Comment: Loss of biodiversity would be an existential threat to the Maldives

On World Environment Day, we remember the fundamental connection that all species on this planet have with each other.

At a time of rapid change in our climate, and as we think about how to address these changes, it is important to remember that all species of flora and fauna are connected with each other. 2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity, which gives us a chance to stress the importance of biodiversity for human well-being, reflect on our achievements to safeguard it and encourage a redoubling of our efforts to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss.

The theme for today, World Environment Day 2010, is “Many Species. One Planet. One Future.” It echoes the urgent call to conserve the diversity of life on our planet.

Reports indicate that up to 50 per cent of Asia’s total biodiversity is at risk due to climate change. Least Developed Countries are particularly vulnerable, as they are the least prepared or able to deal with the impact of climate change.

Moreover, because of our particular circumstances, there are perhaps few countries that are at greater peril from the adverse effects of climate change and loss of biodiversity than the Maldives – a nation of small islands dependent entirely on its coastal and marine resources.

Biodiversity constitutes the basis of most economic activity in the Maldives, and generates income directly or indirectly for most of the country’s citizens. A healthy and diverse marine ecosystem is vital for the functioning of the two largest industries, fisheries and tourism. Together, these provide three quarters of the country’s jobs, 90% of its GDP and two thirds of its foreign exchange earnings. Moreover, the islands, vulnerable to natural disasters, need healthy coral reefs to help protect and guard them against the adverse affects of climate change. A loss of biodiversity should therefore be seen as an existential threat to the Maldives.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) reiterates that all countries shall “protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.”

While every country has a right to development, there is a matching obligation that countries should aim for sustainable development, integrating environmental, social and economic growth as a whole. Adaptation to climate change and building the resilience of communities against the impact of climate change must be the pillars of sustainable human development in small island developing nations such as Maldives.

With President Mohamed Nasheed declaring the government’s intention to make the Maldives carbon neutral, and the government having prepared a Strategic Action Plan for the development of Maldives, the United Nations reaffirms its commitment to assist the people of the Maldives in the pursuit of sustainable development, and a low-emission pathway to growth.

At the policy level, it is clear what should be done. But more importantly, we should focus now on action at a community, island and atoll levels. Policies only help if they are implemented to benefit both people’s livelihoods, and the environment that provides for the people. It is imperative for everyone to play a role, including individuals and non-governmental organizations, in sharing experiences and knowledge on climate change adaptation and mitigation, and on the sustainable use of the natural resources that surround us.

Maldivians have been dealing with climate change for hundreds of years. They know the impact it can have on their islands and their lives. It may well be that climate change is faster than it has ever been before, but nobody knows better than the Maldivians how to respond and adapt. Let us now use that knowledge and understanding to effectively adapt to climate change, and to work together to sustainably develop the Maldives.

Andrew Cox is the new UN Resident Coordinator in the Maldives

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New UN representative presents credentials to President Nasheed

Andrew Cox, new United Nations Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, presented his credentials to President Mohamed Nasheed yesterday afternoon.

The meeting focused mainly on the UN programmes being carried out in the Maldives, and in the assistance the UN system could provide to the country in its transition from the Least Developed Countries (LDC) status.

Cox assured the president of the UN’s support to the Maldives through graduation from LDC, and congratulated him on the Maldives recent election for a seat in the UN Human Rights Council.

Cox has worked with the UN system since 1999 in different capacities and several countries around the world. He has worked in Sudan, the USA, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone.

Before working with the UN, he worked with several NGOs in Sierra Leone, the UK, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Côte d’Ivoire.

Cox said that “the UN system is a long time friend and partner to the Maldives.  I am personally committed to deepening this partnership and to helping strengthen the capacities of the government, civil society and the people of Maldives in achieving the country’s aspirations and development objectives.”