Timor Leste is one of six nations within the Coral Triangle (CT), a region located along the equator at the confluence of the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans. Despite an extensive coastline the country has made scarce use of its living marine resources, and annual fish consumption is less than 4 kg per head (compared to a global average of 17 kg per head). Neglect of the marine economy and ineffective governance are sapping the potential of a sector that could contribute significantly to the national economy and the health and welfare of the population.
This project is aligned to the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI) that seeks to improve governance of the marine resources of the CT area. In the case of Timor Leste the development of its marine economy needs a cautious approach, accompanied by extensive governance reforms, and a critical component in the process is preparation for the impact of climate change. This project therefore takes the first steps towards ensuring that climate-change adaptation is integral to ongoing efforts to develop Timor Leste’s coastal economy and conserve its biodiverse marine ecosystems.
The coastal areas and coastal livelihoods of Timor Leste would suffer in varying ways from climate‐induced changes. There is concern that climate change in the CTI region will result in increased incidence of coral bleaching due to thermal stress, decreased rates of coral formation due to ocean acidification resulting from rising atmospheric and oceanic CO2 concentrations, and increased thermal stress on fish species that would change population distributions and increase mortality rates.
As well, a combination of rising sea level and increased frequency and severity of storms may lead to increased damage to coastal infrastructure and loss of assets and lives. There are forecasts of disruptions to seasonal (monsoonal) and inter‐decadal climate and weather systems (e.g. ENSO events) that would adversely affect ecosystems, with consequent impact on natural‐resource-based livelihoods.
Thus the process of mapping vulnerable areas, ecosystems, production systems, livelihoods and people in Timor Leste is a critical step in planning for and responding to such changes. This project’s task of mapping vulnerability will help to develop targeted and appropriate investment in adaptation measures. Some options under consideration include taking account of sea‐level rise in the planning of major coastal infrastructure projects, supporting natural‐resource-dependent households in climate‐sensitive areas to diversify their livelihoods, and developing financial adaptation mechanisms such as weather-linked insurance products.
Most climate‐change adaptation measures for coastal communities will involve investing in household and community assets and income-generating options. These are therefore ‘no regrets’ investments that are beneficial for social and economic development more generally, and for preparedness and response to all types of natural disasters.
Approach to the problem
The project team comprising WorldFish scientists based in Penang and Australia working with coastal managers and researchers in Timor Leste will work towards achieving the following objectives:
To identify climate‐change-vulnerable coastal ecosystems, production systems and coastal livelihoods, to support better targeted climate‐change adaptation
To develop a method to evaluate cost, technical and institutional feasibility of climate-change adaptation options in coastal areas, so that investment in adaptation is effective and aligned with other development and conservation needs
To work with stakeholders in two communities/districts (Batugade and Atauro) to develop their capacity to do their own vulnerability assessments and adaptation planning.
By the end of the project the team intends to produce a vulnerability map that identifies the people and places vulnerable to climate change in Timor Leste’s coastal zone. For the two communities under special study the team will have determined climate change adaptation options designed to build up community adaptive capacity to make people there less vulnerable. This analysis will scrutinize economic sub‐sectors (e.g. reef‐dependent fisheries, marine cage aquaculture) and infrastructure (e.g. ‘climate‐proofing’ new harbor facilities).
The project will also lead to an increased awareness of the capabilities of staff working on economic development and coastal environmental management, and this will result in a better understanding of the help needed in planning to meet needs for climate‐change adaptation.