Environmental sustainability is the key to development and growth of a country. Sustainability is focused on the ability of the planet’s renewable resources to sustain life in general and human development in particular. Sustainable development is most commonly known as the development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. To make this concept a reality, the Agenda 21 of the 1992 Rio Declaration urged countries to “develop the concept of indicators of sustainable development” in a way that would “contribute to a self-regulating sustainability of integrated environment and development systems.” The Millennium Development Goals also captured the importance of environmental sustainability to the development of nations. Despite some progress towards meeting this goal, there is still considerable global and local challenges that threaten the development and environmental gains achieved. Though long-term sustainability of environment and natural resources depend on their ability to provide benefits to people and the country environmental related pressures have destabilized the base for growth and development of many nations.

Sri Lanka ranked as a global biodiversity hotspot exhibits a wide array of ecosystems with a diversity of species considered to be the richest per unit area in the Asian region. Although it has an exceptional degree of endemism, only about 14% of land area is under legal protection. Deforestation, forest degradation, loss of biodiversity continues despite conservation efforts. In the context of Sri Lanka’s development, the Human-Elephant Conflict is a noteworthy issue. Though Sri Lanka has the highest density of elephants among the Asian elephant range states, the protected areas are insufficient in size and quality to sustain the country’s elephant population. While considering the above issues it is obvious that the future sustainable development of Sri Lanka relies on its biodiversity and natural resources.

Placing environmental sustainability at its core, the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) focusses and aims at improving the sustainable use and effective management of forests and wildlife resources, which are highlighted as national priorities in the Punarudaya – Accelerated National Environment Conservation Program. The GoSL’s development framework has committed Sri Lanka to a path of sustainable development and has identified the country’s biodiversity as part of its natural heritage and a high conservation priority. The value of natural resources has been recognized and various legislations aiming at the protection of natural resources have been enacted by the GoSL. The strategic conservation efforts developed throughout a period of time have ultimately led to the preparation of the first policy document (2003) on environment “National Environmental Conservation Program” where conservation and management of forests and wildlife feature prominently in four of six priority areas.

Although there are a number of institutions in Sri Lanka which oversee natural resources management; they have been unable to govern the sustainable use of natural resources management or enforce legal compliance pertaining to depleting natural resources, due to overlapping institutional mandates and lack of integrated management. To defeat these issues, the GoSL has set up dedicated government agencies for environment and natural resources management; which includes the Forest Department, Central Environmental Authority, Coast Conservation Department, Geological Survey and Mines Bureau, State Timber Corporation and Marine Environment Protection Agency under the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment (MoMDE), and the Department of Wildlife Conservation under the Ministry of Sustainable Development and Wildlife (MoSDW). There are separate institutions to manage water and some land resources. As a result, situations are converging with more effective policy decisions and strategies for greater economic and sustainable use of natural resources; and particularly by strengthening integrated management of natural resources by providing incentives for shared prosperity for enhancing the sustainability of resource use by the local communities and the country.

The 2015 Systematic Country Diagnostic for Sri Lanka has confirmed environment sustainability as one of the priority areas for sustaining progress in ending poverty and promoting shared prosperity. The emergence of the Ecosystem Conservation and Management Project (ESCAMP) is to contribute and address key national strategies and action plans, and to support the Country Partnership Strategy’s strategic themes on improved living standards and social inclusion, and improved resilience to climate and disaster risks. ESCAMP will directly respond to Sri Lanka’s development priorities and the World Bank’s twin goals by improving natural resources management, and protecting and improving the natural resource base on which rural communities depend.