The National Adaptation Plan for Climate Change Impact in Sri Lanka 2016-2025 (NAP) was prepared by the Climate Change Secretariat of the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment. The plan covers nine sectors including food security, water resources, coastal and marine sector, health, human settlement and infrastructure, ecosystem and biodiversity, tourism and recreation, export agriculture and industry, energy and transportation. Human settlement and infrastructure is one of those sectors which needs urgent attention when mainstreaming climate change into urban planning.
The human settlement and infrastructure sector of NAP is focused on four key adaptation needs;
Under these four adaptations need, action plans have also been lined to be implemented by responsible agencies.
Heat and water stress are one of the key issues which were globally and locally triggered by climate change. Especially in urban areas, heat is significantly increased due to compact development. NAP recommends addresses heat stress, primarily with green building guidelines. Urban development authority (UDA), Sri Lanka has prepared green building regulations applicable for all urban declared areas. Additionally, Green Building Council, Sri Lanka promotes the green building practice in the country through a green rating system. UDA green building regulations are mandatory for all public buildings and gradually it has been expanding towards development guide plan regulations such as Beira Lake guide plan. Further, the Colombo Commercial City Development Plan 2030 which was gazetted this year has introduced regulatory wind corridor spaces along coastal streets as well as open spaces standards to reduce heat stress in Colombo.
Erratic precipitation pattern is a significant climate change-induced threat which has been recorded in Sri Lanka in the recent past. Micro climatic variations and variations in seasonal rainfall patterns have been noticed all over the island. This condition caused more frequent extreme flooding events as well as meteorological droughts in urban areas. Therefore, the capacities of infrastructure facilities are needed to be strengthen enough to control flooding by reducing surface water runoff and to improve drought resilience by increasing groundwater infiltration. NAP stressed upon creating resilient storm water drainages and rain water harvesting mechanisms. UDA has already introduced rainwater harvesting guidelines as a mandatory requirement for all development activities within its purview.
The third focus of NAP is promoting disaster resilient building constructions to make human settlements more resilient to extreme weather conditions exacerbated by climate change. National Building Research Organization, Sri Lanka (NBRO) has made hazard zoning and resilient building construction regulations addressing all hydro-meteorological disasters. Some of the recently gazetted development plans of UDA has also incorporated those regulations.
The forth concern of NAP is to address sea level rising when planning for coastal infrastructure. Sri Lanka’s commercial capital and most of the district capitals are located in the coastal line. The coastal line holds 70% of the country’s economic infrastructure and over 50% of urban population at present. Therefore, the national physical plan prepared by the National Physical Planning Department (NPPD) has demarcated the Global Low Elevation Coastal line (GLEC) as a sensitive area where major development activities needs special planning approvals.
The implementation mechanism of NAP is not defined well but it implies to be manifested at the local level plans of urban areas. Even though NAP was formulated at national level, it has been collaboratively mainstreamed by the urban-planning related government bodies at regional and local levels. Performance level of this plan is supposed to be further measured by a set of key performance indicators including workshops, training programs, awareness programs and monitoring programs.
Green infrastructure planning initiatives should be further promoted at local level planning in the country. Wetland encroachment protection built form specifications for wind-corridor, green space enhancement projects, green-grey ratio practices are some of the main actions that can be implemented to promote low impact development. Low-impact storm water drainage designs and two-way plumbing infrastructure for domestic water reuse is yet to be introduced by planning agencies. Additionally, providing subsidies, rewards for rainwater harvesting initiatives also have to be adopted to encourage grassroots level adaptation to climate change.
Transportation infrastructure is another key focus in human settlement planning for mitigating greenhouse gaseous emissions as co-benefit solution for climate change adaptation. Automobile emissions by individual vehicle users is one of the key malefactors of global warming. Therefore, encouraging public transportation and introducing cleaner, renewable energy source for vehicle operation is essential. For example, in Colombo commercial city development plan 2019-2030 the urban development authority is enhancing public transport passenger volume through various modes under transportation strategy to boost the future economic benefit. Regrettably, the planning process has not accounted the future environmental costs and benefits when evaluating alternatives. Colombo attracts over a 500,000-commuter population along seven urban corridors. Hence, reducing existing GHG emission rate by public transport in future could have been explicitly stated as one of the key objectives of the plan. Furthermore, future plans should consider more environmentally sustainable market-based instruments including GHG tax mechanisms, pedestrianized streets, bicycling boulevards, and subsidized public transport.
As mentioned above, there are several mandates and guidelines provided by planning agencies in the country to make settlements and infrastructure climate resilient. However, most of those plans are maintained as documents of government organizations and have a little room for practice by people. As per the policy and planning documents, Sri Lankan urban settlements shows a positive trend whereas the ground level implementation is yet to follow that trend.
Local authorities and other plan implementing agencies must adopt innovative techniques to reach community and aware about the consequences of climate change. This might include social media campaigns; preparation of city level GHG inventories and improve inter-city competitiveness through Eco branding; Launching climate change stimulatory games at game zones in carnivals and exhibitions and school children focused poster campaigns, dramas at public places. Such initiatives will improve the awareness, build the motivation and ultimately strengthen the civic engagement to make policies and plans a ground reality making Sri Lankan settlements more resilient to climate change.
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