COLOMBO, SRI LANKA – Widespread degradation of Sri Lanka’s coastal and agricultural resources due to climate change could cost the economy more than 6% of its gross domestic product (GDP) by the end of this century, says a new Asian Development Bank (ADB) climate and economics report for South Asia.
“A significant number of Sri Lankans are still dependent on sources of income that depend on rainfall such as agriculture, livestock production, and inland fisheries,” said Bindu Lohani, ADB Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development. “Any increase in extreme storms, droughts and changing rainfall patterns could play havoc with their food security and livelihoods, including in the country’s vitally important coastal regions.”
The report, titled Assessing the Costs of Climate Change and Adaptation in South Asia, predicts the six countries—Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka—will see an average economic loss of around 2% of their GDP by 2050, rising sharply to at least 9% in 2100. The projections include a business-as-usual economic model, and one in which actions are taken to keep the global temperature hike to 2ºC or below, in line with the Copenhagen-Cancun pledges.
Without changes to current global behavior, Sri Lanka would see economic losses equivalent to 1.2% of annual GDP by 2050, widening to 6.5% by the end of the century. But if mitigation and adaptation steps are taken, the damage could be limited to around 1.4% by 2100.
Temperatures in Sri Lanka could rise by as much 3ºC by the end of the century and the vulnerability of rice crops to more droughts is expected to increase, with yields in dry lowland areas potentially falling by a third by the 2080s. Tea plantations at low and medium elevations are also vulnerable, with a drop in monthly rainfall of 100 millimeters reducing productivity by as much as 30 to 80 kilograms of tea per hectare.
The country’s vast and diverse coastal region, covering nearly a quarter of the island, is likely to see serious damage to fisheries and coastal ecosystems from more frequent storms and a potential 1-meter sea level rise, which would badly affect Jaffna and Gampaha. Vector- borne diseases like dengue have been on the rise in recent years, and the report notes that climate change could see the annual number of cases of dengue alone rise to over 353,000 by 2090, with more than 2,000 fatalities.
The costs of climate change adaptation in South Asia will depend largely on how the global community tackles the issue, the report says, noting that if the world continues on its current economic path, South Asia will need to spend at least $73 billion, or an average of 0.86% of its GDP, every year between now and 2050 to adapt to the negative impacts. On the other hand, if countries act together to keep the rise in global temperatures below 2°C, the cost of shielding itself from the worst of the impacts would be nearly halved to around $40.6 billion, or 0.48% of GDP.
The report does not provide detailed adaptation cost projections on a country basis, but in the energy sector it notes that a rising gap between demand and supply could see Sri Lanka face an adaptation bill of over $105 million in the 2030s, rising to nearly $150 million in the 2050s.
The report also details adaptive measures that countries should consider in responding to climate threats, including the use of drought, flood and saline-resistant crop varieties, more integrated coastal zone management, increased efficiencies in the energy sector, improved disease and vector surveillance, more protection of groundwater resources and greater use of recycled water.