Maldivians could be among first climate refugees, warns Nasheed

The Maldivian people will be among the world’s first climate change refugees due to sea level rise if global warming is not averted, former President Mohamed Nasheed has warned.

In his keynote address at the ‘International Bar Association’s (IBA) annual conference showcase session on climate change and human rights’ in Tokyo today, the opposition leader stressed that climate change is not an abstract concept to Maldivians but an existential threat.

“The inundation of the Maldives is just a generation away,” he warned.

“When I was elected president, I caused some controversy by saying we would someday have to leave our islands. I was hopeful then that we would be able to change the way our story ends. But I fear it is too late now for the Maldives.”

“The world has lost the window of opportunity to mend its ways. Big emitters have sentenced us. The world temperature will rise, and the seas will rise over our nose.”

Nasheed noted that Maldivians have lived in the Indian Ocean islands “scattered across our distant archipelago, for thousands of years.”

“When our islands succumb to the water, we will leave. We will take with us as much of our culture and customs as we can carry. Our stories, our history, our food; our distinctive language, and its beautiful script,” he said.

“But that will be nothing compared to what we leave behind. We will leave behind our homes. Our streets. Our buildings,” he continued.

“We will leave behind the beautiful Friday Mosque, carved out of coral stone three centuries ago. We will leave behind the trees we grew up with, the sands we played on, the sounds we hear every day. The sea will claim those things, and with it, the soul of a people.”

Nasheed recalled words of wisdom shared by an elderly woman he met on an island.

“‘Mr President we can move a people,’ she said; ‘but where will the sounds go? Where will the colours go? Where will the butterflies go?'”

If Maldivians become climate refugees, Nasheed said the exiled population would face “issues of citizenship, sovereignty, and even reparations.”

“Can you have sovereignty and dignity without land? Can an independent nation exist on foreign soil?” he asked.

“And what restitution, if any, can be made for the damage done to us – damage we warned about, but did not cause? I fear that these questions will be answered one day, not in the abstract, but in a court of law. And I fear that we, the people of the Maldives, will be the star witness.”

In lieu of environmental protection, Nasheed said Maldivians are looking to the international community for legal protection and to “help us prosecute those responsible after the fact, if they will not accept responsibility before it.”

Nasheed welcomed a recent report by the IBA on climate justice, which he said showed “the clear connections between climate change and human rights”.

Cautious optimism

While it may be too late to stop climate change, Nasheed said there was still hope that it could be slowed down by changing the world economy.

Our starting point should be our end goal: a zero-carbon economy. Rather than aiming to limit climate change to within a tolerable level, we should just stop polluting. In the Maldives, we had a plan – approved by the World Bank – to go completely carbon neutral by 2020,” he said.

“On a global level, studies suggest a net-zero emissions economy is possible by 2050 – a timeline that is consistent with preventing the most dangerous climate change.”

While markets have failed to place a price on carbon, Nasheed said the “disruptive brilliance of the tech sector” could be harnessed to “the clean energy ambitions of environmental movement.”

“Six years ago, the ‘App Store’ didn’t exist; last year, it made $10 billion in sales. Today, most of us carry more computing power in our pockets than the Apollo astronauts took to the moon,” he observed.

“These kind of exponential leaps are happening in the energy industry, too. The first hybrid car was launched in 1997; today, more than 9 million have been sold. Since 2008, the price of solar modules has dropped by 80 percent.”

On climate change adaptation, Nasheed observed that coral reefs and mangroves worked as natural defences against the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, suggesting that corals could be genetically modified and strengthened.

Nasheed went on to criticise UN climate negotiations, which he contended “have been been stuck in a rut, with countries hiding behind labels, and few showing leadership.”

“It may be too late to save homelands in Kiribati, or Tuvalu, or the Maldives,” he said.

“It may be too late to save the species which depend on stable temperatures, clean air, or placid seas. But it is not too late to change our ways.”


Government targets generating 30 percent of electricity from renewable sources

The government has announced a five-year target to generate 30 percent of electricity used during daylight hours in the 196 inhabited islands of the Maldives from renewable energy sources.

Briefing the press today on the UN Climate Summit 2014 held yesterday, Environment Minister Thoriq Ibrahim that efforts were already underway to install solar panels in some islands such as Thinadhoo in Gaaf Dhaal atoll.

“Electricity will be provided from solar panels in Dhaal Kudahuvadhoo, Raa Ungoofaru and Kaafu Dhiffushi very soon. Work is underway in an additional five islands,” the minister was quoted as saying by newspaper Haveeru.

The government was in the process of formulating a low carbon energy policy, he said.

Referring to the impact of climate change on the Maldives, Thoriq noted that 116 islands were facing beach erosion, with severe erosion in 64 islands.

Coastal protection projects have been undertaken in several islands, he added.


Marine festival held in Mathiveri

A marine festival titled ‘Moodhu Maa-Kan’du Fest 2014’ took place on the island of Mathiveri in Alif Alif atoll on Saturday (September 20).

According to a press release from the US embassy, the one-day festival was organised by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment and Energy and the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture as well as the North Ari Atoll Council and “provided local residents with an opportunity to voice their concerns regarding environmental issues in their communities.”

US Ambassador to Maldives Michele J. Sison, State Minister for Environment and Energy Mohammed Ibrahim and State Minister for Fisheries and Agriculture Zaha Waheed, State Minister for Fisheries and Agriculture attended the festival, which was held to raise awareness about climate change challenges and provide hands-on training to learn about protecting marine life.

“You are all aware of the overwhelming urgency to address climate change adaptation in Maldives,” Ambassador Sison was quoted as saying in the press release.

“That is why it is crucial for all the people of Maldives to participate when deciding how to protect your natural resources.”

The press statement explained that the festival was part of REGENERATE (Reefs Generate Environmental and Economic Resiliency for Atoll Ecosystems), a programme funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to “better protect and manage marine systems, especially the coral reef life affected by climate change and human activities.”

“Maldives attaches great importance to the protection and preservation of coral reefs. We continue to collaborate with partners, both local and international,” said Mohamed Ibrahim.

“However, we hold to creed that community participation and ownership is the key to the success of these efforts.”

The festival included activities such as “snorkeling and swimming lessons, a beach clean-up competition, an invention competition using recyclables, and even instructor-guided scuba diving lessons.”

“The Maldives territory is over 99 percent water and the archipelago’s well-being depends directly on healthy marine and coastal environments,” said Dr Ameer Abdulla, REGENERATE Program Manager and Senior Advisor to the IUCN Global Marine Program.

“This festival is a first step in motivating and forming the next generation of Maldivian marine scientists and managers.”


Former President Gayoom calls for leadership of small island states in climate change

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has called upon leaders of developed nations to allow small island states to lead the world in efforts to combat climate change.

“We say to the leaders of the emitting countries, if you are not ready to lead the world on climate change, then give us the opportunity,” Gayoom appealed in a statement delivered at the 3rd International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in Apia, Samoa on Monday (September 1).

“SIDS are ready to lead. Don’t stand in our way.”

Despite challenges posed by the small size of SIDS, Gayoom said “size alone does not determine our destiny.”

“With the right policies and right choices we can become our own masters who will shape our future,” he said.

“To do that we need to establish partnerships; meaningful partnerships and enduring partnerships. Partnerships that are defined not by more aid, but by more opportunities. Opportunities that small states could seize to help themselves and to live their dreams.”

The former president is representing the Maldives at the four-day conference as a special envoy of President Abdulla Yameen along with Environment Minister Thoriq Ibrahim.

The objectives of the conference includeidentifying new and emerging challenges and opportunities for the sustainable development of SIDS and means of addressing them” and “identifying priorities for the sustainable development of SIDS to be considered in the elaboration of the post-2015 UN development agenda.”

No progress

Despite “numerous pledges” at UN conferences where “ambitious action plans” were adopted, Gayoom noted that there was “very little to show in terms of real progress.”

“Global CO2 emissions continue unabated. Our fragile ecosystems face increasing threats. Sustainable and innovative solutions we initiate remain unrealised because of lack of international support,” he said.

“It is deeply disappointing to the Maldives, and to the people of all small island developing states to observe the lack of action, particularly by the industrialised economies.”

The objective of SIDS as a separate category was “to help small states in coping with vulnerability,” he added, as well as to coordinate policy decisions “instead of defining these states in terms of what they are not.”

Climate change should be the “core issue of concern” for both SIDS and the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), Gayoom said.

While the Maldives was considered a beautiful and exotic tourist destination, Gayoom said the country was threatened by rising sea temperatures, unpredictable weather patterns, coral bleaching, increased salination of fresh water, accelerated beach erosion, and erratic migration of fish stocks.

The Maldives along with other SIDS have “consistently called for genuine action for climate change, to not bury it in the political manoeuvring that is a reality of today’s international diplomacy, to not wait until it is too late,” he said.

Despite vulnerability of small states, Gayoom said SIDS were also “valuable contributors in proposing common solutions to common problems.”

In the past four decades, the Maldives has shown that small states are both viable and “have extraordinary ability to survive and even thrive in the turbulent global political arena.”

He referred to the Maldives drawing international attention to sea level rise and security threats for small states in 1987.

Gayoom suggested that the declaration of the conference – the ‘Samoa Pathway’ – could “change the course of history in climate change and sustainable development negotiations.”

The declaration could help small states build resilience and develop economies driven by innovation and new technologies, he continued, which would “encourage free enterprise and individual initiative.”

Following today’s session of the conference, Gayoom tweeted,


Environment minister meets World Bank mission

Environment Minister Thoriq Ibrahim met officials of a visiting World Bank mission yesterday to discuss implementation of climate change projects.

According to the ministry, discussions focused on preparation of the Climate Resilience and Environment Sustainability (CRES) Project under the second phase of the Maldives Climate Change Trust Fund (CCTF) as well as the fifth implementation support mission for the Wetlands Conservation and Corel Reef Monitoring for Adaptation to Climate Change (WCCM) project under the first phase of the Maldives CCTF.

The World Bank mission also held meetings with officials from the finance ministry, the CCTF Project Management Unit, the fisheries and agriculture ministry, the Marine Research Centre, the Environment Protection Agency, the Local Government Authority and WCCM project consultants.

The activities of the mission included undertaking project preparation on CRES as well as agreeing on the next steps, timelines, and responsibilities for the preparation process with the government of Maldives.

“The Maldives Climate Change Trust Fund is a multi-donor collaboration between the government of Maldives, the European Union, Australian Agency for International Development, the World Bank, and other multinational agencies which was launched in 2012,” explained the ministry.

Meanwhile, appearing for minister’s question time at parliament yesterday, Thoriq revealed that a special project was being planned to tackle water shortages during the dry northeastern monsoon.

The minister said a permanent solution could not be found through the project until 2016.

He noted that the government had to supply water to 82 islands facing shortages last year at a cost of MVR3.9 million (US$252,918). Some 75 islands have faced water shortages so far this year, he added.


Maldives’ economy hardest hit by climate change: Asian Development Bank

Climate change could cause annual economic losses of over 12% of the Maldives’ GDP by the end of this century, says a new Asian Development Bank (ADB) climate and economics report released today (August 19).

“A potential ocean rise of up to 1 meter by 2100 will have devastating consequences for this island archipelago, where the highest natural point is only a little over 2 meters above sea level,” said Bindu Lohani, ADB Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development.

The Maldives is the most at-risk country in South Asia from climate change impacts, said the report titled ‘Assessing the Costs of Climate Change and Adaptation in South Asia’.

Given the uncertainties of climate change, there is a slight possibility that the losses could swell to more than 38%. But if mitigation and adaptation steps are taken, the Maldives will benefit the most in the region, with annual losses limited to around 3.5% of GDP by 2100, the report concluded.

Programmes and Advocacy Manager at local environmental NGO Ecocare Maeed Mohamed Zahir, however, believes the government is currently far from taking such steps.

“There is no clear-cut adaptation strategy,” he added.

Energy supplies at risk

According to the report, the Maldives’ energy supplies are particularly at risk from climate change.

The Maldives’ energy vulnerabilities are related to the low elevation and small size of islands, the report explains. Their low elevation and narrow width makes powerhouses and associated infrastructure vulnerable to flooding and damage from severe weather events.

The report also notes that, with the commitment to become carbon neutral by 2020, the country is increasingly investing in renewable energy technologies, particularly solar power, for which there is abundant solar energy — 400 million MW per annum.

The environment ministry has recently announced a number of initiatives to minimise the country’s dependence on fossil fuels, including a pledge to convert 30 percent of all electrical use to renewable energy, and the Scaling-Up Renewable Energy Programme (SREP) set to “transform the Maldives energy sector.”

However, President Abdulla Yameen has also pledged to explore for crude oil in the Maldives as an alternative means of diversifying the economy and supplementing fuel supply.

Vector-borne diseases

In addition, the report highlighted that vector-borne diseases could be a major public health concern for the Maldives in the future.

Dengue is now endemic in the country with seasonal outbreaks, observed the report. Epidemiological data shows changes in the seasonal nature of dengue, spreading across the atolls, and leading finally to epidemic proportions.

Morbidity from dengue by 2090 could increase to 34,539, with 324 deaths per year, the report stated.

Moreover, although malaria is not prevalent in the Maldives, it could be future concern if left unchecked said the ADB.

During 1990–2003, the number of malaria cases averaged 16 per year, with no fatalities. However, the report warns that annual morbidity due to malaria incidence by 2090 could reach more than 200.


Ecocare’s Zahir argued that the government is at best unclear, and at worst unprepared, for climate change. Speaking with Minivan News, Zahir appealed to the government to reveal their policy for adaptation in the face of climate change.

He went on to explain that in the last four to five years there has been no clear stance on climate change from the government.

“The number one priority is to make everyone aware if they have one,” he said.

Back in 2009, former president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, unveiled a plan to make the Maldives carbon-neutral within a decade. Zahir suggested that the following administration’s have been less clear on the issue.

“In the last two governments we don’t have a clear-cut climate change plans,” he argued. “From 2009 to now – it’s a disaster for us.”

Ecocare has previously accused the Maldives as being “not prepared at all” for the projected acceleration of sea level rise caused by the collapse of a glacier system in Western Antarctica.

Officials from the Ministry of Environment and Energy were not responding to Minivan News at the time of publishing.


Kurendhoo and Fulidhoo erosion threatens communities

Both Vaavu Fulidhoo and Lhaviyani Kurendhoo are suffering the impacts of increased coastal erosion and Udha waves as the south-west monsoon season continues.

Vaavu atoll Fulidhoo Council has said it is about to lose the island’s football stadium, while the local graveyard on Kurendhoo is now just 15 feet from the encroaching waves.

Fulidhoo has already lost its cultural center and a 50 foot tower – erected as a navigation guide for vessels traveling within the atoll – to erosion, says the council.

It estimates that approximately 350-400 feet of soil has been eroded so far, with the erosion speeding up following the 2004 tsunami and accelerating every south-west monsoon since then.

Council President Moosa Faiz says the sea is now around just six feet away from the Dhiraagu telecommunications tower, with the power cable already in the water. At the current rate of erosion, he expects it to fall before this monsoon ends.

“Now the only option we have is to move the cable into the football stadium, but the youth and general public do not want this. Some are asking how long before we move the tower into the stadium?”

The council has instead opted to keep the cable as it is – in the sea – and to the electricity to the tower for safety.

With no sufficient funds at their disposal to protect the beach, the council traveled to the capital Malé city last month, meeting with nine different government ministries and Dhiraagu without a gaining a positive response, Faiz continued.

The council has now started requesting assistance from nearby tourist resorts.

Meanwhile the island is being approached by Udha waves from the northern side of the island which last month encroached 100 feet into the island, rather than the usual 10 0r 20.

“People were afraid this time,” explained the council president.


Approximately 114 miles north of Fulidhoo, the island of Kurendhoo in Lhaviyani atoll is also facing increasing land erosion.

The northern side of the island is eroding at a fast pace, leaving the only graveyard on the island within 15 feet of being taken by the ocean.

The erosion has accelerated in the past three years, with 15-20 feet of sand already washed away by the sea on Kurendhoo.

A Kurendhoo council official said that part of the beach was reclaimed earlier during the harbor construction approximately ten years ago, but all this had all now been washed into the sea.

The previous council had tried unsuccessfully to control the erosion by placing concrete blocks and stones at the area.

The council’s only hope at the moment is the now- stalled harbor project of the island, which includes a 309 meter rock revetment, the construction of a 207 meter concrete quay-wall, and a 582 meter Rock Armour Breakwater.

The MVR40 million project was handed over to Maldives Transport and Construction Company in March 2013 and was expected to be completed with a year.

Kurendhoo also faced Udha waves from the southern side of the island in this season, affecting approximately four houses and flooding the streets.

Possible causes

The Kurendhoo council president believes that beach erosion on his island could be related to the construction of the harbor at the thundi side of the island where sand naturally comes and goes from the beach.

These moving sands, which some locals call the ‘dancing thundi’ are an important part of the natural system which forms and sustains the islands, may have been interrupted by human interference.

The Environment Protection Agency’s (EPA) Senior Environment Analyst Rifath Naeem said that this is very likely to be an underlying reason for the increasing number of islands with chronic beach erosion.

“Sometimes construction of harbors or other development activity could throw off the balance in this system. When the complex dynamics and equilibrium of sand movement are affected by such activity, it could increase accretion or erosion of beaches. What’s happening to the beach of one island could affect that of another island in that same reef.” He said.

Since the establishment of the agency, all development projects are carried out with an Environment Impact Assessment, but Rifath said this information may not be enough considering how complex these systems are.

While this assessment minimizes the negative environmental impact, he said, to fully grasp the complex systems at work and minimize impact further would require a lot more time and work.

“Chronic erosion has been going on for a while now, both on inhabited and uninhabited islands. But lately the number of reports we receive have increased significantly along with reports of other environmental issues such as salt water intrusion and changes in rainfall,” he said.

At the moment there is not enough data to say clearly that it is in fact an increase in erosion or just an increase in reporting, he explained, if it is caused by human intervention or if it is a direct impact of climate change.


Development and environment protection should go together, says President Yameen

Economic development and protection of the environment should go in tandem to ensure sustainable development, President Abdulla Yameen has said.

In a message on the occasion of World Environment Day, President Yameen said the Maldives’ environment and ecosystems have been adversely affected by some development efforts.

“Therefore, we have to pay more attention to this. And we have to ensure that development and protection and sustenance of the environment go together. That is how sustainable development can be achieved,” he said.

“Doubtless the development that all our citizens want is intertwined with this.”

The current administration has come under fire from local environmental groups following environmental damage caused by a US$37 million four-island reclamation project carried out by Royal Boskalis Westminster.

The Netherlands-based maritime infrastructure company was accused of mining sand from the country’s only UNESCO biosphere reserve in Baa Atoll as well as failing to build a barrier to prevent excess dredge soil from spilling onto the reef in Baa Atoll Eydhaushi Island.

In the two islands where reclamation was completed, houses and vegetation on the shorelines were also covered in fine mixture of sand and salt due to the use of the “rainbow technique” which propels soil into the air.

Climate change

President Yameen meanwhile referred to the findings of the second working group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and called for timely action to address climate change.

“The quantity and quality of water resources are being affected. Climate ‎change is negatively impacting crop yields as well. Impacts from recent climate-‎related extremes reveal significant vulnerabilities and expose some ecosystems ‎and many human systems to current climate vulnerability,” Yameen said.

“At the forefront of ‎those facing the effects of climate change are communities living in the world’s ‎low-lying regions and small island states.”

Referring to the theme of this year’s Environment Day – “Raise Your ‎Voice, Not the Sea Level” – President Yameen welcomed the special focus ‎which will be afforded to small island nation states such as the Maldives.

The president noted that the United Nations has designated 2014 as the ‎International Year of Small Island Developing States (SIDs). ‎

Yameen also paid tribute to the climate change advocacy efforts of of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who he said brought the threats posed by sea level rise to global attention in the late 1980s.

Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon also emphasised the need to take concrete action to avert climate catastrophe.

A Foreign Ministry press release today said that the minister expressed hope that key international conferences this year would successfully take into account the vulnerability of SIDs.

The Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States will be held in Samoa in September, while the negotiations of a new climate treaty at the Meetings of States Parties of the UNFCCC will also take place in 2014, detailed the release.

The press statement noted that the IPCC’s latest report has “proven that climate change is neither just an environmental issue nor a scientific thesis, but is of a question of the survival of each and every nation around the planet, irrespective of its size.”

“The minister also reiterated that the Maldives continues to be in the front line while refusing to remain a victim, and have been an agent of change in addressing environmental issues,” it added.

“The Maldives is currently in the process of developing a low carbon development strategy which paints a promising picture not only for the nation but the world. Internationally, the Maldives has led efforts to emphasise the links between human rights and climate change, as well as the plight of small states.”

In his message, Environment Minister Thoriq Ibrahim meanwhile noted that 23 percent of the Maldives’ GDP was spent on importing fossil fuels and stressed the importance of developing sources of renewable energy.

The Environment Ministry commenced its programme to mark the World Environment Day with a tree planting event in front of the Male’ Sports Complex.

Other events planned by the ministry include the publication of reports for energy saving in schools, a photography exhibition, a film festival, and a clean up event in Malé.


Laamu atoll to set benchmark for climate change development, says UNDP

The United Nations in Maldives launched its new project, the ‘Low Emission Climate Resilient Development (LECReD) Programme’ in Fonadhoo, Laamu atoll yesterday (May 18).

Azusa Kubota, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) representative, said the ambitious programme would set Laamu atoll as a “benchmark” for future climate-smart and strategic development.

Minister of Environment and Energy Thoriq Ibrahim echoed the statements of Kubota, stating that the programme would play a pivotal role in shaping the future development of Laamu atoll, paving way for more climate-resilient projects in the social and economic sectors of the atoll.

The 3-year-long initiative seeks to contribute to the existing local development framework by enhancing the capacity to support low-carbon lifestyles, climate change adaptation, and disaster risk reduction in the Maldives.

The US$9.2 million programme will be implemented as a collaborative effort by local organisations, the UNDP, UNICEF, UNOPS, UNFPA, UN WOMEN, the WHO and the FAO.

It is the first joint implementation programme undertaken by the UN in the Maldives, and signals the adoption of a new holistic approach to address localised impacts of climate change in the Maldives, according to the LECReD press statement.

The Government of Denmark, who is funding the project, have a history of supporting the Maldives in climate change awareness and mitigation programmes.

In 2009 Copenhagen supported the Maldives in order that the government could attend the crucial climate change summit, just one day after the former president Nasheed announced that country lacked the funds to participate.

Furthermore, in 2010 Danish ministers announced they would assist with climate mitigation in Maldives during an official visit.

Speaking at a press conference held at the time, officials announced Denmark would fund climate mitigation programs in Kenya, Indonesia and the Maldives as part of its US$40 million ‘fast-track’ climate change initiative.

Danish Minister for Development Cooperation Søren Pind and Minister for Climate Change and Energy Dr Lykke Friis announced they would assist with infrastructure and capacity-building projects in the Maldives.

“In global climate talks there is sometimes the tendency to say ‘If we don’t agree now, we’ll just agree next year.’ But if anyone suffers from that illusion they should come to the Maldives, because here you get an education that action is needed now,” said Dr Friis.

Following the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, Minister Thoriq called for a cap on global temperature rise, and pledged to increase renewable energy to 30% in the next 5 years.

“Averting catastrophe is still possible,” he said in response to the panel’s argument that the world was ill-prepared for risks from a changing climate.

After reports of collapsing glaciers leading to a potentially increased rate of sea-level rise were reported last week, local NGOs suggested that the Maldives was “not prepared at all” for the projected consequences.