Maldives’ sustainability success requires emissions action post-Cancun: WWF

The impacts of climate change talks concluded earlier this month in Cancun, Mexico, which have been praised by President Mohamed Nasheed for supporting the Maldives’ own sustainable commitments, remain as yet “too vague” to discuss in terms of success, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has said.

Martin Hiller, who heads Climate Policy Communications and Campaigns for the WWF environmental NGO, told Minivan News that despite the “positive” outcomes from the Cancun talks in terms of encouraging “cohesion” between nations, it remained too early to assess any long term impacts upon sustainable initiatives.

“Success will be when emission reductions are happening, and so far they are not yet,” he said. “Success will be when adaptation action is happening, and is financed. [Climate change talks in] Durban next year needs to result in concrete commitments.”

The Cancun talks have aimed, alongside other initiatives, to secure emissions reductions from every developed and developing nation, while also raising US$100 billion in funding each year to aid sustainability initiatives based on low-carbon developments for smaller economies from 2020.

Although conceding last week that Cancun alone would not be enough to aid national commitments on becoming carbon neutral by 2020, the President’s Office said it believed the talks “anchored” Nasheed’s green commitments as outlined under the Copenhagen Accord.

Despite not yet having outlined a “masterplan” for how the Maldives can actually begin to meet it aims of being completely carbon neutral in less than a decade, Nasheed said last month that failure to meet these goals would be a “disaster” for the nation and wider global arguments for developing sustainable economies.

Hiller agreed that “the Maldives had promised something and it now needed to deliver”.

However, he claimed that beyond domestic sustainability initiatives that will required by every nation, groups like the WWF are trying to establish an international system that better supports carbon neutral efforts made by nations like the Maldives – not just in terms of finance, “but technology transfer, logistical support and training.”

“In the end, we are looking at a huge transformation on this planet – either we manage that transformation ourselves and have a possibility to say what it should look like, or temperatures get out of hand, and nature will react and change the world according to the laws of physics and biology,” he added.

In considering the Maldives’ commitments on trying to develop into a low carbon economy, Hiller said he believed that it will be vital to find a “holistic” national sustainability strategy. He said such a strategy could then be used to adopt a wide selection of sustainable intiatives beyond one particular focus, helping to ensure a greater likelihood of sustainable efficiency in both cost and output.

Ultimately, Hiller claimed that the Maldives and its president had become “important players” in publicising and representing sustainable commitments like the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

He added that this importance could be seen particularly in the way the country has acted as a leader in the cause of Small Island States and all other countries perceived as being vulnerable to the potential impacts of climate change.

“The Maldives have an important role to play in the multilateral politics around climate change. They are definitely a figurehead,” Hiller added. “I’d also want to watch the progress of [the] country’s low carbon development, as this will help all us others to learn.”

Business concerns

However, not everyone has been convinced that the potential impacts of climate change on rising sea levels within low lying nations like the Maldives are a vital issue to address, at least in terms of business sensibilities.
Andrew Harrison, who was recently appointed CEO of GMR Male’ International Airport, said that at least from the viewpoint of insurance companies, the risk of sea levels increasing to a point that disrupted operations at the site were not even considered in its premiums.

“When we became involved in the bid process, we engaged three leading companies who are at the forefront of analysing geophysical activity, climate change and the impact rising sea levels,” he said. “Insurers are notorious for considering even unimaginable risks, so I can tell you that if no insurance company considers this in any of their policies for the Maldives, we think that the risk is pretty low.”

Speaking to Minivan News last month, environmental organisation Greenpeace said it believed the Maldives acted more as a symbol than a practical demonstration of how national development and fighting climate change can be mutually exclusive.

Wendel Trio, Climate Policy and Global Deal Coordinator for Greenpeace International, believed that the Maldives can nonetheless play an iconic role in promoting the potential benefits of adopting alternate energy programmes.

In looking specifically at the Maldives, the Greenpeace spokesperson accepted that the country is somewhat limited by its size in the role it can have as an advocate for more sustainable business and lifestyles.