by the United Nations. Rising global temperatures, increased greenhouse gas emissions, and associated climate impacts cut across multiple SDGs in various ways. Sustainable Development Goal 13 (SDG 13), "Climate Action," is a direct response to the pressing global challenge of climate change. Thus, it emphasizes the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase climate resilience, and mobilize international cooperation to address climate change. Further, this goal recognizes that climate change is a defining issue of our time and calls for urgent and ambitious measures to combat it. Accordingly, achieving SDG 13 is crucial for safeguarding the planet, protecting vulnerable communities, and ensuring a sustainable and secure future for all, making it a linchpin in the broader sustainable development agenda.
Moreover, climate-induced extreme weather events and natural disasters disrupt economic activities, damage infrastructure, and lead to loss of lives and livelihoods hampering progress towards SDG 1 (No Poverty) and SDG 2 (Zero Hunger). Climate change also affects water resources, impacting SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation) and exacerbating sanitation challenges in vulnerable areas. Increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, including hurricanes and floods, pose threats to human health and well-being, undermining progress towards SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-being). Furthermore, sea-level rise and coastal erosion endanger coastal communities and infrastructure, affecting SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) and SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure) and importantly SDG 16 (Inclusive Peace). In sum, climate change acts as a significant impediment to the achievement of multiple SDGs, emphasizing the urgent need for integrated climate action and sustainable development strategies to ensure a more resilient and equitable future for all.
The way forward
Climate change in Sri Lanka needs a complex and comprehensive response that involves environmental protection hazards mitigation, adaptation, and long-term development initiatives. From the start, Sri Lanka should prioritize initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as shifting to renewable energy sources, improving energy efficiency, and adopting regulations that encourage sustainable land use and transportation. This helps to contribute to global mitigation efforts while also strengthening the country's resilience to climate consequences.
Sri Lanka should invest in increasing climate resilience across sectors in terms of adaptation. This involves strengthening infrastructure in order to endure harsh weather conditions and better managing water resources. Protecting coastal regions through nature conservation techniques such as mangrove regeneration and better land use planning can help minimize the consequences of sea level rise and coastal erosion.
Furthermore, improving early warning systems and disaster preparedness is critical for protecting communities from climate-related disasters. Investing in climate education and awareness initiatives can help communities adapt to and minimize their vulnerability to climate change. It is vital for equitable climate resilience to ensure that climate policies are inclusive and meet the needs of vulnerable people such as women, rural communities, and those living in informal settlements. Sri Lanka should participate in global climate talks and seek climate financing to fund adaptation and mitigation programs.
As stated before, a comprehensive policy is required to ensure environmental protection in the face of climate change in Sri Lanka. In order to serve as carbon sinks and buffers against climate change, the country should emphasize the protection and restoration of natural ecosystems such as forests, wetlands, and coastal regions. Land and water management activities such as reforestation, forestry, and safe agriculture should be encouraged. Climate resilient infrastructure and disaster preparedness measures, particularly for vulnerable coastal areas, should be established. Emissions can be reduced by encouraging the use of renewable energy and energy efficiency measures.
Also, it is critical to increase climate policy, laws, and international collaboration. Continuous monitoring and research on local climate effects will give important data for informed decision-making, eventually protecting Sri Lanka's environment and people's livelihoods in the face of climate change. Climate change challenges such as water resource management and disaster risk reduction may be addressed through collaborative efforts with neighboring countries in the region.
Finally, addressing the environmental security threats posed by climate change in Sri Lanka necessitates a combination of mitigation, adaptation, and sustainable development strategies, supported up by international cooperation and inclusive policies that prioritize the well-being of all Sri Lankans and the protection of the country's natural resources.
Asian Development Bank, (2020). “Climate Risk Country Profile: Sri Lanka”
Giovanni Zurlini,(2008). “Environmental Security”
H. Buhaug et al, (2023). “Climate-driven risks to peace over the 21st century” Volume 39, 2023, 10047
Jeevethan Selvachandran, (2021). “Preparing for the impact of climate change in Sri Lanka.”
Ministry of Environment Sri Lanka, (2011). “Climate Change Vulnerability Data Book”
Simon Dalby, (2020). “Environment Security and Climate Change.” International Studies Association and Oxford University Press USA
United Nations Environment Programme, (2023). “Environmental Security”
United Nations Environment Protection Agency, (2023). “Understanding Global Warming Potentials”
United Nations, (1992). “United Nations Framework on Climate Change.”
United Nations, (2022). “The sustainable development goals report 2022.”
United Nations, (2023). “Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special report”
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* Ms. Helani Yapa Bandara is an Intern (Research) at the Institute of National Security Studies (INSS), the premier think tank on National Security established and functioning under the Ministry of Defence. The opinion expressed are her own and not necessarily reflective of the institute or the Ministry of Defence.
-The Ministry of Defence bears no responsibility for the ideas and views expressed by the contributors to the Opinion section of this web site-