Seminar on Climate Change Impact

Sri Lanka is vulnerable to climate change. It is important to create awareness and exchange knowledge on how to overcome these challenges. Together with the International Water Management Institute, our embassy organized a full day event where key stakeholders from the government, the private sector and NGO’s shared their ideas on how to work together towards a more sustainable future. At the event Ambassador Gonggrijp spoke about creating a sustainable future together. Here is what she had to say....

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests,

I am delighted to be here today end welcome you all to this seminar, which my colleagues jointly organized with the experts of the International Water Management Institute. I know you will have a very interesting day ahead of you, with a lot of in-depth sessions and captivating speakers, but before you dive in, let me say a few words.

As you know, Sri Lanka and the Netherlands, we go a long way back. Our embassy’s moto is “Old friends, new trends”. Especially when you are going through challenging times, you know how important old friends are to fall back on. Our countries have known many challenging times in the past. And also our shared history consisted of both positive developments and challenges. But now, I would say we do not have a choice. We must face new trends and tackle those as old friends would. This is the moment, to - even more than in the past - bundle our knowledge and experience.

I refer to bringing together and exchanging expertise on water management, climate change and related adjustments in the agricultural business. Sri Lanka is known for its high vulnerability when it comes to weather triggered disasters and climate change. The fact that the Global Climate Risk Index ranked Sri Lanka second among 176 countries most affected by weather-related loss events is something not to be ignored. Although The Netherlands has a much safer place on this index, number 108, it is also very vulnerable when it comes to climate change and water disasters, as one quarter of the country lies below sea level, and half the country is only one meter or less above sea level.

This situation forced us, already centuries ago, to take water management very serious. Today our expertise on water management is known as one of the most developed and best in the world. For instance, the University of Wageningen is well-known for its respected scientists in the areas of water, climate change and agriculture. And we are very happy that we have one of them, professor Fulco, here amidst us today. Also proud to mention that the Netherlands is the world’s second largest exporter of agricultural products. Can you imagine, such a small country?  This in combination with consequences of climate change, forces us  to think a lot about managing the circumstances and innovate. For instance if you take land from the sea, you will encounter salinization issues. This made Dutch farmers breed saltwater potatoes and other saltwater crops, which are grown in many countries all over the world.

And I will continue to boast just a little bit…. What we also learned from our vulnerabilities, is that we are forced to cooperate. We would not have the saltwater potato without framers engaging with universities and knowledge institutions, often with the help of government. We would not have the dikes and delta works without private and public sector cooperating. And also today stakeholders from the government, companies, knowledge institutions and NGO’s, together discuss how climate change related issues can be tackled in a way that is good for our country, for the planet, and for all the parties involved. I am not saying we all agree on everything. No, that would be unrealistic. All actors play their own role, but they also know they cannot reach their long term goals on their own.

So much for the Netherlands branding, but if this morning you might have wondered why we are here, partnering with Sri Lanka and the International Water Management Institute, I now trust you understand…

But, and let me be very clear on that, we do not stand alone in this. I have only been here for 4 months, but in those months I have seen high quality water management in Sri Lanka. Unfortunately not all up to the current challenges. But when I visited Sigiriya I was amazed by the state of the art water management system. So it is in your blood as well. And of course the extensive knowledge and network of the International Water Management Institute is indispensable.

Call me an optimist, but I believe that together we can create a better future. We need to exchange knowledge and expertise when it comes to tackling the challenges. We need to share successes and mistakes, we need the research from universities and IWMI, we also need to find the opportunities. I do not say that there is a business case in everything, but regarding sustainability more as a business case, is important. I am not talking about green washing but sincere efforts to make sustainability work, see the opportunities and – that’s the difficult part – if necessary also make the customer pay for it.

I have just done my part of the Netherlands branding and would like to turn to my Sri Lankan colleagues with regard to Sri Lanka branding. I believe that if Sri Lanka will make a more serious effort to tackle climate change, adapt its water management and agriculture accordingly, Sri Lanka could become an example in the region. An island working towards reaching the Sustainability Goals in the area of climate and food safety, but also in other areas like living incomes and better working circumstances for farmers and laborers. I would say that Sri Lanka could become the sustainable hub in the region.

Still a lot needs to be done, but let us today take steps into that direction. We have the right conditions: a real sense of urgency and people from different sectors and backgrounds, willing to get around the table with each other and discuss one of the most pressing issues this country has to deal with.

Before I wrap up, I would like to take a moment to thank all the people that were involved from the side of IWMI for their extremely valuable contribution and hard work. Also, I would like to thank all the speakers and panelists for being here, to share their thoughts and knowledge with us. Last but not least a special thanks to Mr Annura Dissanayake for being our chief guest today. It is even more special to have him today as Mr Dissanayake will assume office later today as the Secretary to the Ministry of Higher Education, congratulations!

That said, I wish you all a very fruitful event. I trust you will leave today with new ideas and energy and please let us also regard this as the start of a more intense cooperation in the future.

Thank you.