The Maldives “need not return to the stone age” and neglect creature comforts for the sake of the environment, Maldives’ Environment Minister Mohamed Aslam has said, and should instead find alternative ways to continue enjoying technological developments.
Certain environmental groups remain skeptical of the true effectiveness of green business developments, even in the tourism sector where restrictions on developers are more comprehensive, however Aslam said he believed the Maldives had nonetheless taken a “bold step” in its own commitment to sustainable practices over the remaning decade.
Aslam made the claims while speaking at the launch of a new ‘green’ mobile tower by Wataniya, one of the country’s two telecos, at the Adaraan Hudhuranfushi resort on Saturday afternoon.
Wataniya claims the new Single Radio Access Network (RAN) tower provides more sustainable and operationally-efficient mobile phone and data coverage, albeit at a significantly higher cost of acquisition.
According to the company, the first tower installed will cover a 60 kilometre radius around Hudhuranfushi at a 54 percent reduction in total power consumption and 80 percent reduction in carbon footprint compared to existing installed technology, and could be easily upgraded to handle upcoming 4G developments with the addition of a single card. It also claims the smaller size of the tower – essentially a single metal pole anchored to a concrete footprint the size of an office chair, makes it more attractive for roll-out on resort islands concerned about the visual impact of a conventional lattice structure mobile tower.
Aslam, speaking at the resort during the launch, told media that the support of foreign corporations such as Wataniya that had invested in the Maldives was a key part of the Maldives’ meeting its carbon neutral commitment by by 2020. Although details of how the country can efficiently meet its 2020 target remain elusive beyond broad political support for investment in green technology and renewable energy, President Mohamed Nasheed said last year that failure to meet the goals would be a “disaster” for the country in ensuring long-term stability both economically and geologically.
Despite the adoption of the new technology at Adaaran’s Hudhuranfushi resort, Ali Rilwan, Executive Director of local environmental NGO Bluepeace told Minivan News that he believed that the Maldives’ tourist resorts’ general commitment to effective sustainable practices was not limited to green technology and day-to-day issues like waste management.
Rilwan claimed that although tourist regulations did tend to be stricter in regards to the amount of natural land being developed and not allowing buildings to tower over an island’s tallest trees, other viable development areas included solar and renewable energy technologies.
“I think very few resorts are taking responsibility. Waste management is another vital area and only a few resorts have sewage treatment plants rather than pumping it into the ocean,” he said. “Some [resorts] are also not disposing of their garbage correctly either so they hire local boats to transport garbage to the island of Thilafushi. In some cases management may be unaware that some boats travel just a few hours off shore and then dump trash in the sea without travelling all the way to Thilafushi.”
Despite his concerns Rilwan said that he saw developments such as those taken by Wataniya to introduce more energy efficient equipment like the RAN towers as a “good move” to cut environmental impact, although he believed the company’s spending on sustainable developments could be widened to a number of areas.
He pointed to telecommunications companies fully replacing plastic cards used by customers to recharge their mobile phone credit or looking at alternatives to spending on billboard advertising and promotions and simpler activities like planting more trees.
“Each resort is required to be working on projects like planting trees,” he said. “These companies could instead use their funding to do very visible commitments like plant coconut trees around islands.”
Perhaps more unlikely, Rilwan stated that Wataniya and its competitors such as Dhiraagu could also consider sharing and maintaining telecommunication commitment together to try and cut down on the space and energy requirements in supplying separate services to Maldivian customers.
With local councils elected into office in February, Rilwan said that he expected more visible measures and local projects to be managed to help local islands in boosting their sustainability.
Speaking to Minivan News in October, 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, the organisation’s Climate Policy and Global Deal Coordinator, said he believed that the Maldives could nonetheless play an iconic role in promoting the potential benefits of adopting alternate energy programmes.
“By coupling both strong words and the need for the big emitting countries in the developed and the developing world to reduce their emissions sharply, with a strong commitment at home, the Maldives has also gained respect,” Trio explained to Minivan News. “However, obviously none of the big emitting countries are looking at the Maldives as an example, as they all claim that their social and economic development cannot be compared to that of a small island state.”
He accepted that the country was somewhat limited by its size but said it could have play a role in advocating for more sustainable business and lifestyle practices.