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Why We Need to Address Coastal Community Rights When We Talk About Climate

For decades, the narrative around climate change has focused on melting ice caps and rising sea levels. While these are undeniably critical issues, something else is emerging. Climate justice, the intersection of environmental threats and human rights, demands we center the voices of those most impacted – in this case, the vibrant coastal communities across Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

The Forrest Management Group in Golo Sepang, West Manggarai, East Nusa Tenggara province, Indonesia.
The Forrest Management Group in Golo Sepang, West Manggarai, East Nusa Tenggara province, Indonesia.
Stewards of the Sea: The Vital Role of Coastal Communities

Coastal communities have for generations acted as stewards of the very coral reefs and mangrove forests they depend on. Coastal regions, home to 40% of the global population and 12 of the world's 15 largest cities, face unique challenges. These areas, with their access to water, scenic beauty, and economic opportunities, are under pressure from intense human activities and the triple planetary crisis of pollution, biodiversity loss and climate change - leaving only 15% of coastlines in a natural state. In Indonesia alone, 75% of its cities are in coastal areas, and the coastal population encompasses 65% of Indonesia's inhabitants, or approximately 160 million people -- their lives intricately tied to the health of the ocean. Their knowledge of sustainable fishing practices, passed down through generations, and intimate understanding of local marine environments are invaluable assets in the fight for a healthy planet.

The Silent Suffering: Climate Impacts on Coastal Livelihoods

However, the narrative of climate change often overlooks these communities. Driven by ocean warming, acidification, deoxygenation and sea-level rise, the maximum catch potential of tropical fish stocks in some tropical exclusive economic zones is projected to decline by up to 40% by the 2050s under the RCP8.5 emissions scenario, relative to the 2000s. Similarly, Southeast Asian nations like Indonesia and the Philippines are witnessing the devastating effects of coral bleaching and coastal erosion, threatening not only marine ecosystems but also entire villages. These communities are the first to witness the devastating effects of warming waters, rising sea levels, and increasingly erratic weather patterns. Their traditional fishing grounds are depleted, their homes threatened by erosion, and their very way of life hangs in the balance.

Rights and Empowerment: A Call for Justice

This is where rights come in.  Climate solutions cannot be one-size-fits-all approaches dictated by distant boardrooms.  Coastal communities in Southeast Asia and the Pacific possess a wealth of indigenous knowledge about sustainable resource management, from traditional fishing gear that minimizes bycatch to practices like rotating fishing grounds to allow for natural replenishment.  Yet, their voices are often absent from policy discussions. Their human rights – the right to a healthy environment, the right to self-determination, and the right to participate in decisions that affect their lives – are being trampled upon.

Justice demands a shift in focus. We need to empower these communities.

Investing in a Sustainable Future
  • Traditional Ecological Knowledge: Invest in their traditional ecological knowledge by incorporating it into scientific research and conservation efforts.

  • Adapting Livelihoods: Provide them with resources and training to adapt their livelihoods to a changing climate, like alternative income sources such as sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, ecotourism, non-timber forest products (NTFP) initiatives and interventions.

  • Community-Driven Solutions: Support community-driven marine protected areas and sustainable fishing practices, as championed by organizations like the Te Ipukarea Society in the Cook Islands, which works to protect marine resources through traditional knowledge and community-based management.

This isn't just about protecting these communities – it's about protecting the very ecosystems they have safeguarded for generations.

Community members in Budeng participated in mangrove health monitoring training
Forrest management group, which contains group of communities members in Budeng (Jembrana, Bali Province), whom livelihood impacted by the climate change. The group actively care and conserve the mangrove forrest that they initiated 8 years ago.

Beyond Survival: The Ocean's Vital Role

Healthy coastal ecosystems, including mangrove forests and seagrass meadows, are vital carbon sinks, sequestering enormous amounts of atmospheric CO2, moreover these ecosystems store up to three times more carbon per unit area than terrestrial forests. The vast mangrove forests of Indonesia, for example, are crucial for mitigating climate change.  Vibrant fishing communities are crucial for maintaining healthy marine populations, which in turn contributes to overall ocean health.  By ensuring their rights are protected, we ensure the continued health of our oceans, a critical step in mitigating climate change.

The fight for climate justice is a fight for all of us.  But it starts by listening to those on the frontlines, respecting their rights, and recognizing their vital role in protecting our planet.  Let's rewrite the climate narrative, one where coastal community in Southeast Asia and the Pacific are not victims, but empowered guardians, with a rightful seat at the decision-making table.



Jalan Badak Sari I No 3.

Sumerta Kelod, Denpasar Timur.

Bali 80234, Indonesia

Phone: +62 361 445 6827


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