February 1, 2024

REECS supports the ATSEA-2 to combat environmental threats to the Arafura and Timor Seas Region

Danniel A. Figueroa and Maria Corazon M. Ebarvia
Published on:
December 05, 2023

The Arafura and Timor Seas Ecosystem Action – Phase 2 (ATSEA-2) is a GEF-financed and UNDP-supported project designed to enhance regional collaboration in the Arafura and Timor Seas (ATS) region, including the integration of Papua New Guinea. ATSEA-2 aims to reverse the detrimental effects of transboundary environmental threats through regional coordination and the implementation of the 10-year Strategic Action Program (SAP), which was adopted in 2014. The ATSEA-2 project is geared towards the conservation of the coastal and marine ecosystems and the integration of sustainable practices in managing resources. REECS was engaged by the Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia (PEMSEA)—the implementing agency—to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the proposed models for the regional governance mechanism (RGM), develop the financing strategy for the selected RGM model and 5-year financial plan for the updated SAP, and provide recommendations for the mainstreaming of funding allocations. To learn more about the ATSEA-2 and REECS engagement,..

             The ATS has a wide array of natural resources and biodiversity, e.g., 160 species of corals, 25% of the world’s mangroves, 350 species of fish as well as oil and gas reserves, and other
resources. 1 The marine life of the ATS region is facing the detrimental effects of anthropogenic activities, such as unsustainable fishing, habitat degradation, marine pollution, loss of biodiversity and impacts of climate change.

             The Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia (PEMSEA) launched the Arafura and Timor Seas Expert Forum (ATSEF) in 2003 which gathers experts and
representatives from the government, non-government organizations, and academic institutions to address ATS-related issues. ATSEF developed the ATSEA program funded and implemented by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), respectively. In 2010, the regional program of ATSEA was officially launched.

             Under ATSEA-1, the first transboundary diagnostic assessment (TDA) was conducted, and the Strategic Action Programme (SAP 2014-2024) and corresponding National Action Plans (NAPs)
to address the priority transboundary issues were developed and adopted through the 2014 Ministerial Declaration signed by Australia, Indonesia, and Timor-Leste.
             Building on the key results and groundwork of ATSEA-1 the second phase of the program, ATSEA-2 was launched to enhance the regional collaboration of the ATS national government representatives, local leaders, and experts for the implementation of the 10-year SAP to address the transboundary environmental concerns faced by the ATS region. 2 The ATSEA-2 Project (2019- 2024) got underway to support the implementation of the SAP and NAPs, including: (1) strengthening of regional governance structures, enabling policies, and capacities of institutions and individuals in the participating countries; (2) carrying out of priority actions to address the five priority transboundary environmental problems; (3) development and adoption of a monitoring and reporting system; (4) designing of a Regional Governance Mechanism (RGM) with stakeholder inputs, (5) updating of the TDA, and (6) updating of the SAP and NAPs. As the ATS region moves away from a project-based mechanism to a country- and region-owned program-based mechanism, the RGM will be key to the long-term collaboration among the four ATS countries, includingfinancing and sharing of resources to support the implementation of the updated SAP and NAPs. The updated SAP lays out the strategic direction and priority actions to address the four major transboundary concerns, which are marine plastic pollution from land- and sea-based sources, oil spills, small-scale illegal, unreported, and unregulated fisheries (IUUF), and declining populations of endangered (ETP) species and their critical habitats. Cross-cutting issues, such as climate change and Gender Equity and Social Inclusion (GESI), are also integrated into the SAP.

             In March 2023, the Resources, Environment, and Economics Center for Studies, Inc. (REECS) was engaged by the PEMSEA Resource Facility, and in partnership with the ATSEA-2 Regional Project Management Unit along with the four ATS member countries (Australia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and Timor-Leste), to carry out the development of financial plans to support the operationalization of the RGM and implementation of the updated SAP. The REECS team was led by Ms. Maria Corazon M. Ebarvia, supported by Mr. Danniel A. Figueroa (Research Assistant), and Dr. Marian S. Delos Angeles, the senior technical adviser.

              Initially, a cost-benefit analysis (CBA) was conducted by REECS to present the costs of the two RGM options and the benefits of having a regional governance mechanism in place, and the comparison of the net benefits of the two RGM options. During the Intersessional Regional Steering Committee (RSC) meeting in July 2023, the CBA results were shown wherein the benefits of having an RGM and national bodies outweigh the costs. The Intersessional RSC meeting endorsed the RGM option with a regional stakeholder working group. Subsequently, the REECS team developed the financing and investment strategy for the agreed RGM model. This includes the costs needed to support the Regional Secretariat and conduct of RGM meetings, and the procurement, utilization, and management of funds to fulfill the needs of the ATS region and the program in the next phase.

           Alongside the financing of the RGM mechanism, REECS is also responsible for the cost estimation and development of the 5-year financial plan for the priority regional activities of the SAP.

          Throughout REECS’ engagement, several rounds of regional and country consultation workshops were done to ensure that the inputs and feedback from the countries were addressed. This process facilitated the endorsement of the financing strategies and plans and the confirmation of country contributions to support the RGM and SAP implementation, especially during the bridging phase when external funds are not yet available.

          REECS presented the RGM Financing and Investment Strategy, bridge financing arrangements, and the draft Five-Year Cost Estimates and Financial Plan for the updated SAP at the 5th RSC Meeting held in Jakarta, Indonesia on November 21-22, 2023. The RGM structure and Terms of Reference (TOR) for the component bodies, the Financing and Investment Strategy for the RGM, country commitments for the bridging phase, updated SAP 2024-2033, and the next steps for the mainstreaming of funding allocation were all endorsed at the 5th RSC meeting. As for the 5-year financial plan of the SAP, further country consultations will be done, and these will be combined with the mainstreaming workshops in the four ATS countries. REECS’ engagement with the ATSEA-2 project will wrap up in February 2024 after the workshops on mainstreaming funding allocations into regional and national frameworks and country budgets, and the alignment of ongoing and planned projects to contribute to the NAPs and SAP implementation.

           The culmination of the ATSEA-2 Project is the signing of the 2024 Ministerial Declaration for the formal adoption of the RGM, updated SAP and NAPs, and their supporting financial plans. This will ensure regional collaboration, strengthening of capacity, and sharing of knowledge and resources towards the long-term goal of the program to apply sustainable best practices to end IUU fishing, reduce marine plastic pollution and oil spills, mitigate and adapt to climate change, protect coastal and marine ecosystems and priority endangered, threatened, and protected species, and mainstream gender equity and social inclusion.