Personal profile


Kirishanthan Punniyarajah is a geographer and doctoral researcher in the School of Geography and Sustainable Development at the University of St Andrews. His research project focuses on exploring the potential application of the Rights of Nature framework to water governance, specifically aiming to safeguard Intermittent Rivers (IRs) in Sri Lanka. This involves combining theoretical approaches from Legal Geography and Political Ecology. His research is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC DTP) via the Scottish Graduate School of Social Science (SGSSS) studentship. Kirishanthan obtained his master’s degree in Environmental Management and completed his bachelor’s degree in Geography, both from the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka. Additionally, he holds the title of a qualified attorney at law at the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka. While currently on study leave, he also serves as a Lecturer in Geography at the Department of Geography, University of Colombo.

He is motivated by a strong desire to broaden his knowledge, skills, intellectual horizons, and expertise within the emerging realm of ecocentric approaches, with a particular focus on the Rights of Nature, to actively contribute to the protection and conservation of nature in the face of anthropogenic climate change. He aspires to establish himself as an ‘Environmental Legal Geographer.’

Academic/Professional Qualification

Master of Environmental Management, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka - 2016 – 2019

Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in Geography (First Class), University of Colombo, Sri Lanka - 2009 – 2014

Attorney–at–Law, Sri Lanka Law College, Supreme Court of Sri Lanka - 2013 – 2017

Research interests

His diverse research interests span Environmental Management (Water, Coastal), Biodiversity Conservation, Legal Geography (Environmental Legal Geography), Environmental Law and Policies, Earth Law, Rights of Nature, Animal Rights, and Political Ecology. These areas showcase his multidisciplinary approach and commitment to addressing complex environmental issues through both legal and geographical perspectives.

Research overview

Intermittent rivers (IRs) represent the most widespread type of rivers globally, flowing only during specific periods of the year. The prevalence of IRs is expected to rise due to climate change, as formerly permanent rivers transition into intermittent states. Despite their ubiquity, these rivers are frequently overlooked by communities, conservation laws, water governance, and academic initiatives. This research project seeks to address the growing conflicts between the rights of IRs and human water rights, utilising the 'Rights of Nature' framework. The 'Rights of Nature' approach recognises natural entities as rights holders, challenging the notion that rivers are solely human property. This perspective is often proposed in response to ecological crises, where conventional laws have proven insufficient in safeguarding a river's water quality and quantity. This research aims to investigate the potential impact of granting 'Rights of Nature' on conflicts surrounding IRs, considering the delicate balance between traditional and modern water governance, developmental pressures, and legal and political dynamics in Sri Lanka. The research project will contribute valuable insights to the evolving body of knowledge on (1) the Rights of Nature; (2) water governance of IRs; and (3) legal geography and political ecology of environmental governance.

The research project will also inform policy, practice, and advocacy debates, through creating a better understanding of rights around IRs, which have been neglected in all forms/scales of water governance. This will benefit government bodies, local communities, and interested stakeholders in Sri Lanka and internationally.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 14 - Life Below Water
  • SDG 15 - Life on Land
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


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