Shark fishing to be banned from March

In a back room of a shop on Boduthakurufaanu Magu, sea cucumbers lay drying all around and the stench of stale fish hangs thick in the air.

Ahmed Riza, 43, brings out a shark fin for inspection before opening a huge flip-top container filled with fins of varying sizes. The cartilage, once fused to the body of a ill-fated shark, was still visible, sitting like a row of teeth across each of the dull grey fins.

Riza is a middleman, who for the past 20 years, has earned a living buying and selling shark fins to foreign customers. He sells up to 400kg of shark fins a month at around Rf300 (US$23) a kilo.

But the cruel manner in which fins are sliced off sharks before their bodies are dumped in the sea, coupled with the endangered status of many species, prompted the government to make a landmark decision last year. President Mohamed Nasheed announced the Maldives would outlaw shark fishing up to 12 nautical miles (22km) off the coast of all atolls.

This March, the ban is to be extended to cover oceanic sharks – a move praised by marine biologists who have lobbied hard for the 37 species of shark that swim through the Maldives to be protected.

In preparation, the government proposed a three-point plan: find alternative livelihoods for the 200-odd shark fishermen, increase police boat patrols and educate customs officials to recognise shark products. As shark fins are largely for export, the success of the ban rests on the vigilance of Maldives Customs.

With the March deadline fast approaching, however, little appears to have been done. While Dr Hussain Rasheed, the state minister for fisheries and agriculture, maintains that “by and large people know about the shark ban”, interviews with those working in the industry reveal otherwise.

Riza was unaware that it was President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration that had made the decision.

“We first heard about it during Maumoon’s time but since this government came to power we haven’t heard anything about it. They haven’t made any official announcements,” he says.

Marie Saleem, an environment consultant who worked in the Marine Research Centre for 16 years, expresses a similar sentiment.

“I’ve also been trying to find out [what the government has done] and to my knowledge nothing has been done since then.”

Tourist attraction

Ibrahim Adam, 32, is from Alif Dhaal Dhagethi, one of main shark fishing hubs, where six boats catch around two tonnes of shark fins a month each.

A shark fisherman for the past 15 years, Adam was anxious about the impending ban, which will end his monthly income of between Rf12,000 (US$934) and Rf15,000 (US$1,167).

According to Marie, once de-finned, Maldivian fishermen do not discard the remainder of the shark.

“Although some divers have seen sharks without fins, the fishermen I’ve worked with salt and dry the shark.”

The fins are then sold to distributors such as Riza and on to foreign customers, predominantly from East Asia, where they are a delicacy. A key ingredient of shark fin soup, the fins are considered to have rejuvenating properties and sell for more than $300 a kilo.

Stable ecosystems

As predators at the top of the food chain, maintaining shark populations in balance is crucial to the preservation of ocean ecosystems. Overfishing of sharks triggers a domino effect of changes that carries down to several fish species and contributes to the overall degradation of these fragile ecosystems.

As part of their campaign, marine biologists showed that keeping sharks alive was more profitable to the Maldives: for 30 per cent of tourists who visit for the Indian Ocean archipelago for its spectacular marine life, sighting sharks is a priority.

Moreover, while the shark fishermen contribute an estimated US$100,000 a year to the economy, diving with sharks generates a hefty US$2.3 million.

In October, guests staying at Soneva Fushi resort complained after seeing shark fins drying on Baa atoll Thuladhoo, said Anke Hofmeister, a marine biologist at the resort.

“They took photos and we sent them to the ministry, but they said they were not certain these fins were from the reef so it slipped through a loophole.”

After March this loophole will be closed but both Adam and Riza say they still hope the government will amend the ban.

“We’ll be happy if they just give us an area. Maybe they can designate an area outside of the tourist zones for us,” Adam says.

In 1998, concerns about the effect of shark fishing on the tourism industry led the government to impose a 10-year moratorium on shark fishing in seven tourist atolls. However officials acknowledged there was no way of determining whether a shark fin came from a tourist atoll.

Trade in shark fin is to be banned from March
Trade in shark fin is to be banned from March

Plan of action

State Minister for Fisheries and Agriculture Dr Hussain Rasheed Hassan says the government is committed to conservation, adding his ministry is in the process of formulating a National Plan of Action using results from consultations with affected communities.

“Shark fishing is very seasonal. It’s not a livelihood as such…it’s not their whole livelihoods. Nothing drastic will happen if we have a total ban on it, and as a nation it’s our responsibility to protect sharks.”

Rasheed said the government was recruiting 30 Fisheries Enforcement Officers for all atolls to check fishing vessels for necessary paperwork as well as their catch.

But, he said, a lack of funds had thus far thwarted the government’s main objective: to buy back the equipment used for shark fishing.

“We urge those concerned and NGOs to help out by buying back the fishing gear,” he appealed.

Thereafter, the ministry plans to encourage shark fishermen to take up the more lucrative alternative of fishing for yellow-fin tuna, although Rasheed concedes, this requires larger fishing vessels.

Until then, shark fishermen such as Adam still await government assistance.

“The fisheries minister came to our island last year and told us about the ban. He said the government would find other ways for us to live before they impose the ban. We’re still waiting on that,” he said.

“I was very sad when I first heard about it. It’s my entire livelihood and what I do to support my family. It would be a great injustice to tell us not to go fishing anymore. It’s like telling someone not to go in to the office.”


Abortion in the Maldives: the untold story

When the strip on the pregnancy test turned pink, 23-year-old Mustafa asked his girlfriend to marry him. Not because he wanted to, but because he believed it was the right thing to do.

She said no.

Aminath, who was 19, replied she was too young to have a child. And so, he told her he would “fix it”.

A few days later, Mustafa learned of a man who charged Rf2,000 (US$155) to perform an abortion. Reassured by two friends who had used him, he set up an appointment in Male’.

“The man gave her three injections and said that within one to four hours, she would start to bleed and it would be very painful and it would be like giving birth,” says Mustafa, his frail voice quivering.

“At this point I was having serious doubts about this guy. He wasn’t a doctor… he was boasting about his abortion activities and the number of girls he had done this to. He said at one point it was almost one every night. The way he said it was without a trace of compassion.”

Mustafa’s description of what followed is harrowing: Aminath was carried back and forth to the toilet, she threw up twice and was writhing in agony. Four hours later, she began to bleed.

As a Muslim country, abortion is illegal in the Maldives except to save a mother’s life, or if a child suffers from a congenital defect such as thalassemia. But anecdotal evidence points overwhelmingly to a high rate of abortion.

“I can count seven of my friends, three girls and four boys. The story was the same,” says Mustafa.

Statistical vacuum

There is scant information available on abortion in the Maldives. No research on the subject has ever been commissioned. But, says Fathimath, 40, a social researcher on youth and women, other statistics indicated that abortion was prevalent.

She points to the discrepancy between the decline in the fertility rate and the low rate of contraceptive use – an estimated 39 per cent – which raised important questions that remained unanswered.

Halfway through the conversation, Fathimath says she herself has terminated two pregnancies. The first time she was 20 and a newlywed. She had been given the opportunity to study in the UK and felt her pregnancy was ill-timed. Her second abortion was more recent: her husband had been cheating on her when she found out she was pregnant.

“At that time, I wasn’t emotionally capable of having a child,” says Fathimath, who had both of her abortions abroad.

The only tidbit of official information that exists comes from the Reproductive Health Survey conducted in 2004. The survey found that despite the absence of reliable data, it was likely that unsafe abortions could be a cause for concern. Three years later, an unofficial report by the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) reached a similar conclusion.

Interviews with four demographically-diverse focus groups revealed that induced abortions were common among women and girls in Male’ with most ostensibly taking place in unsafe circumstances.

But, the IPPF never obtained government permission to carry out the study and because of the qualitative nature of its research, its findings were never acknowledged or made public, says Fathimath.

The report found that the stigma of having a child out of wedlock compels women and girls to opt for abortions. Two focus groups of unmarried boys and girls asserted that abortion was widespread. Some said they knew of girls as young as 12 who had undergone abortions and each knew at least one person who had terminated a pregnancy.

The discussions further revealed that while abortion was more common among unmarried youth, it was still widespread among married couples. Even within marriage, an optimal family size, economic hardship, infidelity, domestic violence, contraceptive failures and unexpected pregnancy in older women were factors that contributed to the decision.

In one interview, the IPPF spoke to a 37-year-old woman from a poor socio-economic background whose husband suggested she have an abortion. He procured and administered the injections but soon after, the woman fell sick and began to bleed profusely. She consulted a doctor and discovered the baby was still alive; she had to travel to India for a safe abortion.

Honour killings

For those who can afford it, travelling to India or Sri Lanka is an option. But in neighbouring Sri Lanka, where abortion is illegal, the operation is performed by unskilled individuals in unhygienic settings.

One unmarried woman interviewed by the IPPF travelled to an abortion clinic in Sri Lanka when she was 31.

She said she remembered hearing the sound of women crying and the stench of blood. The abortion was carried out on a soiled bed and she was not anaesthetised.

“I felt like a piece of meat; I couldn’t help crying throughout [the process],” she said. Once the abortion was over, she was ordered out of the room despite not being able to physically move.

For those like Mustafa who cannot pay to go abroad, the alternatives are bleak. Abortion-inducing pills and injections administered by amateur abortionists are one recourse while others turn to harmful vaginal preparations, containing chemicals such as bleach or kerosene. Although infrequent, some insert objects into their uterus or induce abdominal trauma.

“It’s difficult to name names but I know prominent women who have had multiple abortions,” says Aishath Velazinee, a well-known campaigner for human rights.

“If a daughter gets pregnant, parents would rather have an abortion,” she says, referring to the shame of pregnancy outside of marriage. “I think it’s appropriate to call these abortions honour killings.”


Using the information gleaned from the focus groups, IPPF concluded that widespread premarital and extramarital sex, high rates of divorce and remarriage (including sex between marriages), and poor access and practice of contraception could lead to a high number of unwanted pregnancies.

All four groups said that despite being illegal, sex outside of marriage was commonplace, especially among young people. Nor was it uncommon for married men to have affairs with unmarried girls.

But disturbingly, the focus groups said that couples preferred not to use contraception. Among the reasons offered included a reluctance to use condoms.

For some, the IPPF discovered, having an abortion was itself a form of contraception. One girl said: “When abortions can be obtained without much difficulty, young people do not want to use contraceptives as those take away the pleasure.”

Under the form of sharia law practiced in the Maldives, both sex before marriage and adultery are offences punishable by flogging. But attitudes towards sex reveal a discrepancy. While it is acknowledged in private that both take place, social norms and cultural attitudes restrict public discussions on the subject. As a result, students are not taught about contraception at school as for many this would be tantamount to condoning sex outside of marriage.

Government policy

Nazeera Najeeb, head of the population division in the health ministry, stressed that it was difficult to grasp the extent of the problem in the absence of official statistics.

“Without that it’s difficult to say exactly what’s happening,” she says.

The health ministry has plans to conduct research into abortion in the Maldives and educate the public about the health risks involved, she says.

“We are trying to create awareness on the disadvantages. At present we are trying to develop some mass media programmes.”

The list of potential health complications associated with unsafe abortion rolled off by Nazeera makes for grim reading: reproductive health infections, infertility, septicaemia, shock and even death.

While students could not be taught about contraception at school, they could be alerted to the dangers of unsafe abortion, she said. In addition, the health ministry could redouble its efforts to promote contraception among married couples.

For Velazinee, however, as long as the government continues to shy away from the sensitive issues that surround abortion, couples will continue to find themselves in the same quandary.

As with the drug epidemic, only government policies that addressed the real picture would help break the taboo, and thus, move the country towards finding a solution, she says. Until a shift in policy-making occurred, she adds, society will continue to be marked by a dualism: a public facade that does not reflect the private sphere.

“We gear policy to the normative standards of being a 100 per cent Muslim country rather than the reality. The government doesn’t want to publicise the availability of contraception for fear the move will be misinterpreted. They don’t want to acknowledge these issues, but the reality is that these things happen.”

The names of all those who have spoken about their personal experiences involving abortion have been changed.


Majlis proceeds with tobacco bill

A tobacco control bill proposed by the government to ban smoking in public places and set restrictions on its use was sent to committee for further review today.

All 55 MPs who participated voted in favour of sending the bill to the social affairs committee.

Presenting the bill at a previous sitting, Health Minister Aminath Jameel said the dangers and health risks of tobacco were well established and the habit led to extreme suffering.

“When I looked at the statistics of our country, I see cancer, one of the most painful of diseases. In 2004, 40 people passed away. In 2008, the number of people who died from different types of cancer increased to 79,” she said.

The number of people who died of heart diseases increased from 192 people in 2004 to 403 in 2008, she added.

The bill states its purpose is to keep children away from tobacco use, provide information to smokers to make responsible decisions and stop advertisement and promotion of cigarettes.

The second clause of the bill states that everyone has the right to protection from passive smoking.

If passed, smoking will be banned in workplaces, public places such as parks, cinemas and conference halls, public transport, teashops, restaurants, cafes, education institutes and hospitals.

Further, selling cigarettes to minors will be an offence and cigarettes will only be sold in packs.

It also places restrictions on the advertisement and promotion of cigarettes.

A one-year period following ratification will be given to draft regulations and enforce the laws.

The legislation also calls for the formation of a national council for tobacco control to be chaired by the health minister.

In 2004, Maldives acceded to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which requires certain regulations to be enforced.


During the debate that spanned two sittings, although most MPs supported the legislation, some MPs said the provisions were “too harsh” and should not be implemented abruptly.

Several MPs said the bill read like it was intended to ban tobacco rather than control its use.

Ihavandhoo MP Ahmed Abdullah of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and Funadhoo MP Abdul Raheem Abdullah of the opposition People’s Alliance argued that specifying fines to range between Rf500 (US$39) and Rf100,000 (US$7,800) was not sensible.

Some opposition MPs, such as Hanimadhoo MP Mohamed Mujthaz and Mulaku MP Abdullah Yamin, criticised the bill for being poorly researched and proposed just for the sake of it.

Kulhudhufushi South MP Mohamed Nasheed, an independent, noted that one-third of all deaths in the Maldives were due to illnesses caused by smoking.

If current trends continue, he added, the WHO estimated the number would rise to two-thirds by 2030.

Several MPs said cigarette-smoking was a gateway to drug use, noting the price of cigarettes in the Maldives was the lowest in the region.

Hithadhoo North MP Mohamed Aslam proposed doubling import duties for cigarettes.

Addressing MPs’ concerns, the health minister said editorial issues in the bill could be resolved at committee stage.

Many countries in the world enforce similar laws such as those proposed in the bill, she said, adding that it would be difficult to prevent children from taking up smoking.


Experts conclude capacity assessment of HRCM

A team of independent experts has conducted a capacity assessment on the Human Rights Commission Maldives (HRCM), recommending the institution remove the proviso in its regulations which stipulates all members must be Muslim.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Chris Sidoti from the Asia Pacific Forum said he hoped the recommendation would not be overplayed as the constitution already mandated that only Muslims can be citizens of the Maldives.

The team of four, including delegates from UNDP and the office of the high commissioner for human rights in Geneva, made two further recommendations after shadowing the HRCM for the past two weeks.

They advised the commission to open up the nomination of its members to the public and non-governmental institutions. At present, names are proposed by the president and approved by parliament.

A third recommendation involved changing the commission’s regulations to allow for greater engagement at an international level.

HRCM President Ahmed Saleem said, “The recommendations in the draft are very valid and well thought out.”

Sidoti said if all three recommendations were fulfilled, the HRCM would receive international accreditation, allowing it to participate fully in all human rights forums.

He added the changes would improve the Maldives’ chances of getting elected to the UN Human Rights Council.

Sidoti praised the commission’s efforts over the past three years, which have seen the institution grow from four employees to around fifty.

“Within such a rapidly changing climate and despite the geography of the country and lack of higher education, these commissioners have produced a very good organisation with very good staff,” he said.

On the financial constraints currently faced by the HRCM, Sidoti said that while the commission was not legally obliged to comply with the government’s request, he was positive the institution would want to “contribute as much as anyone”.

The ministry of finance has requested the HRCM impose pay cuts for all employees in line with its cost-cutting measures. This month all civil servants had their salaries reduced by up to 20 per cent, while political appointees had their reduced in September.

But at a meeting with President Mohamed Nasheed yesterday, the heads of six independent institutions said there was no specific law which empowered them to reduce the salaries of their employees.

The human rights experts met with the home affairs committee yesterday, requesting their assistance in implementing recommendations, said Independent MP for Kulhudhufushi South Mohamed Nasheed, chairman of the committee.

The question of the HRCM’s financial independence was raised at the meeting, he said, adding once parliament had approved the commission’s budget, the government’s only responsibility was to “write the cheque”.

“They wanted us to bring amendments to reflect full financial independence,” he said.

Nasheed said MPs would now complete a report and submit it to the floor for approval. Further, once parliament adopted the new rules of procedure, a human rights committee would be established, providing a platform for debate on the HRCM’s findings.


British MPs advocate on behalf of Maldives

British MPs from the Conservative Party pleaded the case of the Maldives at the House of Commons yesterday, urging the UK government to dig deep into its pockets to help the country out if its financial quagmire.

Addressing Ivan Lewis, the British state minister at the foreign and commonwealth office, MP David Amess said the UK Department for International Development (DFID) – which aims to reduce overseas poverty through aid – had offered relatively little support to the fledgling democracy.

The MP noted that since 2005, DFID had not provided aid to the Maldives, which as a lower-middle income country was not considered a priority. Further, bilateral aid to the Maldives from other UK official sources totalled £103,000, he said.

“Although it is not of the world’s poorest countries, it is one of the lowest lying and as such is one of those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change,” said Amess, adding rising sea levels threatened livelihoods, infrastructure, food security and health.

In 2007, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted rising sea levels of up to 58cm would submerge many of the country’s 1,192 islands by the end of the century.

“Two-thirds of the country disappeared momentarily into the Indian Ocean and when the sea withdrew, it took 62 per cent of the country’s gross national product with it,” said Amess.

“Electricity, communications and freshwater supplies on many islands were destroyed by salt water. Such disaster scenarios have the potential to multiply exponentially as a result of climate change and rising sea levels.”

Adaptation and mitigation

Amess said the Maldives required financial assistance to fund adaptation and mitigation strategies as well as technology development and capacity building. The cost of the country’s adaptation programme adopted in 2007 is an estimated US$100 million, he said.

Referring to President Mohamed Nasheed’s announcement to make the country carbon neutral within a decade, he recommended the British government rewarded nations, which had shown clear leadership in climate change matters.

In March, Nasheed unveiled plans to make the Maldives the first carbon neutral country in the world by switching to renewable energy and offsetting carbon emissions. Amess said the decision presented British companies with a wealth of business opportunities.

Next up was MP Richard Spring, who spoke to the state minister about the Maldives’ difficult fiscal position. Relative to its size, he said, the country had a large budget deficit which could be easily addressed by DFID.

“This is the youngest democracy in the world and in the Commonwealth, and we owe a great deal to it,” said Spring.

A third MP, Gary Streeter, pointed out that aside from being a democracy, the Maldives was also a Muslim country. “If its government and democracy were allowed to fail, it would send a bad signal to the wider world and…Britain ought to ensure that it succeeds,” he said.

The Maldives government has close ties to the British Conservative Party, which helped the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) with campaign advice, training and resources ahead of the presidential election last year.

Earlier this week, President Mohamed Nasheed spoke at the Conservative Party’s annual conference, underscoring their shared centre-right ideology.


Following the MPs’ impassioned plea, the state minister said the British government was committed to helping the Maldives through a transitional moment in its history.

Lewis said he welcomed Amess’s “genuine” interest in the Indian Ocean Archipelago. “I hope that he [Amess] continues to enjoy many a holiday in what is a beautiful country,” he said.

At the height of the British MPs’ expenses scandal in May, the British newspaper, The Independent on Sunday revealed that MPs were travelling on hundreds of trips a year at the taxpayer’s expense.

While the trips did not break any rules, the paper described some, such as junkets to the Maldives, as “questionable”.

Lewis said that while the British government recognised the Maldives’ financial difficulties, it was unable to give preferential treatment and the country would be subject to the same criteria for aid as all others.

He added, however, that the government had advised the Maldives to approach international financial organisations such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and provided technical assistance with its application.

Earlier this year the government had provided a fiscal policy advisor to help the Maldives in its negotiations with these institutions, he said.

As a board member of the IMF, he continued, the government would ensure the necessary resources are contributed for economic stability and development in the Maldives.

“We will use our influence with the IMF to get the right outcome, providing that the bidding process and the application meet the necessary business standards,” said Lewis.

He further advised the Maldives seek financial assistance from the UN framework convention on climate change adaptation fund due to become operational in early 2010.


Police investigating reports of illegal under-age marriage

Police raided a house on Laamu atoll Fonadhoo today following reports of an illegal marriage involving a girl around nine years of age.

Sergeant Ahmed Shiyam confirmed the police raid but said he was unable to provide further details at this stage of the investigation.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Fathimath Yumna, director of the department of gender, said the ministry of health and family had also been unable to confirm reports about the illegal marriage.

While the national age of marriage is 18 in the Maldives, as a Muslim country, girls under this age can marry with the permission of their parents and state consent.

Yumna said if a minor wished to marry, the ministry would undertake an assessment to ensure the physical and mental well-being of the child. But, she added most applications were from girls aged 16 to 18.

“It’s a minority of religious groups but they are coming up presently,” she said. “We do have such issues and we are trying to raise awareness.”

She said the alleged marriage had not been registered with the courts and if reports were true, the girl may have married in a private ceremony.

Fonadhoo Island Chief Ahmed Yousuf said the office had not received an official report about the marriage, but he had heard rumours about a man on the island with “extremist” views wedded to a young girl.

“The man was a former magistrate who quit the government saying its revenue was haram because of alcohol and pork. He was also involved in the Himandhoo incident,” he said.

Himandhoo became notorious as a hotbed of extremism after video footage shot in an illegal mosque on the island was found on an al-Qaeda internet forum in 2007.

The  same year, the island was in the media spotlight after locals armed with home-made weapons clashed with over 200 riot police searching for two suspects in the Sultan Park bombing.

Yousuf added the man did not send his children to school or allow them to pray at any of the island’s mosques.

Last week, President Mohamed Nasheed called for an investigation into reports about under-age concubines being kept by religious extremists in the Maldives.

While police, the Human Rights Commission Maldives and the ministry of health had all received several reports of under-age girls being used for sex, none have been able to confirm the identities of those involved.

According to the reports received by these institutions, a young girl taken to Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital by an older woman in July was discovered to have been sexually abused. When questioned, the woman said her husband had sex with the girl when she was menstruating.

Yumna said if the reports are confirmed, the ministry would strive to counter the religious beliefs behind concubinage in collaboration with the ministry of Islamic affairs.

Speaking to Minivan News last week, Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed said Islam prohibited the abuse of women. He added keeping concubines was part of Arab culture which was eradicated with the advent of Islam.


President calls on world leaders to act now

President Mohamed Nasheed gave an impassioned speech at the UN summit on climate change at New York yesterday, urging international action against global warming rather than just empty pledges.

The president, who followed US President Barack Obama in speaking order, said from his observations, once the dust of the rhetoric had settled at climate change conferences, “sympathy fades, indignation cools, and the world carries on as before.”

“We in the Maldives desperately want to believe that one day our words will have an effect, and so we continue to shout them even though, deep down, we know that you are not really listening,” he said.

Nasheed said developed countries must acknowledge their historic responsibility for global warming and accept emission reduction targets consistent with an average temperature increase below 1.5 degrees celsius.

Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said if climate change continued unchecked, global temperatures would rise by up to 6.4 degrees celsius within a century, leading to frequent cyclones, heat waves and heavy rains.

President Nasheed with Bill Clinton
President Nasheed with Bill Clinton

World leaders convene at the Danish capital in December to hammer out a successor to the Kyoto Protocol in what is widely perceived as an eleventh hour attempt at keeping the worst consequences of climate change at bay.


Despite several high-level meetings so far this year, negotiations have stalled between the developed and developing world. While countries such as India and China argue the onus of curbing emissions is on rich, industrialised nations, the latter are loth to commit.

Speaking yesterday, Nasheed said developing countries must play their part under the “principle of common but differentiated responsibility”. The transfer of technological know-how and finance from rich nations to poor was further essential in achieving global cuts to emissions.

“I would argue that the threat posed by climate change is now so acute, the science so clear, the solution so apparent, and the cost-benefit analysis of action and inaction so alarming, that such horse-trading and brinkmanship must be left in the past,” he said.

Failure to reach broad agreement in Copenhagen would be morally inexcusable, economically short-sighted and politically unwise
Ban Ki-Moon
UN Secretary-General

Addressing members yesterday, both the US and China expressed similar commitment to cutting emissions. Obama said while developed countries such as the US were responsible for taking the lead on climate change action, the developing world must also cooperate.

Further, the global recession should not be used as an excuse for complacency. “Unease is no excuse for inaction…Each of us must do what we can to grow our economies without endangering our planet, and we must do it together. We must seize the opportunity to make Copenhagen a significant step forward in the global fight against climate change.”

Likewise Chinese President Hu Jintao said his country was committed to tackling climate change.

“We will endeavor to cut carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by a notable margin by 2020 from the 2005 level,” he said. “Second, we will vigorously develop renewable energy and nuclear energy. We will endeavor to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 15 percent by 2020.”

Time to act

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon who opened up the meeting stressed the urgency of tackling climate change, which if unchecked would result in the Arctic being ice-free by 2030.

He said he was moved by the eloquence of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and the impact that climate change will have on their future existence.

Yesterday, AOSIS unanimously passed Nasheed’s call for their declaration to be framed in positive rather than negative language to emphasise what can be achieved. The declaration calls for a cap in temperatures of 1.5 degrees as well as financing to help islands adapt to global warming.

“Climate change is the pre-eminent geopolitical and economic issue of the 21st century,” continued Ban Ki-Moon. “It rewrites the global equation for development, peace and prosperity. It will increase pressure on water, food and land…. reverse years of development gains…. exacerbate poverty…. destabilise fragile states and topple governments.”

While, many thought tackling climate change was an expensive undertaking, he added, failure to do so would wreak inestimable damage.

The UN secretary-general added a successful new deal must commit to ambitious targets, help vulnerable countries, have financial backing and be equitable to the needs of developing countries.

“Failure to reach broad agreement in Copenhagen would be morally inexcusable, economically short-sighted and politically unwise,” he said. “We cannot go down this road. If we have learned anything from the crises of the past year, it is that our fates are intertwined.”


Government proposes hiking departure tax

The government has submitted a bill to increase departure tax and generate revenue for improvements to border control and aviation safety.

Mahmoud Razee, minister of civil aviation and communication, said the departure tax would be increased from US$14 to US$18.50.

The government has also submitted a civil aviation authority bill to parliament which will allow the establishment of a body to oversee aviation-related activities such as safety.

Razee said the establishment of an independent institution had been recommended by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

The ICAO is a UN agency that regulates international air navigation to ensure safe growth of the industry. The council recommends practices concerning air navigation, infrastructure, flight inspection and facilitation of border-crossing procedures.

Razee said he did not think the increase would deter holidaymakers as the tax was still low compared to other countries in South Asia which charged tourists an average of US$20.

Speaking to an international group of journalists last month, President Mohamed Nasheed announced the government’s decision to introduce a US$3 a day green tax on all tourists.

He said the revenue generated would go towards making the Maldives carbon neutral within a decade and a sovereign fund to relocate the population if rising sea levels swamp the island nation.

But, Tourism Minister Dr Ahmed Sawad said it was more likely the government would take a percentage from other taxes such as the departure tax for deposit in a green fund.

“We have been talking about a lot of taxes and have created debate in the public domain,” said Sawad. “What I believe is going to happen in the near future is we will streamline all of these ideas into a single tax.”


President spreads climate change message

President Mohamed Nasheed was presented with a ‘Not Stupid’ award yesterday for his efforts to tackle climate change at the global premiere of the Age of Stupid.

The Age of Stupid was premiered yesterday in a solar-powered tent in New York and was attended by A-list celebrities and world leaders alike.

The president has fast become the moral voice of climate change after announcing his plan to make the Maldives the first carbon neutral country in the world earlier this year.

The film is a docudrama starring Oscar-nominated Pete Posthethwaite as an old man living in 2055 in a world ravaged by climate change. In the film, Posthethwaite looks back on archival footage from 2008 asking the all-important question: why didn’t we stop climate change when we had the chance?

The premiere was held a day before the climate change forum at the 64th UN General Assembly where world leaders hope to begin negotiations leading up to talks in Copenhagen, Denmark, this December.

Positive thinking

Hours after the premiere, leaders from small island states gathered to demand the world step up to the challenge of climate change and global temperatures be sharply reduced from targets recently set by industrialised countries.

At the high-level summit of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the president’s call for the declaration to be couched in positive rather than negative language was unanimously passed.

Nasheed said while the climate change debate had so far centred on a ‘prohibition list’ a ‘positive list’ of actions would be equally effective. “If we go to Copenhagen with this line of thinking, we can’t achieve anything.”

He added countries should focus on investing in green technologies rather than solely on cutting carbon emissions and urged small island states to speak with a ‘singular voice’ at Copenhagen.

The declaration calls for a cap in temperatures of 1.5 degrees as well as financing to help islands adapt to global warming.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change forecasts temperature rises of between 1.1 and 6.4 degrees celsius within the next century.

Climate change is already delivering damage not of our making,” the Maldives president, Mohamed Nasheed, told leaders, according to the British newspaper The Guardian.

“Should we, leaders of the most vulnerable and exposed countries, be asking our people to sign on to significantly greater degrees of misery and livelihood insecurity, essentially becoming climate change guinea pigs?”

Tillman Thomas, the president of Grenada in the Caribbean, told Reuters failure to act at Copenhagen would amount to ‘benign genocide’.

Small island states are among the countries most vulnerable to sea level rises and flooding from melting ice caps, as well as among the least responsible.

Against all odds

In another event, Nasheed addressed a rally of hundreds of labour, environmental, student and community activists calling for action on climate change yesterday. The rally was organised to kick-off World Climate Week.

In his speech, Nasheed highlighted the importance of grassroots movements to pressure leaders to take action on climate change.

“I’m not saying this because I have read this from a book, but I’m saying this because I’m living it. We have changed a thirty-year dictatorship against all odds,â” he said.

The president said good governance was essential to climate change as corrupt governments would not bring positive outcomes.

Nasheed said he believed humankind was not ‘stupid’ enough to ignore climate change and destroy the earth for future generations.