Climate change is happening – as much as US politicians deny it – and the changing environment will hit Sri Lanka hard. How, exactly?
It would actually take a sea level rise of 8m for coastal Sri Lanka to be literally underwater, but a projected range of 0.2 – 0.6m would still wreck havok. For all this stuff I’m referencing a Disaster Management Center report and collection of maps.
Check out the projected Negombo inundation in 2025 (yellow) up to 2100 (red).
What you can broadly see is Negombo – at the top of the lagoon – basically going underwater pretty soon. Negombo is about 2m above sea level but the landscape is a mix of canals and lagoons, basically water woven throughout the city. Lagoony type cities, of which we have a lot, are going to take serious damage.
The Galle Fort has survived the tsunami and will likely survive this. The rest of the southern coast may not be so lucky. Unawatuna has already being severely damaged by coastal erosion and human stupidity, it doesn’t look likely to survive, at least not in a form we’d recognize.
As you go further down the coast you can see that the Koggala lagoon would get completely inundated, having effects further inland. Right now all the touristy beach spots along the coast are built basically right up to the beach, so even a slight change will affect everyone.
Finally Colombo. The coastline here gets encroached on everywhere, though not catastrophically. We would still have to invest in sea-walling and rather expensive technology to preserve Marine Drive and the main rail line. The Port itself will be impacted, and it looks like the Beira will get an influx of sea water. It seems like sea level rise would affect waters all the way up to Nugegoda.
For more maps visit the DMC website.
Overall, the island could lose 6,110 hectares of land by 2025, a hectare being about 10,000 square meters, or about 400 perches. This is land mind you, there’s a different figure in the report for land+water inundation. By 2100, the country could lose about 25,000 hectares worth of just land.
To get a sense of it, the losses by 2025 would be enough land to build 122,000 20-perch houses.
This post is based on just a cursory reading of that report and a few conversations. I recommend reading the thing for methodology and all, these are after all predictions.
The inescapable fact is that climate change is going to affect Sri Lanka – our people, our tourist industry, our water supply, maybe even our stability. Sea level rise is only one part of this. Changing monsoons affect our agriculture, more intense flooding and storms can kill people, and food insecurity can destabilize entire regions, like Syria.
What To Do
The sad fact is that we didn’t start the fire. Up till 2012, the US was responsible for 26% of Co2 emissions, followed by Europe/Eurasia at 16.4% and China at 10.7%. It’s not our fault, but it is our problem. Developed nations must cut back on their emissions and deforestation for the rest of the world to have any hope.
That said, Sri Lanka is in a unique position to shame the rest of the world into action. Like the cabinet meeting that (since deposed and now jailed) Maldivian President Nasheed held underwater, Sri Lanka is uniquely positioned to make a statement.
For example, with serious investments in solar, wind and hydro energy (of which we have a lot) Sri Lanka could skip coal and fossil fuels entirely when we reform our stagnant energy sector. If we lower taxes or even give rebates for electric cars, our tax structure is such that you could get the majority of the public on electric vehicles by 2025. Our country is small enough and our past policies dumb or non-existent enough that we could essentially reboot as a zero-emissions nation.
That wouldn’t keep the waters away, but it could show the rest of the world that a better way is possible.