The Maldives must cure itself of its addiction to oil and develop alternative energy sources from local resources if it is to prosper, Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan said today at a UN roundtable held at Bandos Island Resort.
The occasion was the Maldives signing a commitment to phase out hydro-chlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) emissions by 2020, a decade ahead of other countries, and one that has attracted an assistance grant of US$1.1 million from the UN.
HCFCs (such as chlorodifluoromethane) is used in older refrigeration and air-conditioning units as a replacement for heavily ozone-depleting CFCs, however it also is now considered too harmful.
“It makes sense to move away from HCFCs,” Dr Waheed said. “It is outdated technology and has already been phased out in most western countries, and it is increasingly difficult to repair appliances that use it.”
The move was part of the government’s larger agenda of becoming carbon neutral by reducing reliance on fossil fuels, driven by economic as well as environmental imperatives, the VP explained.
“The Maldives is highly dependent on oil. Our economy totally dependent on imported fuels, but we have absolutely no control over oil prices,” Dr Waheed said. “Our economy is slowly recovering from mismanagement of the past, and an oil price hike now would destabilise our economy. We all know how volatile oil prices are – and the global economic recovery means an increased demand, which is likely to increase prices further.”
Because of the country’s dependency, Dr Waheed explain, “a high oil price means a high cost of doing business. We want to break our dependence on foreign oil using our own natural resources: sun, wind and waves. In the Maldives renewable energy makes sense because imported oil is costly – it is very expensive to ship oil to small islands like the Maldives.”
The Maldives’ oil addiction meant that “today we have one of the world’s highest prices for electricity – 25-30 US cents per kilowatt hour, and there are some reports islands where people are forced to pay 60 cent per kilowatt hour. Schools complain that 25 percent of their budget is spent fueling their diesel generators.”
A report published by the UNDP in 2007 on the vulnerability of developing countries to fluctuating oil prices ranked the Maldives dead last, a fair stretch behind Vanuatu, effectively placing the country among the world’s most oil-addicted nations.
“Island countries in general are extremely vulnerable to increased oil prices. They comprise distant and small markets and have to bear the burden of higher shipping costs, while electrical power generation is largely fueled by diesel,” the report noted.
President Mohamed Nasheed said that the Maldives stood perfectly placed to demonstrate to the rest of the world “that a less hazardous development pattern is possible, viable and financially feasible.”
He acknowleged the efforts of the previous government towards that development, noting that the Maldives was able to phase CFCs two years before its mandated deadline.
“I thank the previous government, especially former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, for his singular focus on CFCs, ozone depletion and the environmental issues he raised very early.”
He also acknowledged that even if the Maldives succeeded in demonstrating that a country could be powered by renewable energy and reached its goal of carbon neutrality, “what we do not have major impact health of planet.”
Rather, Nasheed said, the Maldives could prove to other countries that isolated communities could be self-sustaining.
“The window of opportunity this planet has is not so long – science is very certain and we have to act,” he said. “If we don’t, this planet will go on, with new equilibriums and balances that may not be receptive to human habitation – that is what we are trying to overcome.
“We have the technology already – it is a question of how bold we are in implementing it.”