Climate change in Timor-Leste - we all have a role to play

Climate change in Timor-Leste - we all have a role to play

Above: Earlier this year I attended at Metinaro with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the symbolic opening of a testing device which will monitor the vulnerability of mangroves as a result of climate change.


Roy Trivedy

Resident Coordinator

United Nations in Timor-Leste


July 17, 2019, Dili - The news this week that Timor-Leste has been awarded $22 million in funds to build climate resilient infrastructure in Timor-Leste is welcome, but the truth is, if we are smart and fully committed to the global climate emergency, it might be just a start.

The Green Climate Fund was in Dili at the Timor-Leste third National Climate Change Conference on June six and their representatives urged Timor-Leste to come up with innovative, transformative and useful ideas which could be considered for funding. Those ideas would need to do two things: reduce green house gas emissions and help our communities adapt to the growing threats caused by climate change.

Timor-Leste contributes a tiny amount to the overall greenhouse gas ‘’inventory’’ of the planet, but every country has to do its part to reduce emissions to zero by 2050 if we are to avoid global temperatures rising more than 1.5 degrees.

1.5 degrees doesn’t sound like a lot but climate change is already changing the environment: a recent report from Australia shows that sea waters in Timor-Leste are rising three times faster than most other places in the world:

‘’Sea level has risen. As ocean water warms it expands causing the sea level to rise. The melting of glaciers and ice sheets also contributes to sea-level rise. Instruments mounted on satellites and tide gauges are used to measure sea level. Satellite data indicate the sea level has risen near Timor-Leste by about 9 mm per year since 1993. This is larger than the global average of 2.8–3.6 mm per year. This higher rate of rise may be partly related to natural fluctuations that take place year to year or decade to decade caused by phenomena such as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation.’’  (Timor-Leste - Pacific Climate Change Science)

Sea level rises could mean by the time our grand children want to take their kids to the ocean for some fun, there might not be a beach for them to run along.

Sea level rises will undermine buildings on the shoreline; cut off roads, and in some cases, turn freshwater in wells and bores into salty water. Approximately, 66% of the population live in coastal and lowland areas below an elevation of 500m and most of the infrastructure development is happening along the coastal belt. Climate proofing of such infrastructure will be absolutely critical to safeguard investments and build resilience of coastal communities.

And as global warming increases, extreme weather events are projected to increase in intensity and duration, posing threats to social and economic development gains and ultimately affecting the lives and livelihoods of our people in Timor-Leste.

Timor-Leste can not possibly change the environment on its own, but it requires finance, technology and expertise to mitigate the effects of climate change. To access opportunities from organisations like the Green Climate Fund – and there are others - it must show leadership by cutting greenhouse gasses in line with its agreements. The best way for it to do this is to stop using so much imported oil for energy in power stations and vehicles; stop burning off grass lands and forests every year; and reduce the use of cement as a major source of building material (and instead use alternative materials that reduce or eliminate the amount of carbon dioxide generated).

This requires everyone to show leadership…not only governments and development partners.

It also requires us all to make changes in our lifestyles. Every Timorese person needs to think about how they can save energy; build more efficient energy sources like energy efficient appliances, improved cookstoves, solar panels and water turbines; and how they can adapt to new farming techniques which mean they don’t burn off every year.

We can all take a leaf out of the book of the Oecusse district which has pledged to plant 7 million trees. You can also see in this little video how one village in Oecusse is dealing with climate change and how their work is paying for their children to go to school.

I know climate change is worrying many people in Timor-Leste. Last month I wrote about the value of the work of the Bamboo Institute and many, many people read the article. 

When a brief video from teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg was played at the National Climate Conference, the 350 people in the audience were totally silent - in awe of this tiny slip of a girl and how she described the need for climate intervention. 

The Green Climate Fund project is important. It involves 130 small-scale rural infrastructure projects including 38 water supply systems, 25 irrigation schemes, 216 kilometres of roads, and flood protection infrastructure that will benefit approximately 175,840 people in rural communities, or around 15% of the total population. It shows there is money and resources available for projects that help communities to adapt to the ever warming climate.

UNDP in Timor Leste supported the government by designing this project and to access USD 22 Million resources from the GCF. The project is based on UNDP’s successful demonstrations of climate proofing of transportation, water supply and irrigation infrastructures for last 5 years.

The world is on the edge of a major climate crisis and so communities which want help to protect their culture, heritage, food sources and their future, should get involved very quickly.

I encourage every person in Timor-Leste to start to talk to their Chefes; Scout and Church leaders; sports groups; business associations and elected members of government, in their succos and other elsewhere to discuss the threat that’s coming, what individually and cumulatively we can do and how we can work together to make a difference.

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