JICA completes US$11 million solar energy project

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has completed the “Project for Clean Energy Promotion in Malé” with the installation of solar panels at the Ministry of Finance and Treasury today.

Some 740 solar panels were installed in 12 government buildings in the capital under the US$11.1 million (MVR141.5 million) grant aid solar energy project launched in December 2011.

In the first phase of the project, solar panels capable of generating 400 kilowatts of solar power were installed in the President’s Office, the Maldives Centre for Social Education (MCSE), the State Electricity Company (STELCO), Thaajuddeen School, and Hiriyaa School.

While solar panels were installed in the Maldives National University, Kalaafaanu School, Faculty of Health Sciences, Ghiyasuddin International School, and the Velaanaage in the second phase of the project, the Ministry of Finance and Treasury and the Hulhumalé hospital received solar panels in the third and final phase of the project.

Of the four schools, Kalaafaanu, Ghiyasuddin, and Hiriya were constructed with Japanese grant aid while Thajauddeen was reconstructed with Japanese grant aid and reopened in June 2004.

The grant aid agreement for the solar energy project was signed in March 2010.

The project was based on a feasibility study conducted by JICA – the Japanese government’s bilateral donor agency – from February to November 2009 at the request of the Maldivian government during the administration of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

The project was designed to contribute to the Nasheed administration’s goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2020.

Then-President Nasheed launched the project in December 2011 by personally installing panels on the roof of the President’s Office.

Nasheed had previously installed 48 solar panels on the roof of his official residence, Muleeage, provided gratis by LG Electronics Californian company Sungevity.

At the launching ceremony of the JICA-funded project, Nasheed said a transition away from fossil fuels would increase the energy efficiency of the Maldives by 20-30 percent by the end of 2013.

Low carbon development

Speaking at a function at the Finance Ministry this morning to mark the conclusion of the project, Environment Minister Thoriq Ibrahim observed that the Maldives spent US$487 million a year or 31 percent of GDP annually on importing oil.

The figure is expected to rise to US$700 million by 2020.

According to the Maldives Customs Service, of the MVR7.2 billion (US$466.9 million) worth of goods imported in the first quarter of 2014, one-third was spent on petroleum products.

As the domestic economy was adversely affected by the high cost of oil imports, Thoriq stressed the importance of reducing the country’s dependence on fossil fuels whilst increasing investment in renewable energy.

The government’s target was generating 40 kilowatts of power across the country from renewable energy sources during the next five years, the environment minister revealed.

The government will seek assistance from international partners and private parties for investment in renewable energy, he added.

Japanese Ambassador Nobuhito Hobo meanwhile pledged assistance for similar renewable energy projects in the Maldives.

At a workshop last week, Environment Minister Thoriq revealed that the government was working on a low carbon development strategy to improve energy security.


Oil drilling and Maldives’ tourism “cannot coexist”, says NGO Bluepeace

Oil drilling and sea-based tourism “cannot coexist”, says Executive Director of local NGO Bluepeace Ali Rilwan, who has suggested that drilling for oil will create a number of problems.

Rilwan’s comments follow further confirmation this week from President Abdulla Yameen that that the government will commence work on locating crude oil in the Maldives.

According to local news outlet CNM, Yameen said that if the government is indeed successful in finding oil in the Maldives, the outlook for the entire country would change for the better.

These statements were made at a land reclamation ceremony held on Sunday (March 16) on the island of Meedhoo in Dhaalu atoll. Speaking at the launch, President Yameen suggested that the Maldives could be developed using available resources.

When asked which would be more beneficial to the Maldives, Rilwan said “it’s a choice of the government.”  He noted that with the large income from tourism and the spread of guest houses in local isands, the oil drilling “won’t have benefits for the people as a whole.”

“We can’t afford to go into that dirty energy,” he concluded. “When you take up the issues of drilling, we are concerned about the oil container tanks with unrefined fuel passing through.”

With this in mind,  Rilwan asked, “can we avoid a distaster in the Maldives? The Maldives is a tiny island and this can have a very negative impact, the tanks are a worrying thing.”

Famed for its luxury resorts, the Maldives has relied on tourism for an estimated 70 – 80% of its GDP. Plans to look for oil in the past had aimed to diversify the nation’s economy.

There are currently no confirmed plans for the location of the drilling, should it take place – an uncertainty which has made it difficult for environmentalists to comment on the matter.

Rilwan noted that the fact that it is not known whether drilling will be coastal or off-shore makes it difficult to predict environmental issues.

The renewed interest in the search for oil was prompted by the results of seismic reports conducted in 1991– the recent findings of which have caused authorities to seek foreign assistance.

The Maldives National Oil Company (MNOC) was founded in 2003 to take direct responsibility for the development of oil and gas industry in the Maldives.

“The fact that two leading oil exploration companies in the world had invested in exploration drilling in the Maldives, keeps up the glimmer of hope for commercial success of oil and gas exploration in the Maldives,” the MNOC has said previously.

“Today, with the remarkable improvement of technology in the area of oil and exploration such as three or four dimensional seismic survey systems etc., the Maldives National Oil Company is hopeful that oil or gas can be discovered in Maldives.”

Managing director of the MNOC Ahmed Muneez told local media last month that the government intended to start work on new exploration within a few months.

“We have contacted a Norwegian company and a German company to help us better understand the findings of the study. Based on this report, we’re hopeful of advertising the Maldives as a new destination of oil exploration,” Haveeru quoted Muneez as saying.

He explained that an outside company would be hired to conduct a global advertising campaign in order to market the country as an oil source.

Under the presidency of Mohamed Nasheed, the Maldives – famously vulnerable to the effects of climate change – had pledged to become carbon neutral by 2020.

Nasheed stated that the Maldives was a key model for other countries seeking to become more sustainable, and that an inability to meet the unilateral commitments would prove detrimental to wider arguments around the globe for adopting law carbon initiatives.

The government of Nasheed’s successor Dr Mohamed Waheed also said that it was committed to “not completely” reversing the Nasheed administration’s zero carbon strategy: “What we are aiming to do is to elaborate more on individual sustainable issues and subject them to national debate,” said Waheed.

Speaking to Minivan in October 2012, the government assured that they were adhering to their commitment to become carbon neutral by 2020 in spite of political uncertainty.

“We are continuing with the carbon neutrality program,” she said. “We are giving it our best shot,” said then Environment Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela.

Minivan News was unable to obtain comments from the Ministry of Environment and Energy at the time of press.


Maldives forms environment police as civil society criticises lack of enforcement, legislation

The Maldives Police Service (MPS) and the Ministry of Environment and Energy have announced the formation of a new unit that will assign 22 trained officers to deal with ecological violations across the country.

The Environmental Police Unit, formed through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed on June 6, will aim to investigate and punish violations of laws relating to biodiversity and littering, the Environment Ministry claimed in an email to Minivan News.

Formation of the new unit comes as NGOs and not for profit groups have raised individual concerns over a perceived lack of enforcement or a clear legal framework to uphold environmental protection efforts across the country.

These ongoing concerns over enforcement are said to already directly impact both the country’s fledgling national parks and marine reserves, as well as on individual inhabited islands.


According to the Environment Ministry, officers from the new police unit will be required to assist the state in enforcing national regulations such as in providing sports fines related to vehicular emissions or cases of illegal sand-mining, or dealing with poaching of protected species in the country.

Police will also be required to share details of environmental crimes to the ministry, which did not share any further information on the specific offences that police will asked to focus on at time of press.

Under the MOU, the Environment Ministry will be required to give technical advice on the formation of the environment unit, including training for 22 officers in dealing with environmental crime.

The ministry is also called on to host workshops and awareness events for various agencies within the police force, as well as for customs officials, port authorities and the coast guard.

Environment authorities are also required through the MOU to provide all necessary information on laws and regulations, as well as other treaties and agreements signed by the Maldives as part of the country’s wider sustainability aims.

Stakeholder concerns

Numerous stakeholders in Maldives’ environment sector have meanwhile this week told Minivan News that a perceived lack enforcement as well as concise national legislation has in recent years held back ecological protection efforts.

For Ali Rilwan, Executive Director for local NGO BluePeace, a lack of enforcement of the country’s environmental regulations was believed to be the most pertinent long-standing issue setting back conservation and protection efforts at present.

Rilwan claimed that a lack of national mechanisms to report and enforce environmental crimes continued to hamper state initiatives to curb practices such as harvesting of turtles eggs and the export of shark.

In the case of national parks and biospheres, Rilwan alleged that a lack of enforcement was a particular problem for any conservation attempts.

He claimed that without such regulation, marine reserves and other conservation zones currently established in the country were operating more as “paper parks” than designated protected areas.

According to Rilwan, the lack of a nationwide enforcement mechanism to protect environmental laws was presently most apparent in smaller islands where police presence was often limited, making it difficult to report suspected offences.

“The police are supposed to have already been enforcing laws and regulations for environmental protection. But enforcement is something that we have not seen attempted,” he said.

Rilwan added that with the Environment Ministry not having representation within island councils, monitoring potential abuses of environmental law on more than 1,000 islands across the country would limit the effectiveness.

“There are local councils who can focus on the issue, but in the case of any criminal acts, councillors themselves would not be able to investigate or penalise any perpetrators contravening environmental law,” he said.

Rilwan added that with the training of environmental police in the country, he believed there could be an opportunity for effective enforcement going forward.

However, Mohamed Hameed, Promoter of the Edu Faru Marine National Park project in Noonu Atoll, has said he believes the Maldives main challenge regarding ecological protection was the continued lack of a holistic legal framework to protect the environment.

“The Maldives at present is an example of a very sensitive environment. You can get police to check on it, but you need a legal framework to protect these places,” he said. “At present, this legislative framework is lacking.”

Despite successive government in the Maldives playing up sustainability as a key part of their national development plans, Hameed said that current legislation on the environment was presently “all over the place” with various laws overlapping ad contradicting each other in some cases.

Taking successful international examples of marine reserves such as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef or the Kosterhavet National Park in Sweden, he claimed that both parks were protected within the respective legal frameworks of both nations.

Without similar amendments being considered in the Maldives, Hameed said that it would be very difficult to ensure projects like the Edu Faru MNP were properly protected.

He claimed from his own experience of trying to establish the country’s first MNP, a process said to have taken over two decades, efforts to set up an environmental not for profit organisation had been complicated by the fragmented legislative framework presently used in the country.

Hameed claimed that despite both President Dr Mohamed Waheed and former President Mohamed Nasheed supporting the MNP’s formation, he was still waiting for official paperwork and all the agreed lands to be handed over to him so work could fully begin on the site.

The MNP, which was established through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Environment Ministry back in 2011, is designed to protect nine islets by keeping them in a “pristine” state and undeveloped for future research.

Reserve focus

National parks and reserves are expected to become an increasingly important part of the Maldives conservation efforts on the back of a pledge by the current government to make the country the world’s largest marine reserve by 2017.

The government has is committed to move ahead with plans to transform the Maldives into a biosphere reserve through the designation of zones across the country that would earmark land use for specific purposes such as tourism development or conservation.


Former President Nasheed reaches Copenhagen climate talks despite alleged obstruction

Former President Mohamed Nasheed was temporarily obstructed from traveling overseas yesterday (April 14) despite having High Court approval, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has alleged.  Nasheed’s office has said this is the fourth time over the last 12 months that he has faced restrictions on his travel.

The High Court had granted Nasheed permission to travel abroad yesterday, while Maldivian authorities were informed of his planned departure to Copenhagen, Denmark, at 7:30pm in the evening, MDP MP and Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor claimed today.

However, an hour before Nasheed’s scheduled departure – after he had arrived at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) in Male’ –  his office said they were informed Nasheed could not leave the country.

The Department of Immigration and Emigration were then accused of preventing Nasheed from leaving the Maldives, claiming the High Court had not granted him permission to travel overseas before April 15.

After Nasheed’s flight departed, the Immigration Department then granted their official permission, Ghafoor said.

Nasheed then rescheduled his flight and departed the Maldives for Copenhagen at 11:40pm on April 14.

Ghafoor added that this was the fourth instance where Nasheed has been obstructed from traveling abroad on a scheduled international visit under the present government.

He explained that “everything was scheduled properly and there was no controversy from the High Court,” instead the issue lies with the Immigration Department.

“The Immigration Department will not stop trying to find any little administrative mistakes – and when they can’t, they invent something. They will most likely quote an administrative error on the part of Nasheed’s staff,” said Ghafoor.

“President Nasheed has not been shown the courtesy a former head of state deserves,” he added.

Nasheed’s spokesperson, Mariya Didi echoed these sentiments stating: “As a former President, it deeply concerning that the Maldivian authorities continue to withhold the constitutionally stipulated privileges accorded to President Nasheed.”

When asked about Nasheed’s travel arrangements, Immigration Controller Dr Mohamed Ali told Minivan News today to “ask the MDP about it,” adding he would not comment on any instance of the former president being obstructed from traveling overseas.

Climate change, economics, and democracy

While in Denmark, Nasheed has been invited to speak at the University of Copenhagen on the economics of climate change.

His office has said he will speak on outlining the dangers posed to the Maldives by climate change, and explain how the world can build a carbon neutral global economy by focusing on the opportunities provided by clean technology.

The investments for producing sustainable energy in the Maldives are now viable, Nasheed told local media prior to his departure yesterday.

Ghafoor said that Nasheed plans to speak at the Danish Parliament and meet with ministers during this “rushed but comprehensive trip”.

“He’s not a green man per se, but rather supports economics of the green movement,” he added.

Nasheed told local media that his parliamentary speech will highlight how the Maldives has deviated from democratic principles and the efforts necessary to put the country “back on track to democratic governance”.

Nasheed is scheduled to return April 18.

Previous travel bans

Earlier this year,the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court denied former Nasheed’s request to travel abroad for a family wedding from March 27 to March 31.

Meanwhile, Nasheed’s request to travel overseas between February 27 to March 5 was denied by the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court because “he had not cooperated with the court on previous instances”. The trip had been scheduled after Nasheed received an invitation from the Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma, and to Denmark under an invitation from the state.

Nasheed was also prevented from leaving the country December 21, 2012 to visit his ill father in Bangkok, Thailand due to a “technical problem,” the Department of Immigration and Emigration has claimed.

Earlier in 2012, the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court imposed an internal travel ban “confining Nasheed Male’,” which he said will hinder his political campaigning and wider party work.

Copenhagen climate justice advocacy

Nasheed galvanised thousands of environmentalists at a 350.org rally in Copenhagen December 2009, vowing to persevere until a politically binding climate change treaty was attained.

The Danish Prime Minister called Nasheed “the real hero of Copenhagen” following a marathon 30 hour negotiation session to reach an agreement during the 2009 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) talks.

The agreed-upon accord recognises that global temperatures should rise no higher than two degrees Celcius above pre-industrial levels, but does not commit developed countries to legally-binding emission reduction targets.

Current carbon-neutral commitments

The current government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik has said it is committed to pursuing carbon neutral ambitions, despite last year’s political tensions reportedly affecting investment potential for such schemes.

Environment Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela said last year that some of the programs presently being undertaken by her ministry had started seven years previously – before Former President Mohamed Nasheed came to power – and were being adhered to on the grounds they would benefit the nation.

“We are continuing with the carbon neutrality program,” she said at the time. “ We are giving it our best shot.”

Since early 2012, the Maldivian government has overseen the initial stages of a few new renewable energy projects to achieve this goal.

The Maldives’ State Electric Company Limited (STELCO) announced in March 2013 plans to implement a 50 megawatt floating solar panel project to power the country’s capital Male’ and provide renewable energy for 28 islands with rooftop installations.

The Ministry of Environment in conjunction with the Ministry of Finance issued a prequalification application in January 2013 for the “Solar Maldives Programme.” The project aims to “design, build, finance, own, operate and transfer grid-tied solar photovoltaic systems for integration with diesel generators on 15 islands” in the south, north, and upper north provinces.

The government has also received bids to install a 300 kW grid connected solar PV system on Thinadhoo Island, the regional capital of Gaaf Dhaal (Huvadhoo) Atoll. This is part of the “Clean Energy for Climate Mitigation (CECM) Project” financed by the Climate Change Trust Fund (CCTF) – a collaboration between the Maldivian government, World Bank, European Union (EU) and the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID).

“The system is expected to meet 30 percent of the peak day time demand of electricity and will offset approximately 300 tons of carbon dioxide annually,” the Ministry of Environment previously claimed.

The Waheed administration has also announced its intention to move ahead with plans to transform the Maldives into a biosphere reserve through the designation of zones across the country that would earmark land use for specific purposes such as tourism development or conservation.


Waking up to ‘Greenwashing’ in the Maldives: Huffington Post

“Earlier on this month I found myself in the Maldives for hotel reviews and was outraged by the gap between President Nasheed’s ‘carbon neutral promise within a decade’ and the reality that I was faced with,” writes Rooksana Hossenally for the Huffington Post.

“Following the Maldivian government’s ministers’ highly-mediatized underwater conference in October 2009, a conference with the aim of highlighting the pressing environmental issues with regards to the sinking archipelago, I must say that when my editor announced that I would be jetted off to some of the most dazzling islands in the world, I was keen on getting a sample of this forward thinking.

Upon return however, the Maldives, as beautiful as the islands are, left a sour taste in my mouth as far as the environment is concerned. My visit only confirmed that the president’s environmental avant garde-ism is a nothing more than a marketing ploy to get himself in his people’s good books.

My trip lasted three weeks and my skepticism about President Nasheed’s wonderful ideals was far from overruled by what I saw. Going carbon-free is not only impossible for the Maldives, but it would severely penalize the country’s main industry: tourism, which would, needless to say, cause the Maldives to slip into dangerous financial waters, in addition to the already rising sea levels around the islands.

A little harsh of me, you might be thinking — let me explain. Going carbon neutral in the Maldives would require offsetting to a monumental degree. First, the only way of getting around the archipelago’s 26 atolls of 1,192 islands is by boat or plane. The President’s objectives are without doubt perfectly admirable, but how does he imagine the tourism industry functioning without transport?”

Read More…

Further coverage of the article and wider reflection on the challenges facing sustainable tourist developments can be read on Minivan News’ spin-off travel review site, Dhonisaurus.com.


Government ponders voluntary tourist contributions to fuel US$100 million green energy fund

A proposed tourist “tax” aimed at raising US$100 million to assist the Maldives’ carbon neutral aims would likely be implemented as a “voluntary contribution” scheme for foreign visitors, Minister of Environment and Energy Dr Mariyam Shakeela said today.

Dr Shakeela, who was recently approved by parliament to head the newly established Ministry of Environment and Energy, said that the scheme was presently being considered in the form of donations collectable from tourists visiting the country.

“We have not agreed anything yet, but the plan would be to set up a voluntary contribution programme to aid environment protection here,” Shakeela said, adding that the fund could be maintained and run in a similar manner to health and wealthfare charities.

While no agreement has yet been finalised on seeking support for the Maldives’ green aims through its lucrative tourism industry, representatives for the President’s Office today said there was reluctance to place further mandatory charges on foreign guests.

The comments were made as President Doctor Mohamed Waheed Hassan today discussed the future of the country’s sustainable initiatives, and played up commitments to become carbon-neutral by 2020.  The carbon neutral pledge was initiated by his predecessor Mohamed Nasheed.

However, following the controversial transfer of power that brought Waheed’s government to office in February – an act Nasheed later alleged was a “coup d’etat” – the key minds behind a risk-mitigated renewable energy investment devised for the previous administration raised concerns about the viability of a large scale national sustainable commitments at the present time.

Mike Mason – a former mining engineer and expert on renewable energy who served as Energy Advisor for Nasheed’s administration on a reportedly unpaid basis, alleged political uncertainty since February had derailed interest in fundng. Mason, who outlined a detailed alternative power strategy and funding plan set to be signed into place on February 7 this year, claimed capital investors who had been “queuing up” to assist the project made their excuses and declined assistance after the transfer of power.

At the same time, former President Nasheed’s Climate Change Advisor – UK-based author, journalist and environmental activist Mark Lynas told Minivan News last month that the loss of democratic legitimacy in the Maldives had destroyed its ability to make a moral stand on climate change-related issues, and be taken seriously.

“I think that the Maldives is basically a has-been in international climate circles now,” said Lynas, who drew a monthly stipend of Rf10,000 (US$648) for expenses whilst serving in his position.  “The country is no longer a key player, and is no longer on the invite list to the meetings that matter. Partly this is a reflection of the political instability – other countries no longer have a negotiating partner that they know and understand,” he said.

Reserve strategy

President Waheed himself used last month’s Rio +20 global summit to commit the Maldives to become the world’s largest marine reserve within the next five years five.

Speaking at the summit, the president also pledged that the Maldives would “cover 60 percent of our electricity needs with solar power, and the rest with a combination of biofuels, other clean technologies and some conventional energy.”

In clarifying details of his government’s sustainable plans, Waheed told Reuters today that as opposed to enforcing a US$3 mandatory tax on tourists to fund his government’s own carbon neutral policies, a voluntary fund targeting a sum of around US$10 per visitor was being considered.

“I believe most of the tourists who come to the Maldives are environmentally conscious and quite happy to make a contribution towards making the Maldives carbon neutral,” he added.

To compliment its desired aims to match the previous government’s carbon neutral objectives, Waheed explained to Reuters that the country required more investment in environmentally friendly buildings, as well as a move away from its heavy dependence on fossil-fuel powered transportation.

“We are a little bit behind schedule (on the renewables plan) but we hope we will be able to catch up over the next 5 years or so,” Waheed said.  “Male’ is not the most ideal island location right now – it doesn’t have ‘green’ buildings but a lot of companies are interested in developing them.”

The article also drew attention to the country’s resort industry, reporting that seven of the country’s 100 secluded island properties were presently considered “ecofriendly” in regards to efforts to cut down their carbon footprints. One resort is also expected to obtain carbon neutral status as of next year.

Reuters added that the present government was also looking to receive a sum of US$30 million from Climate Investment Funds that would help “leverage” US$120 million in capital to establish renewable developments across the nation.

Tourism “burden”

Addressing Dr Waheed’s comments today, President’s Office spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza said that the voluntary charge for tourists to help fund the country’s green efforts remained at the proposal stage.

Abbas added that the exact mechanics of how the potential funds would be paid and overseen therefore were yet to be developed.

According to the President’s Office, with tourists already facing a US$27 charge for an airport development project and a six percent Tourism-GST (TGST) on goods and services purchased during their stay, there had been reluctance to further “burden” the industry with more charges.

Resorts in the Maldives have previously expressed concern about the potential increase in T-GST to 12 percent, among several measures the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said are urgently needed to offset the Maldives’ spiralling budget deficit.

Abbas had previously stressed that the government was committed to “not completely” reversing the Nasheed administration’s zero carbon strategy: “What we are aiming to do is to elaborate more on individual sustainable issues and subject them to national debate. Previously, these discussions on sustainability were not subjected to a national debate, such as through parliament,” Abbas said.

Election calls

Speaking to the Huffington Post news service earlier this month, former President Nasheed said he believed the controversial nature of the transfer of power in February meant that fresh general elections were presently the most important aspect to any successful climate change adaptation plan.

“Without democracy, you’d be making the wrong decisions at the wrong time,” Nasheed claimed, raising concerns that carbon neutral plans n the Maldives were now “stuck”.

In the months following his controversial resignation, Nasheed visited the US to raise awareness on the current political upheaval in the country, as well the documentary film, “The Island President” in a tour that saw him appearing on prime time TV and at talks across the country.

The documentary film chronicles his government’s ambitious pledge to become a carbon neutral nation by 2020, and has received increased global coverage since Nasheed was removed from office.

Whilst still in office back in November 2010, Nasheed claimed that failure to meet the country’s ambition aims of being an entirely carbon neutral nation would be a “disaster” for the country.

International perspective

Despite Nasheed’s high-profile climate activism, Greenpeace told Minivan News in 2010 that the Maldives acted more “as a symbol than a practical demonstration” of how national development and fighting climate change can be mutually exclusive.

“The Maldives can become a strong proponent of a paradigm shift in the World Bank and in developing countries whereby it is recognised that fighting climate change and promoting development go hand in hand,” said Wendel Trio, Climate Policy and Global Deal Coordinator for Greenpeace International.


Earth Hour illuminates Maldives’ ongoing eco-concerns

Maldivians across the country are being encouraged to turn away from the creature comforts of electricity between 8:30pm and 9:30pm tonight to celebrate the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Earth Hour initiative.

With 5,200 cities around the world taking part in the scheme, Male’ residents are being asked to turn off their lights and other non-essential electronics tonight in a bid to raise awareness of the potential dangers facing the planet from factors like global warming. The Maldives has been an outspoken advocate for cutting the planet’s global carbon footprint in recent years, particularly under the previous government.

The current Ministry of Environment and Housing has run two days of events this weekend in collaboration with the Maldives Energy Authority, the Scout Association of Maldives and the Maldives’ State Electricity Company (STELCO) relating to renewable energy developments to coincide with Earth Hour.

Fifty students from each of Male’s schools have  have received invites to the ongoing events, which began yesterday at Hiriya School under the banner of promoting renewable energy sources. Several tourism enterprises and properties will be hosting special events during the day. These include Ibrahim Nasir International Airport, which has said it to be switching off all lights at non-critical areas of the premises to mark earth hour.

Political power

Whilst some enterprises and homes in the Maldives capital will temporarily cut their power supplies, the country does not however appear quite as able to switch off the increasingly fraught political divides exacerbated by former President Mohamed Nasheed’s controversial resignation last month.  Nasheed has himself since claimed he was ousted in a “coup d’etat” by political opposition and a mutiny involving certain sections of the police and military.

In this climate, local environmental NGO Bluepeace has claimed that the current political uncertainty in the country relating to questions over the legitimacy of the government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan would unquestionably set back the country’s commitments to sustainable development.

With demonstrations raging both in and out of the Majlis between pro- and anti-government supporters over the legitimacy and the functioning of democratic institutions, Bluepeace Director Ahmed Ikram claimed discussions on domestic environmental commitments were being sidelined.

Ikram claimed that national media, beyond covering international campaigns like Earth Hour, were not providing much coverage or promotion to climate change adoption in the Maldives. Ikram alleged this was in part due to sections of the media favouring the former president’s political opponents, reflecting the politicisation of environmental commitments.

“We support [former] President Nasheed. Yes there are times when we may have disagreed with his policies, but we still supported him as our president,” said Ikram. “What we are experiencing today with Maldivian businesses making use of solar panels are the benefits of Nasheed’s work on the environment.”

Despite his personal criticisms of the current government and the long-term prospects for democracy in the country amidst coup allegations raised by Nasheed and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters, Ikram said Bluepeace fully supported the Earth Hour event.

The NGO’s director was therefore confident that the Maldives’ contribution to Earth Hour would be successful tonight, with significant numbers of people expected to turn off their electricity for the one hour.  When asked if he felt that Maldivians were commited to year-long energy conservation beyond one-off annual events like Earth Hour, the Bluepeace Dirctor again claimed that the Maldivian public were generally committed in adapting to climate change.

“I believe that the Maldivian people are the ones who will serve as climate change champions in the end,” he said.

President Waheed has himself committed to follow his predecessor in acting as a spokesperson over the potential impacts climate change poses for low-lying nations like the Maldives during his inaugural address to the country’s parliament earlier this month.

However, Bluepeace Director Ahmed Ikram said the NGO was presently turning its attention to issues related to human rights and democratic reform amidst allegations that Nasheed, who has been an outspoken international advocate for climate change adoption, was forced to resign under duress.

Early days

Though it remains early days for President Waheed’s government, which came to power on February 7, Bluepeace said it had so far heard very little from the new cabinet about how it would be addressing the country’s green agenda in the lead up to the Rio +20 United Nations Conference on sustainable development later this year.

Bluepeace also claimed that while recent appointees such as Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb has begun to raise issues such as how climate change was being linked to destructive coastal erosion across the country – question marks remained over their experience in dealing with environmental affairs.

Adheeb, as well as being the current Tourism Minister, has also served as the Treasurer of The Maldives National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MNCCI).

Government commitments

Adheeb and President Waheed’s Spokesperson Abbas Riza were not responding at time of press.

Waheed earlier this month pledged to ensure his government remained outspoken internationally in regards to the plight small nations faced from the potentially destructive impacts of climate change.

“The government will encourage the voice of small island nations to be heard in the global arena with regard to climate change,” said Dr Waheed in his inaugural address in parliament. “The Maldives will always participate in voicing the concerns of small island nations.”

Nasheed himself is current travelling the US to raise awareness on the current political upheaval in the country, as well as promoting a documentary film, “The Island President”.

The documentary chronicles his government’s ambitious pledge to become a carbon neutral nation by 2020, and has been garnering increased global coverage since Nasheed was removed from office last month.

Speaking to the Conde Nast Traveler publication to promote the film, Nasheed expressed hope that the country would continue to work towards becoming carbon neutral, but he also challenged the legitimacy of Dr Waheed’s government.

“We were making real progress. I hope the government will continue our policies. But you can’t have good policies without democracy. And you won’t address the climate change crisis without good policies,” Nasheed told journalist Dorinda Elliott. “All democratic movements must talk about both climate change and human rights.”

Despite Nasheed’s high-profile activism to use the Maldives to promote international recognition of the perceived need to cut carbon footprints globally, Greenpeace in 2010 told Minivan News that the Maldives acted more as a symbol than a practical demonstration of how national development and fighting climate change can be mutually exclusive.

“The Maldives can become a strong proponent of a paradigm shift in the World Bank and in developing countries whereby it is recognized that fighting climate change and promoting development go hand in hand,” said Wendel Trio, Climate Policy and Global Deal Coordinator for Greenpeace International.


Transport vehicles need renewable energy plan: Blue Peace

“Solar power is not the only source, and it is not enough. We have to pursue other sources as well,” said BluePeace founder Ali Rilwan about the Maldives’ recently proposed mission to cut emissions by 60 percent, using solar energy primarily.

The government’s plan was approved by the Cabinet last month, and a recent proposal from the Renewable Energy Investment Office (REIO) was submitted for crowdsourcing on the internet last week.

Rilwan called the mission admirable but incomplete. “Proposals have been made, but we haven’t seen anything in the Maldives in years,” he said. According to Rilwan, the Maldives is overlooking one of the most significant energy-consuming functions in the country: water transport.

Over 25 percent of the Maldives’ GDP is spent on diesel used for boats.

“Wetlands and vegetation absorb carbon dioxide, and the oceans are being affected by boats’ daily diesel use. But nobody has studied the specifics of carbon sinking, to calculate that 60 percent emissions reduction we need to evaluate how much needs to be done,” he elaborated. “We don’t know, we might be carbon neutral already.”

When diesel was first introduced to boats in the Maldives in the 1970s, law required that sails be kept on boats, said Rilwan. Not only was this method energy efficient, it also had cultural value.

“The sail wasn’t just carbon-neutral, it was a cultural tradition. We also used to have sailing competitions as part of our tradition. But now the sails are no longer required, although you’d think they would be a good idea for a tourist destination like the Maldives.”

Rilwan said the Ministry for Human Resources and Sports last year supported a “not so carbon friendly” motorcycle competition last year, allegedly on Hulhumale.

In January 2010, the Maldives joined 137 countries in signing the Copenhagen Accord declaring their intention to go carbon neutral by 2020. The document is not legally binding but it recognises climate change as a leading issue worldwide.

A government official said the Maldives has since focused on decarbonising the electricity sector, which accounts for over 31 percent of industrial project expenses.

Decarbonising the Maldives over the next 10 years is expected to cost the Maldives US$3-5 million.

Earlier this week, the Maldives signed the Renewable Energy through Feed-In Tariff.

The tariff is expected to reduce electricity costs by promoting a shift from oil fuel to renewable energy sources.

Rilwan praised the government’s “political will and efforts to negotiate” renewable energy in the Maldives. But he said investment in renewable energy was expensive, and that the Maldives lacks expertise.

REIO’s crowdsourcing initiative aims to improve that shortfall.

“While we are working now on the initial production planning and development we will also be looking to use local and international expertise to develop storage capacity,” said Minister for Economic Development Mahmoud Razee.

The initial plan, which is up for debate on an on-line forum, does not account for night time energy and energy storage due to its high cost. A government official said today that limiting use of solar energy to the daytime would still reduce costs significantly. Meanwhile, storage costs are expected to drop to an affordable rate in the next five to ten years.

The official added that plans addressing land transport vehicles’ energy emissions will be announced in the coming months. He noted that not only are electricity-based motorcycles and cars affordable, but Male’s small size negates the concern of going too far from a recharge station.

Although water transport energy reductions have not yet been addressed at the government level, Renewable Energy Maldives (REM) Director Hudah Ahmed said today that the company will soon be testing one of the first hybrid dhonis.

“Solar power is a viable option for the Maldives,” said Ahmed. “But we always say that energy efficiency comes before renewable energy. Consider how to do the best with what you have and what you need before you try to reinvent the system with a whole new resource.”

The REM hybrid dhoni uses a converter, and could reduce diesel consumption by 30 percent. Ahmed said the big idea is to replace current ferries and fishing boats with hybrid dhonis.

Ahmed suggested the Maldives investigate ocean thermal energy conversation (OTEC), a method of generating energy from the temperature differences between deep and shallow waters. “It isn’t commercial yet, but REM says it shouldn’t be ruled out. I think there are some areas in this country where OTEC could be useful,” said Ahmed.


Solar-powered ‘clever bins’ to be installed in Male’

The Maldives is to install a series of high-tech, solar-powered ‘Clever Bins’ along the northern shoreline of Male’, the first public bins in the capital.

The bins, which were showcased on the popular UK television show Dragon’s Den, show display advertising on three sides of the contraption. The fourth side is a solar panel that charges a battery during the day, allowing the bins to illuminate the ads at night.

The bins will be situated along the shore from the area near President’s jetty to the area near the berth for the airport ferry, a strip where vessels commonly collect and deposit tourists from nearby resort islands.

The bins are already used in Hong Kong, Singapore, Italy, and several cities in the UK. Advertisers include the UK’s National Health Service and Apple Inc.

Announcing the decision today, Managing Director of the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation, Simon Hawkins, explained that the government would only pay the costs to ship the five bins from Singapore.

“Clever Bins will receive 80 percent of the ad revenue for providing the bins and technology, while we will keep the rest and divide it between the relevant stakeholders,” he said.

“This is not a profit exercise – the Maldives has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2020, and we are receiving more visitors to Male’ than ever before. The market has also shifted in favour of Asian visitors, who seek cultural experiences – a trip to Male’ can be a highlight, but they find it very frustrating when there is nowhere to put rubbish.”

Hawkins described the bins as “robust and vandal proof” to “British hooligan” standards – “they have them in Manchester,” he noted, adding the they would be in well-lit and trafficked areas right outside Male’s main police station.

Male’ City Council will be responsible for clearing the bins and provide a staff member who will be trained in their maintenance and upkeep, with spare parts available via courier. Clever Bins had a vested interest in keeping the bins functional, Hawkins said, as their ad revenue depended on it.

The MMPRC would sign a contract this week and the bins would be delivered in six weeks, he said, adding that he believed the advertising spots would be of interest to companies keen to show off both their high tech and environmental credentials..

Director of local environmental NGO Bluepeace, Ahmed Ikram, said that even if the bins were gimmicky “we would welcome them as it will help raise awareness that littering is a problem”, and said he hoped the program would lead to bins being rolled out to the rest of Male’.

“Before the 1970s much of our rubbish was biodegradable [and] thrown onto the beach or into the sea,” he said. “Since then we have developed rapidly and acquired modern goods, but it is still ingrained in us that littering is not a problem,” he said.

Last week the Environment Protection Agency (EPA)  blamed a surge of garbage floating in Thilafushi lagoon on “impatient” trash boats, which had begun to float out into the sea, and announced its intention to investigate 10 culprits.

Minivan News recently interviewed a visiting French tourist, Mary Kivers, who had spent several days visiting Guraidhoo and observed that garbage was “everywhere”.

“It’s funny because we who live abroad think that Male’ will be an example for the world about pollution and everything, since global warming is important here. But when you see the inhabitants in the Maldives, they put anything into the sea. It was funny, on Guraidhoo one of the girls had a diaper, and I asked her where she was going. She said, ‘I am going to the bin,’ and she went and threw it in the sea.”