THE DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST Republic of Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, is a small, pear-shaped island of 25,332 sq. mi. (65,610 sq. km.) lying off the southeastern coast of India. Sri Lanka has an extraordinary diversity of wildlife and vegetation because of its location near the equator and its remarkable range of terrain and climate. Although only a minute contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, the island is vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
Sri Lanka’s carbon emissions per capita are 161st out of 211 countries measured worldwide but more than doubled in the 10 years from 1990, largely in response to the country’s increasing population. Like much of the rest of South Asia, Sri Lanka relies heavily on carbon-neutral biomass such as collected wood and animal waste for its domestic energy needs, particularly in rural areas. Biomass accounted for 80 percent of total residential energy consumption in 2005 and is expected to remain as high as 70 percent through 2020.
Oil consumption more than doubled between 1990 and 2005 in response to a growing demand for transport fuels. Sri Lanka imports all of its daily crude oil consumption of 87,000 barrels, and in recent years, it has further increased oil imports to avoid overreliance on hydroelectricity for industrial power. Hydropower currently provides the majority of Sri Lanka’s electricity, making the country vulnerable to changing rainfall patterns. In an effort to diversify, the Sri Lankan government is developing fossil-fuel-fired power plants.
Sri Lanka’s rich biodiversity includes an unusually large number of endemic species living in cloud forests, grasslands, and wetlands, as well as freshwater, coastal, and marine ecosystems. The island is both ecologically and economically vulnerable to climate change. Its famous tea plantations remain an important source of economic activity, and the island’s rich cultural heritage, together with its tropical forests, beaches, and wildlife, make it a world-famous tourist destination. Climatic conditions and rich biodiversity are therefore key to maintaining Sri Lanka’s economy. However, logging and population pressures continue to lead to deforestation and habitat loss. Large tracts of forest have been cut down for fuel wood or for timber export and have been replaced by rice, coconut, rubber, and coffee farms. Many species are in danger of extinction, including cheetahs, leopards, several species of monkeys, and wild elephants. Sri Lanka’s coral reefs, already damaged by bleaching and the 2005 Asian tsunami, are being destroyed by human refuse and sewage and by dynamite fishing. Climate change-induced ecological stress will compound these eco-economic concerns.
Overall, the importance of environmentally sustainable behavior is underappreciated in the general population, as concerns such as poverty and the ongoing conflict between Tamil separatists and the Sinhalese government are dominant. Even so, the government of Sri Lanka has taken action to conserve wildlife. Over 13 percent of the land is protected, and the Sinharaja Forest Reserve, which protects the largest remaining stand of primary rainforest on the island, was declared a World Heritage Site in 1988. Indeed, Sri Lanka has a long history of conservation, being the first country in the world to establish a wildlife reserve.