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Climate change - responding to a global challenge

WINDS OF CHANGE: More frequent torrential downpours causing flash floods and landslides threatening lives and property could be attributed to climate change due to Global Warming.

A sea level rise, droughts and a multitude of other changes would drastically change the world’s climatic landscape in the future.

In this backdrop, meteorologists, environmentalists, hydrologists, doctors and experts of various other sectors like agriculture and industry gathered at the Kukuleganga Holiday Resort, Malkawa in March and drafted recommendations on adaptation strategies and mitigation options with regard to agricultural, water resources, health, energy, industrial sectors and environmental policy issues.

The gathering was the National Conference on Climate Change organized by the Centre for Climate Change


Consequences of climate change

 Studies (CCCS) of the Department of Meteorology.

The National Conference marked the finale of the series of seminars on climate change organised by the Centre for Climate Change Studies (CCCS) of the Department of Meteorology.

It was a fitting location in itself, in terms of climate change; In May 2003, floods that wrecked havoc particularly in the Ratnapura, Kuruvita and Deniyaya areas at an unprecedented level kept people guessing as to how it all happened. Some resorted to superstitions seeking explanations as if it had been the work of some angry god.

“The people here are now replacing their rubber plantations with tea although the rubber prices were now very good.

But the increase in rainfall in the area was not conducive for rubber cultivation,” said the pool attendant of the resort who was a resident of Matugama area. This is tangible evidence of climate change as felt by the people of the locality who try to adapt to the change.

The location was close to the Sinharaja Tropical Rain Forest. The resort gives a panoramic view of a mountain range bordering the forest that also demarcates the Ratnapura and Kalutara Districts.

although the general public was baffled, the meteorologists have a scientific approach. “The people complained of changes in rainfall pattern, lack of rain and longer drought, while some areas receive torrential rain and floods and landslides.

There is a strong possibility that these could be results of climate changes due to global warming,” Director General of the Meteorological Department Dr.G.H.P. Dharmarathne in his welcoming address explained.

“Climate change is a natural phenomenon. Climate change due to natural factors is quite a slow process when compared to man- induced climate change. The catalysts for the human induced climate change were the burning of fossil fuels such as diesel, petrol, coal and industrial activities.

This has drastically increased emissions of mainly carbon dioxide, which gives the effect of a Green House, increasing global temperature.

Thus the increase in the global temperature is the cause for the climate change. Ever since the industrial revolution, Carbon Dioxide concentration has increased by 31 per cent. The danger is that this process is irreversible,” he said.

He said that poorer countries, which were less able to adapt to the changes would suffer the worst from the unavoidable impacts which would be particularly severe in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The developed countries contribute the most to global warming.

He pointed out that developing countries like Sri Lanka could not afford to control or altogether stop the use of fossil fuels, “but we can explore measures to adopt and mitigate adverse effects of climate change”.

The Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights P.D. Amarasinghe in his keynote address stressed that droughts, longer and frequent in the recent past, should be one of the main concerns of the Ministry since nothing new had been added by way of mitigation.

He pointed out that ancient rulers had built a system of canals and tank complexes to store water to face such disasters.

Although the Ministry had disaster management plans to deal with floods, no such mitigation plans were available for droughts and such plans could not have been formulated and implemented by the ministry alone. He sought the assistance of all stakeholders.

“The global mean temperature is projected to increase by three degrees Celsius by 2100 and in terms of the latest estimates the average air temperature too would rise by about 2.5 Celsius by year 2100, which would have drastic effects on the environment,” Senior Meteorologist B.R.S.B. Basnayake warned. He added that the global mean sea level too is projected to rise by 28-43 cm.

Dr. Basnayake illustrated the Green House effect of the gases which was the cause of global warming.

He explained that the natural concentration of the Green House Gases had made the planet habitable for humans but since the Industrial revolution a high concentration of such gases had highly accelerated the warming process which in turn had been creating many environmental nightmares. He said that the scientists had been concerned with the issue as far as the 19th century.

A British scientist Svante Arrhenius published a research publication on the “influence of Carbonic acid in the air upon the temperature of the ground” in the Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science in April, 1896. It talked about the heat absorbing gases and their influence upon ground.

Director of Meteorology K.R. Abeysinghe Bandara in his presentation Impacts on Climate Change on Extreme Events explained as to how an increase in air temperature due to global warming would lead to increased frequency and intensity of thunder and lightning and the frequency of tornadoes.

He pointed out that more and more tornados had been reported in Sri Lanka recently. He also warned that an increase in temperature would also increase the possibility of Cyclonic storm development at places prone to cyclonic storms like Bay of Bengal where more frequent and intense storms would develop.

“Although the number of cyclones that actually cross Sri Lanka is low, heavy rains and strong winds would be experienced in Sri Lanka. As a result severe floods and landslides could increase resulting in life and property damage and the sea too would encroach on land,” he said.

He also said that El Nino events which could cause dry weather conditions would prevail over the Sri Lanka and neighboring countries when the sea surface temperature in the eastern Pacific rises above average.

Dr. B.V.R. Punyawardane. Senior Scientist of the Natural Resources Management Centre of the Department of Agriculture in his presentation Impacts and Adaptation of Climate Change in Agriculture explained as to how it would affect the sector and discussed possible adaptation and mitigation measures.

He cautioned that the both quality and the quantity of the crop would decrease due to global warming and the consequent changes in the rainfall and availability of water.

The need for a policy for the exploitation of ground water was stressed since the tremendous over- exploitation of ground water would lead to many environmental hazards like earthslips, landslides, drought etc.

He called for some sort of limitation on ground water extraction was. Dr. Punyawardane pointed out that generally around 10 per cent of the rain water would penetrate into the ground while extraction was much greater thus creating an anomaly that would adversely affect the ground water.

Dr. Nihal Abeysinghe pointed out that there was a clear link between the local climate and occurrence or the severity of some diseases. Certain serious diseases appear only in warm areas and also the warm temperatures can increase air and water pollution.

A World Health Organisation study had showed that global climate change had a direct bearing on increased rates of malaria, malnutrition and diarrhoea and contributed to the 150,00 deaths and five million sick persons each year.

It was also pointed out that death rates increase during extremely hot days particularly among the very old and the very young people living in cities.

Three technical sessions were followed by a breakout group discussion in four groups namely the agriculture, health, energy and industry and policies.

At the plenary session each of the four groups came with their recommendations for the adaptation strategies, mitigation options and policy Formulations. Intercropping, mulching(covering), planting of trees to provide shade and wind screening were put forward as draft adaptation strategies for the agricultural and plantation sectors.

Breed varieties of high temperature tolerance was also suggested for the agricultural sector to cope with the increase in the temperature.

While breeding drought tolerant varieties, changing the cropping calendar according to the changing rain patterns (response farming), change of cropping patterns from chena cultivation to crops such as papaya with irrigation, “Manavari cultivation,” preparing lands with rain water, reuse of water from the farms and minimising the conveyance loses of water were the adaptation measures suggested against the change of rainfall patterns in the Agriculture sector while rain water harvesting, micro irrigation options, use of soil and moisture conservation methods, use of rain guards for rubber and improvement of new tapping systems, addition of organic manure, revising fertilizer recommendations specially with regard to Potassium were among the some of the recommendations suggested for the plantation crops.

Facilitating energy efficiency measures to reduce consumption was given a prominent place among the recommendations for the Energy Industry.

The promotion of Solar energy for households in identified remote areas where the national grid cannot reach at any time in the future was also discussed in addition to the promotion of off grid village community electrification with renewable sources such as Hydro, biomass, wind and biogas.

The use of nature based architectural designs in new building designs with special focus on natural lighting and ventilation, the implementation of the Government policy of generating ten per cent of electricity through new renewable resources, promotion of energy efficient technologies among industries and commercial establishments, discouraging the use of high potential Green House Gases in industrial applications, raising public awareness on energy conservation and climate change, government involvement in media programmes on climate change and energy efficiency/alternative energy resources were some of the other recommendations that were suggested in connection with the Energy and Industry Sector.

Desilting tanks, catchment area management to reduce erosion, the construction of tanks with narrow spread and greater depth, growing trees on banks around tanks were the adaptation strategies against the temperature increase with regard to water resources. These draft recommendations will be presented to policy makers, secretaries of the ministries.

The recommendations would also be submitted to the funding agency, the Asia Pacific Network (APN) for Global Change Research of Japan.

The CCCS had organised a series of seminars to create awareness on climate change among district level administrators, Government officers, university students, school teachers and members of NGOs. The project was funded by the Asia Pacific Network for Global Change Research under the CAPaBLE Programme.

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