Climate change, urban planning and development policies
Ruwan Samaraweera
1 June 2019

Mainstreaming climate change related issues into urban planning and policies requires insight on the prevailing urban development and environmental policies. As per Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS), existing policies have gaps in climate resilience and urban development. Urban development policies are less focused on the climate change aspects, while environmental and disaster management policies are not oriented towards urban development. This has led to a discord between policies aimed to build climate resilience and urban development exercises.  Gross inadequacy and limited scope of local authorities and provincial councils to undertake planning has made cities more vulnerable to the ill effects of climate change. This situation can be better understood by the reviewing three relevant areas of policy, namely; urban planning policy, climate change policy and disaster management policy.

Urban Development and Planning Policies in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s urban sector policies comprise of both national and regional level plans. The National Physical Planning Policy and Plan (NPP), developed by the National Physical Planning Department (NPPD), outlines country-wide urban development policies. The NPP emphasises Sri Lanka’s objective to be developed as a naval, aviation, commercial, trade, and knowledge hub, while contributing to the Trans-Asia Highway project. In addition, the NPP demarcates environmentally-fragile areas, with special reference to metro cities. As such, the NPP requires regional planning policies to conform to the NPP. The Regional Planning Committee is responsible for developing regional-level plans, but presently there is no accepted policy on urban development at the local level. Furthermore, since the NPP does not recognise climate change as a major risk factor in the physical planning process, regional plans also do not incorporate these aspects. Instead they revolve around disaster risk reduction, GHG emission, and shaping landscapes. Moreover, domestic urban development planning activities are not integrated under a common framework of physical planning. Urban development is not oriented towards climate resilience; instead it focuses on disaster management.


Climate change Policies and Plans in Sri Lanka

At present there is no legal framework to cover climate change issues in Sri Lanka. Therefore, such concerns are addressed by a coordinated body of organisations. The Ministry of Mahawei Development and Environment, the Climate Change Secretariat (CCS), and the Department of Meteorology (DM) play major roles in this endeavour. Sri Lanka’s national agenda for combating climate change is largely influenced by the UNFCC and focuses on adaptation and mitigation. Loss and damage dimensions are observed as an emerging concern. As a result, the National Climate Change Policy (NCCP), formulated in 2012, covers six areas including adaptation and mitigation. Sri Lanka’s commitment towards mitigation focuses on reducing GHG emission and reforming the existing fossil fuel-based transportation system. The National Adaptation Plan for Climate Change Impacts in Sri Lanka :2016-2025 (NAP) is the major policy instrument that drive adaptation measures. The NAP presents a comprehensive list of adaptation practices geared towards establishing climate resilient human settlements. For loss and damage, Sri Lanka has pledged to establish local mechanisms, aligned with the Warsaw Mechanism for Loss and Damage.


Disaster Management Policies and Plans in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s disaster management plans are developed to address pre-disaster planning, preparedness and mitigation, post disaster relief, and enhancing recovery and rehabilitation capabilities. The National Council for Disaster Management (NCDM) and the Disaster Management Centre (DMC) has been established under the Disaster Management act No 13 of 2005 as responsible authorities. Thereafter, the National Policy on Disaster Management (NPDM) was formulated for better preparedness and minimising disaster impacts. Potential disaster risks are addressed through the Sri Lanka Comprehensive Disaster Management Program (SLCDMP), developed in line with the NPDM.


Moving towards Climate Resilient, Sustainable Cities

Absence of a legal framework to address climate change issues in Sri Lanka has led to different initiatives taking the responsibility of developing climate policies and plans. The existing policies have a limited scope and urban development and climate change policies formulated and implemented in isolation. Prevailing policies on urban development do not recognise climate change as a risk factor. Urban development policies aim only to minimise GHG emissions and reform the fuel-based transportation system in term of adaptation. Most of these endeavours seems unsuccessful due to institutional limitations. This is a major gap in national level urban development policies. On the other hand, climate change policy does not have strong legal basis despite some broad policy instruments are already in place.  Disaster management policies revolve around unexpected natural disasters and extreme weather events. Existing policies on Disaster management lack focus on urban development for disaster resilience. Disaster risk management is covered by several plans at the regional and local levels.

Therefore, Sri Lanka’s urban development, climate change, and disaster management policies should incorporate lagging concerns in each sector. Climate change should be prioritised as a risk factor when formulating urban development policies. Although the impacts of climate change have been covered by several policies, these have not been properly communicated to stakeholders involved in urban planning. Therefore, an integrated policy framework for addressing climate issues, disaster risk management, and urban development is essential for making cities safe, resilient, and sustainable.


Ruwan Samaraweera
1 June 2019
Ruwan Samaraweera is a Research Assistant at IPS, with a background in entrepreneurial agriculture. He holds a Bachelors in Export Agriculture from Uva Wellassa University of Sri Lanka. His research interests are in environmental economics, agricultural economics, macroeconomic policy and planning, labor and migration, and poverty and development policy.


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