Changing Climate: Do the Timorese need to worry about it?

22 Mar 2016

Climate Change Climate resilient small infrastructure built in suco Leguimea, Ermera to prevent flood and landslide

“One of the top 10 countries most at risk of disaster…; Annual mean temperature consistently increasing at a rate of about 0.0160C per year; Sea level rising at the average rate of 6-9 mm per year, and in over 100 years the sea level rise may reach 76cm; Pacific Ocean acidification increasing in Timor-Leste’s water; Agriculture sector contributes to 65% of the total national greenhouse gas emissions; Vulnerable communities have limited COPing mechanisms and adaptive capacities; El Niño worsening water availability and causing intensified water scarcity, food security and health impacts”

The above information on Timor-Leste have been shared by researches and assessments for the last 10 years or so. Who is the target audience? Are we contributing to better prevention? Adaptation? Policies or behavioral change? How well are the different target groups informed about the looming climate change risks and its impacts to their livelihood, development work, health, nutrition, ecosystems and the future generations, and where are we as a nation in preparing ourselves against these odds? Questions as these are valid and more importantly, more and more people have started asking such questions, and answers are due. 

Every other year seems to have a record of high temperature. Just recently, the World Economic Forum mentioned that February 2016 was the hottest month on record. We would not be surprised if any other month this year or next year will surpass this record. The impact is probably hardest on the least prepared. For example, Timor-Leste is suffering the effects of “El Niño” and the impact is visible mainly in the Eastern parts of the country and the Southern Coast. According to the recent joint government and United Nations (World Food Programme) assessment, an increasing number of populations are directly affected regarding water and agriculture and the numbers are expected to rise as the slow onset of disaster will be more prominent in the health and sanitation, nutrition and other aspects of livelihood. If we scan through the Sucos, the ones with the highest impact are the ones which did not have appropriate natural resource management or no supportive infrastructure in place. If we zoom in further and get to the community level, we will see that the households having minimum resources and limited adaptation measures were affected the most. Coincidentally, today is March 22nd, the day commemorating World Water Day. What can we celebrate in Timor-Leste when about 50% of the Timorese population is affected with water scarcity? The Government is planning to invest on water drilling systems in some of the areas highly affected by the recent El Niño. 

Every year leaders and experts of more than 190 countries gather under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to discuss about the climate change issues, impacts, collaboration among the governments, and how to support the least developed countries to cope with the ever growing problems of climate change. Timor-Leste, as a Party to the UNFCCC and signatory of the Kyoto Protocol, has been participating in the Conference of the Parties (COP) since 2009. Recently the governments met for the 21st time in Paris (COP 21) and have agreed on the next path for the countries to maintain the global warming at 1.50C above pre-industrial levels. As the countries are celebrating the success of COP 21 and are preparing to formally sign the Paris Agreement next April 22nd at the United Nations headquarters, immediate actions need to comply with a low carbon development path and to account via a commitment called the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC).

2016 is important for Timor-Leste for multiple reasons in the area of climate change. First, it has decided to prepare a National Climate Change Framework Policy to approach and address the climate change issues more thoroughly. By engaging line ministries including the Ministries of Finance and Strategic Planning to include Climate Change Adaptation which is expected to guide a climate responsive planning, budgeting and delivery process for Timor-Leste. Second, in order to strengthen the Timor-Leste position in the international climate negotiations, the Government is leading by assembling a “core negotiating team” comprised by members from Ministries, academia and civil society. Third, Timor-Leste has started the preparation of its National Contribution (INDC) which will elaborate on the past, current and future interventions to combat the climate change impacts mainly through putting adaptation measures in place. Fourth, the agenda of Loss and Damage that Timor-Leste has been championing in these climate negotiations has gained more recognition in the COP 21. 

Through an intensive dialogue with Government counterparts and the local communities, UNDP has made efforts to identify some of the aforementioned hard pressing climate change issues and devising interventions to address most of these issues particularly those effecting climate vulnerable communities living at the brink of climate risks. UNDP is placing special emphasis on “win-win” and natural absorption of these interventions into the national systems. Our goal is to transfer and adapt global and regional knowledge impacting on policy making but also on plans and concrete projects at the national and at the community levels, for example, by building climate resilient small scale infrastructure using nationally owned Integrated Municipal Development Planning (PDIM) process. Eleven (11) climate resilient infrastructures including roads, gabions, and bridges were successfully implemented in the pilot municipalities of Liquica, Baucau and Ermera to protect the climate vulnerable communities and their livelihood from disaster such as floods and landslides. Convinced by the long term development gains and co-benefits of this successful pilot interventions, we are pleased to learn about the national efforts in scaling up these models across the country. In addition, UNDP is also supporting the disaster risk management and information management of the National Disaster Risk Platform of the Ministry of Social Solidarity to reduce disaster risks in the disaster prone areas. 

UNDP has aligned its efforts with the government’s priority of building a climate resilient nation. We believe that a nation becomes truly resilient to the climate shocks when vulnerable people have tools and knowledge to cope with and recover from the negative impacts of climate change. The country is very actively engaged in the multilateral front, showing commitment and leadership in the Sustainable Development Goals agenda. Citizens and all levels of government need to collaborate to achieve a common goal – protecting the development gains and building a climate resilient Timor-Leste.  

Mr. Claudio Providas
Country Director of UNDP in Timor-Leste

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