Climate change report identifies Timor-Leste’s environmental challenges and opportunities

01 Aug 2013

image A House in Suai is flooded following heavy rain. Photo: Sanco Nahak/UNDP

Dili, 1 August –   Climate change poses a severe threat to future growth and development in Timor-Leste and will require targeted mitigation and adaptive measures at the national and local levels to protect the country’s economy, infrastructure and overall progress.  This according to the final draft of the Initial National Communication on Climate Change or INC, the first in a series reports that will serve to develop a long-term Strategy and Action Plan to assess and mitigate the impact of Greenhouse Gases (GHG) and address climate-related vulnerabilities. (Lee versaun Tetum iha ne'e)

The full INC report contains information on GHG emission levels in Timor-Leste, projected changes in the country’s climate as well as the vulnerability levels of different villages (sucos) throughout the country and describes the impact of the such changes on the agriculture, water and health sectors. Programs designed to improve Timor-Leste’s resilience to climate changing (adaptation programs), reduce GHG emissions (mitigation programs) and increase capacity and public awareness are an integral part of the report. The results of the INC findings were presented at an all-day conference hosted by the Government and the United Nation’s Development Programme (UNDP).

 “Climate change, in addition to socioeconomic conditions, increases Timor-Leste’s vulnerability to disaster”, said H.E. Antonio da Concenção, Minister of Commerce, Industry and Environment in his opening address to the conference. “The INC report provides recommendations for the development and implementation of adaptive and mitigative measures, such as renewable energy, reforestation, to name just a few, to help reduce poverty, ensure sustainable development and contribute to the global effort to reduce GHG emissions.”

Highlights of the report include:

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Total GHG emissions in Timor-Leste between 2005 and 2010 were between 1,900 and 2,900 Giga gram CO2-equivalent   (Gg CO2-e). The highest level of emission (around 2,900 Gg CO2-e) was reached in 2006 before it decreased annually until 2010 when it reached 2,014 Gg CO2-e. The lowest GHG emissions were estimated in 2005 at around 1,900 Gg CO2-e. Activities that contribute the most to Timor-Leste’s GHG emissions are electricity, generation from fossil fuels, combustion from offshore oil extraction and the Electrical Department of Timor-Leste (EDTL), forest and grassland clearance, livestock rearing and the use of fertilizers for crop production.

Long Term Changes in Climate

It was observed that the annual mean temperature of the country has increased consistently at a rate of 0.016 0C per year while the frequency and intensity of extreme climate events tend to increase consistent with the change in El Nino in the last 50 years. Sea level rise has also been observed from satellite imagery at a rate of 5.5 mm per year. In the future, changes in climate will continue to happen with severity contingent on CO2 concentration in the atmosphere.  

Vulnerability Level

Sucos in Timor-Leste have different levels of vulnerability depending on socio-economic conditions as well as the sucos’ access to the surrounding urban centers. The lower the socio-economic level and access the higher the sucos’ vulnerability and susceptibility to disasters. Results from the INC analysis suggest that most sucos in Timor-Leste are quite vulnerable. However, about 56 of the country’s 442 sucos (13%) were found to be the most vulnerable. These are mostly sucos in the central mountainous region of the county as well as on the eastern side.   

Impacts of Climate Change to Agriculture, Water and Health Sectors

Impacts of the changing climate in Timor-Leste will be felt in terms of potential decreases in agricultural yield and potentially severe decreases in soil water content, especially in the northern districts of Oecusse, Manatuto, Baucau and some parts of Covalima. In the health sector, as the atmosphere continues to warm, INC analysis indicates increased risks from malaria and dengue, especially in the eastern part (for malaria) and central part of the country (for dengue).

Appropriate Adaptation and Mitigation Programs

Based on the above findings, the INC report makes several recommendations on appropriate adaptation and mitigation programs. Programs should focus on building long-term resilience through infrastructure and health program planning that takes the changing climate into consideration. In rural areas, programs should focus on building farmers’ capacity to adapt planting practices based on the newest climate information. Community-based reforestation and mangrove rehabilitation is another important program to pursue in rural areas as it strengthens ecosystems and a local community’s resilience to the impacts of climate change. Renewable energy programs such as the construction of wind power, hydropower, solar and biogas facilities should also be pursued to reduce GHG emission levels. 

Education, Training and Public Awareness Building

Enhancing education, training and the general public’s awareness on what constitutes climate change and its affect on everyday life are an important part of building overall resilience in the country. The existing situation related to education and public awareness of climate change issues was found to be far from ideal. INC recommends several practical actions to improve the situation including incorporating materials that address climate change, its causes and impacts into the national curriculum; training of practical skills for farmers such as the ability to adjust planting regimes based on climate information; and continued socialization on the importance of protecting forests and other environmental resources.  

“The INC process clearly shows the unprecedented need to adapt to future climatic risks”, said Mikiko Tanaka, UNDP Country Director. “It has also been a key instrument to develop climate change adaptation and mitigation options, enabling policy dialogue and raising public awareness. It provides an excellent advocacy tool for the integration of climate change issues into development planning.”

The INC document was prepared by a broad-based collaboration of stakeholders from nine ministries under the coordination of the State Secretary for the Environment and with the support of the United Nations Development Programme. It fulfills Timor-Leste’s obligation as a country that ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Kyoto Protocol. The ultimate objective of the Convention is to achieve stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human-induced) interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner. The UNFCCC entered into force on 21 March 1994. Today, it has near-universal membership with 195 countries having ratified the Convention.

The project was funded by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), UNDP and AusAid with in-kind contribution from Timor-Leste government. UNDP Timor-Leste plays an active role in the execution of the project as the implementing agency of the GEF and AusAid fund. The INC report complements previously published National Adaptation Plan of Action (NAPA) that identifies nine priority areas for adaptation programs in Timor Leste.