Maldives’ youth delegates return from Copenhagen

Three of the four young climate delegates from the Maldives have returned from representing the island nation at the youth climate conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The event preceded the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference (COP 15) that began today, where 192 parties are meeting with the intention of formulating an agreement to stabilise the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Organisers hope the conference will prove as successful as COP3 in 1997, known as the Kyoto Protocol, which led to agreements on mandatory emission reductions.

Aishath Shifana, Mohamed Ansar and Aminath Riuman Wasif returned home on Sunday while the fourth Maldivian delegate, Mohamed Axan Maumoon, will remain in Denmark for a several more days after being chosen to meet the Danish Prime Minister.

Axan is revelling in his role as youth climate ambassador of the Maldives, appearing on award-winning US news program Democracy Now, the largest community media collaboration in North America.

“On the basis that you know what you are doing is wrong and you can see that the victim is begging for mercy, would you commit murder?” Axam asked the program’s viewers.

The other school students were welcomed home at the UN building by Education Minister Dr Mustafa Lutfy and UN staff including Mansoor Ali, Unicef representative to the Maldives.

Mansoor urged them to “keep up the momentum”, by trying to engage more of their contemporaies in tackling climate change, pledging the support of Unicef, while Lutfy offered the support of the education ministry to buoy the efforts of the schools’ climate clubs.

“I hope the trip was useful from an individual perspective as well as anchoring your efforts into the future,” Mansoor said, adding that he hoped the students had also had time to see Denmark.

Officer-in-charge of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in the Maldives, Dr Arun Kashyap, suggested the students continue to work together and develop a proposal for a youth climate summit to be held in the Maldives.

Coping in Copenhagen

The Maldivian delegates explore a forest in Denmark
The Maldivian delegates explore a forest in Denmark

During the week-long visit to Denmark, over 200 delegates aged 14-17 from 42 countries set up stands in Copenhagen town hall promoting their country’s efforts to combat climate change. The Maldivian delegates confessed theirs “was one of the most popular”, with many people fascinated by the immediate threat climate change and sea level rise poses for the low-lying island nation.

“It was very interesting to see how people responded to the issue of sea level rise,” Wasif explained. “Everyone kept saying: ‘we’d better go and see the Maldives before it is under the sea.'”

The Maldivians’ response, Ansar said, was to say “we don’t want to be under the sea. We’re an innocent [party] suffering from the actions of developed countries.”

The students’ enthusiasm for their subject was quickly picked up by the attending media and the group were inundated with interviews throughout their time in Denmark, frequently making national headlines.

There were a lot of journalists and we were always busy with interviews,” Ansar said. “I don’t think we’ll ever be afraid of journalists again,” he laughed. The trick, he explained, was “to talk normally, as you would to a friend.”

Seeing an opportunity to gain support from the education ministry, Shifana asked Lutfy to “please give the school climate clubs more support, because they are the least popular clubs in school.”

“We would like more students to join and be as interested in the environment as we are,” she said.

The four students were chosen from across the Maldives. A short-list of 10 competed in a quiz broadcast on TVM, from which the final four were selected.