The Ministry of Tourism and UNDP have signed a US$3.3 million project to help the Maldives tourism sector adapt to climate change.
UN Resident Representative Andrew Cox said that as tourism represented 30 percent of the economy and 60 percent of the country’s foreign exchange receipts, “the future of the Maldives is wrapped up in the tourism sector.”
“Right now there is a great deal of variety in how resorts handle the environment and climate change issues,” Cox said. “Some have this as their focus, the basis of their product, while others, it’s fair to say, do not.”
The project, he explained, would seek to help the Ministry of Tourism develop its own regulation, in partnership with the industry.
As well as developing building and planning codes for new resorts, the project included scope for developing environmentally-sound physical infrastructure, energy efficient buildings and practices, climate resilient fresh water management, flood-proofing, waste water management, protection of coastal ridges, reefs and vegetative belts, and diversification of energy sources.
“We are also looking at assessing market-based risk financing,” Cox said. “The Maldives is very vulnerable to natural hazards and disasters, but there are insurance products that can reduce that risk.”
The project will establish “at least 10” community-based adaption projects between tourism-associated communities and operators.
“We often hear of tensions between resorts and communities,” Cox noted, during the signing ceremony today. “This [project] will focus on common responsibility, the management of common resources. What is good for a resort can be good for the island next to it. Rather than have a charity relationship between resorts and local islands, we want to try to build stronger partnerships.”
Asked why the tourism sector required UN involvement if the funding of such adaptation was in the long-term financial interest of the industry, Cox noted that “what we have seen in other countries is that something that seems obvious doesn’t always happen. But this is not something that will be done without the partnership of the industry, and it will depend on investment from the private sector.
“One particular area is decarbonisation – hundreds of millions of dollars will have to be spent on energy, and the cost equation of carbon based fuels is going to become more and more negative so resorts will have to go in the direction [of renewables] anyway.”
He noted a huge demand for such a group response to the challenges, with resort managers expressing frustration at problems relating to issues such as waste management and recycling, and the lack of appropriate infrastructure and regulation at the state level: “Is it really worth continuing to shipping waste to Thilafushi without any recycling or economic benefit?” he asked.
Environmental achievements already reached, such as the recent designation of Baa Atoll as a UNESCO biosphere, “are not just for propaganda value. It will have a marketable effect on the ability to sell tourism in Baa Atoll.”
Tourism Minister Dr Mariyam Zulfa noted that the Maldives already had many resorts that had taken the lead in incorporating environmentally-sustainable measures into their design, operation and management.
“We have resorts in the Maldives that are held up as among the best examples in the world,” Zulfa noted.
“The Maldives has risen to the top among the world’s most exclusive destinations due in no small part to the competitive position derived from its unique natural island environment and surrounding underwater beauty. Climate change threatens to destroy this beautiful environment and along with it, the livelihoods of many Maldivians.
“This project aims to address ways in which the Maldives and especially its tourism industry can minimize its vulnerability to climate change,” she said.
“This project will contribute to the government’s goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2020, and will support the integration of adjustment measures which need to be implemented in response to climatic changes into development policies, plans, programs, projects and actions.”
Following consultations throughout the rest of this year, the first wave of projects is expected to begin in early 2012.