Lanka Business Online
Dec 18, 2007 (LBO) - Rising temperatures over the next couple of decades will ravage Sri Lanka’s dry zone agriculture and a possible sea level rise will affect the coastal economy a top climate change expert has warned.
A temperature rise in the next few years is feared even if big polluters decide to cap carbon emissions, which are responsible for global warming.
"Developing countries have to be aware that whether there are emissions cuts or not we are already committed to a certain degree of climate change," says Mohan Munesinghe who is a vice chairman of a key United Nations panel on climate change.
"So whatever happens we must protect ourselves and that’s not through mitigation but through adaptation."
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change where Munesinghe is vice chair was jointly awarded the Nobel peace price together with former U.S. vice president Al Gore recognizing their efforts at raising awareness about the causes and effects of global warming.
Politicians, scientists and bureaucrats also met in the Indonesian coastal city of Bali to figure out how to reveres the effects of climate change.
The outcome of those talks are however irrelevant in the medium term because the earth is getting warmer and the brunt of that problem will be felt in poor countries like Sri Lanka.
Rich cities are ready with their elaborate flood barriers and climate defense systems.
Heavy fossil fuel burning for energy which releases carbon dioxide in to the atmosphere has increased temperatures worldwide by nearly half a percent Celsius so far this century.
If the trend accelerates, as many scientists have predicted, effects on the environment and people could be disastrous.
Health, water supply, food security and coastal area vulnerability are the biggest problems for poor countries.
"Sri Lanka’s dry zone agricultural output will decline significantly in the next 20 to 30 years because of reduced rainfall and hotter weather,” predicts Munesinghe based on his research.
"In the wet zone particularly in the mountains things are more favourable. Tree crops particularly tea will have an increase in production."
Sri Lanka’s dry zone farmers are poor and an adverse weather change affecting them will have serious "equity implications".
Munesinghe was speaking at the Colombo launch of the United Nations Development Programs (UNDP) annual human development index report which focuses on the impact of climate change on poverty.
The report called on wealthier countries to take the lead in cutting carbon emissions, which are responsible for global warming.
It warns of catastrophic reversals in health, education and poverty reduction achieved by poor people if the issue is continuously ignored.
"I think we need to be extremely worried although the effects are still very small. Within the next 20 years, the dry zone in particularly the agriculture and water resources will be badly affected," he points out.
Despite the early warnings there is little readiness by poor countries.
Effects on coastal areas are already apparent.
"Around 55 percent of the coast has eroding at rate of around point 3 meters a year," says Environment Minister Champika Ranawaka.
Coastal zones are vulnerable to climate change, especially to rising sea levels which have already affected tourist resorts, increased salinity in rivers and damaged habitats in some areas of the island.
Every year, poor people in Sri Lanka, mainly farmers and fishermen, face the effects of climate change which are causing droughts, floods and storms.
“On an average 70 percent of natural disasters in Sri Lanka are weather and climate related,” observes Ranawaka.
In the last six years droughts have hit Hambantota in 2001 and Anuradhapura and Kurunegala districts in 2004, affecting farmers and residents in general.
Severe flooding is a yearly phenomenon.
The UNDP report, which analyses health, education and income related indicators of countries worldwide, says there is a narrow 10-year window of opportunity to start reversing global warming.
The UN’s observations are based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changes Synthesis report.
Munesinghe says while supporting a regime to reduce carbon emissions Sri Lanka should adapt to the obvious problems.
"If you have salt water coming in you can develop salt resistant crops and drought resistant crops for dry areas," points out Mohan Munesinghe.
"We must learn, we must be at the cutting edge of adaptation so that we can reduce vulnerability and increase resilience of our eco system and social system."
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