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.”


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.


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.


Maldives “not prepared” for repercussions of collapsing Antarctic glacier

The Maldives “is not prepared at all” for the projected acceleration of sea level rise caused by the collapse of a glacier system in Western Antarctica, local environmental groups have said.

Two separate studies, by Nasa and the University of Washington, reported on Monday that unstable glaciers in the Amundsen Sea contain enough water to raise global sea levels by at least four feet, or 1.2 meters, in the coming centuries.

The melting of the Thwaites glacier – caused by warmer global temperatures – has begun and cannot be stopped even with drastic action to cut greenhouse emissions, scientists have warned.

The Maldives archipelago is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change, with 80 percent of its 1,200 islands lying no more than a meter above sea level.

The collapse of the glacier has prompted international concern for the future of the archipelago, with financial news organization Bloomberg advising readers to “take that Maldives vacation you’ve been promising yourself — before it’s too late.”

“The issue is very big, it cannot be ignored like this. The government is not doing very much,” Ecocare member Maeed Zahir said.

The unexpected acceleration of the rise in sea level puts both the land mass and the people of Maldives at risk, he said.

“Its not only about submersion, it is also about the livelihood of the people. There will be an alarming impact on fisheries,” he noted. “Health issues will also come under impact. When the tides and water flood the island there will be water borne disease.”

Contingency Plans

Meanwhile, environmental advocacy group Bluepeace has called on the government to make contingency plans immediately.

Bluepeace founder Ali Rilwan argued “elevated adapted islands” where islands are raised by three meters through reclamation or buildings are raised on three-meter high stilts are the only solution for the Maldives.

“We cannot depend on the outcome of the international negotiations,” he said. “We have to find our own survival.”

Other measures include creating water villages, he added.

The organisation has recently also called for better conservation and management of reefs, wetlands, sea grass beds, and coastal vegetation as global warming pushes the Maldives into “uncharted waters.”

Former President Mohamed Nasheed had previously suggested relocating the Maldivian population to higher ground.

He told the Guardian in 2008 “We can do nothing to stop climate change on our own and so we have to buy land elsewhere,” naming Sri Lanka, India and Australia, as possible spots for a refuge. “It’s an insurance policy for the worst possible outcome,” he added.

The Minister of Environment and Energy Thoriq Ibrahim was not responding to calls at the time of press.

Climate Change policy

The current administration’s policies on climate change have been hard to define.

The Environment Ministry has announced a number of initiatives to minimize 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.

Criticising Yameen’s policies, Rilwan said: “Politicans are always likely to focus on economic development. They are totally aware [of climate change] but because of short term political gain, they do not think of long term survival.”

The Thwaites Glacier

Researchers said that although sea level rise could not be stopped, it is still several centuries off, and potentially up to 1,000 years away.

Speaking to the Guardian, The University of Washington researchers stated that the Thwaites glacier acts as a dam that holds back the rest of the ice sheet. Once Thwaites goes, researchers said, the remaining ice in the sheet could cause another 10 to 13ft (3 – 4 meters) of global sea-level rise.

The latest report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that the effects of global warming are “Risk of death, injury, and disrupted livelihoods in low-lying coastal zones and small island developing states, due to sea-level rise, coastal flooding, and storm surges.”

The report projected sea level to rise between 0.22 and 0.44 meters by the mid 2090s based on projections of thermal expansion and melting of alpine glaciers.

In light of the Thwaites discovery, the rate of sea levels will double compared to the original IPCC predictions, glaciologist for the British Antarctic Survey Hamish Pritchard predicted.

Photo by Jim Yungel/NASA Photograph


World Bank urges climate change adaptation support for the Maldives

The World Bank has expressed the urgent need for concerted efforts to support the Maldives in adapting to climate change, due to a projected 115 centimetres of sea level rise by 2090.

This, in addition to other climate impacts posing “disastrous consequences” for livelihoods and health, were noted in a recently released scientific report that “demands bold action now”.

The World Bank’s 2012 Turn Down the Heat report concluded a 4 degree Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) global temperature increase is expected by the end of the 21st century unless concerted action is taken immediately.

This year’s Turn Down The Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts, and the Case for Resilience World Bank report, builds upon those findings to illustrate the range of climate change impacts the developing world is currently experiencing and outlines “an alarming scenario for the days and years ahead – what we could face in our lifetime.”

“This second scientific analysis gives us a more detailed look at how the negative impacts of climate change already in motion could create devastating conditions especially for those least able to adapt. The poorest could increasingly be hit the hardest,” stated World Bank Group President Dr Jim Yong Kim, in the report’s foreword.

“We are determined to work with countries to find solutions,” Kim continued. “But, the science is clear. There can be no substitute for aggressive national mitigation targets, and the burden of emissions reductions lies with a few large economies.”

Based on the report’s findings, the World Bank has highlighted the urgent need for concerted efforts to support the Maldives in adapting to climate change.

As one of the lowest-lying countries in the world, with an average elevation of 1.5 meters above sea level, the Maldives is extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as sea level rise.

“The Maldives is one of the most vulnerable nations to climate change impacts and has set best practice examples in adapting to climate change consequences,” stated Ivan Rossignol, World Bank Acting Country Director for Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

“The World Bank is committed to supporting the government of Maldives. The current situation is beyond intellectual debates on climate change. A concerted effort is needed to act now while we still can make a difference,” said Rossignol.

With the average global temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius expected “in the next decades”, island economies like the Maldives, will be impacted by extreme weather patterns and rising sea levels, the report determined.

“With South Asia close to the equator, the sub-continent would see much higher rises in sea levels than higher latitudes, with the Maldives confronting the biggest increases of between 100-115 centimetres,” the report warned.

The South Asian region is projected to experience a 115 centimetre sea level rise increase by the 2090s in a 4 degree Celsius world, while a 60-80 centimetre increase is expected to occur with two degrees Celsius of warming.

“[However,] the highest values (up to 10 centimeters more) [are] expected for the Maldives. This is generally around 5–10 percent higher than the global mean.” There is a 66 percent change sea level rise will exceed 50 centimeters by the 2060s, noted the report.

In addition to sea level rise, the compounded impacts of increased temperatures and extremes of heat, increased intensity of extreme weather events (including flooding and tropical cyclones), and changes in the monsoon pattern are already occurring and are anticipated to worsen, according to the study.

This will strain already vulnerable water resources, crop yields, and energy security in the Maldives, as well as the South Asian region, the report highlighted.

“Disturbances to the monsoon system and rising peak temperatures put water and food resources at severe risk. An extreme wet monsoon, which currently has a chance of occurring only once in 100 years, is projected to occur every 10 years by the end of the century,” stated the study.

“The consequences on livelihoods and health [in the Maldives] could be disastrous… Even at present warming of 0.8°C above pre-industrial levels, the observed climate change impacts are serious and indicate how dramatically human activity can alter the natural environment upon which human life depends,” it continues.

“The risks to health associated with inadequate nutrition or unsafe drinking water are significant: childhood stunting, transmission of waterborne diseases, and hypertension and other disorders associated with excess salinity [due to saltwater intrusion from sea level rise],” the report noted. “Other health threats are also associated with flooding, heat waves, tropical cyclones, and other extreme events.”

“[Meanwhile,] dense urban populations [such as the Maldives’ capital Male’] would be especially vulnerable to heat extremes, flooding, and disease,” according to the study’s findings.

The report also warns of the potential “domino effect” climate impacts can create that ultimately affect human development, such as the decimation of coral reefs creating cascading impacts on local livelihoods, and tourism.

Climate change impacts may also increase the likelihood of conflicts occurring, according to the study.

Ultimately, climate change impacts – particularly sea level rise – may force Maldivians to migrate, which “can be seen as a form of adaptation and an appropriate response to a variety of local environmental pressures”.

“The potential for migration, including permanent relocation, is expected to be heightened by climate change, and particularly by sea-level rise and erosion,” the report stated. However, it cautioned that population relocation poses “a whole set of other risks”.

New technological solutions and international cooperation are a must to adapt to and change the current trajectory of climate change impacts on growth and poverty reduction efforts, the study concluded.

“I hope this report will help convince everyone that the benefits of strong, early action on climate change far outweigh the costs,” said World Bank Group President Dr Jim Yong Kim.

“This report demands action. It reinforces the fact that climate change is a fundamental threat to economic development and the fight against poverty,” declared Kim.


Dead fish washing up on beaches in northern atolls

Large numbers of dead fish have been washing ashore on resorts and inhabited islands in the upper north of the Maldives in Noonu and Haa Atolls, reports the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture.

The dead fish are overwhelmingly red-tooth trigger fish (odonus niger, locally known as vaalan rondu), but include several other species of reef fishes including Acanthurids (surgeon fish) and Serranids.

The Marine Research Centre (MRC) is currently investigating the incident.

MRC Director General Shiham Adam said a series of similar incidents were reported from June-December in 2007. Tests showed the increased presence of the bacteria Staphylococcus in the spleen of fish samples, but the investigation was inconclusive.

“We sent samples sent to the US and it seemed be related to a bacterial infection in the gills that causes them to suffocate,” Shiham explained.

“A lot of people say it is global warming and environmental change. [Fish kill incidents] are not something that normally happens, so we are worried about it,” he said.

Minute changes in the environment during critical periods of a species’ life-cycle could trigger such events, Shiham explained.

A red tide can be a sign of an algal bloom

In a statement, the Fisheries Ministry noted that the Maldives lacked the capacity to deal with such large scale incidents of fish-kill, “so we have to resort to collaboration with institutes and individual parties from overseas. As such we are awaiting results from fish samples which have been sent to laboratories in India and Denmark.”

Marine biologists have also reported ‘red-tides’ in the lagoons and beaches of some resorts, which sometimes attributed to algal blooms, such as trichodesmium.

“Phytoplankton (or algal) blooms are reported to be a very common cause of fish kills around the globe,” noted the MRC’s report into the 2007 fish kill incidents.

“Controlled populations of several groups of potentially harmful algae usually belonging to the dinoflagellates) exist) in the marine environment. When conditions become favourable (nutrient enrichment of the waters, changes in physical conditions of the surrounding waters, etc) the microalgae (usually also associated with the secretion of toxins) populations burst causing mass mortalities of fish,” the report noted.

“These toxins are not necessarily always associated with fish kills, but rather the planktivores that feed on these dinoflagellates accumulate the toxins, which in turn affects higher predators (including human beings) that feeds on the toxin-accumulated fish.”

The statement from the Fisheries Ministry advised the public to not to eat the dead fish or go into murky water, as it may be potentially harmful to health.

The MRC requested that sightings of fish kill incidents and/or red tides be forwarded to MRC staff Ahmed Najeeb ([email protected]) or Faheeda Islam ([email protected]).


Q&A: Mike Mason, founder of Climate Care

Some of the world’s leading environmentalists, energy experts and economists gathered under a thatched roof, barefoot and in shorts for a conference with a difference.

The ‘Eco-Symposium’ took place over the weekend in Soneva Fushi, a luxury resort renown for its green credentials and the first in the Maldives that has pledged to go carbon neutral – by the end of this year.

Set in Baa Atoll, the 100 hectare resort grows most of its own food organically on the island, has banned any use of plastic, and provides guests with drinking water in re-usable glass bottles, produced in the island’s own bottling plant. Guests pay an additional two percent on their bills to help offset their carbon emissions.

The symposium’s stated aim was  to reconcile luxury tourism with environmental sustainability. Soneva Fushi’s owner, Sonu Shivdasani, a long time environmental entrepreneur, says: “We want to present practical solutions that make both business and environmental sense. The tourism industry must realize that reconciling its business with carbon neutrality is a matter of commercial as well as planetary survival.”

Speakers at the Symposium included Jonathan Porrit, Founder and Director of Forum for the Future, Professor Geoffrey Lipman of Unite Nations World Tourism Organisation, Eric Scotto CEO Akuo Energy Group, Jeremy Legget, Founder & Chairman Solarcentury and Mark Lynus, the government’s Climate Change Advisor.

They spoke on issues including surviving climate change and profitable climate solutions, the living building challenge and improving the transportation footprint. Special guest President Mohamed Nasheed spoke on the plans to make Maldives carbon neutral by 2020.

Minivan News spoke to Mike Mason on the sidelines of the eco symposium, following his presentation on ‘Carbon neutral Maldives: foresight or folly’.

Mason is considered a world expert in environmental economics and renewable energy technologies. He is the founder of Climate Care, a voluntary carbon offset company based in UK, which he recently sold to investment bank JP Morgan. For the past six months he has been supervising an Oxford student’s Masters thesis on energy consumption in the islands of Baa Eydhafushi and Baa Maalhos.

Aishath Shazra: When you discuss going carbon neutral with Maldivians from all walks of life, you have said the most you get from them is “that’s interesting”, or “it’s a policy that will come and go.” In lieu of this, how can you change mindsets?

Mike Mason: Nobody wakes up thinking “I want to destroy the planet today.” But a lack of knowledge about low carbon technologies, and in poor countries in particular, a lack of capital, means people find it difficult to switch to renewable technologies. A poor person can’t afford to invest in something [such as solar panels] unless is gives an immediate financial return.

A two part strategy is needed to tackle this. One is by providing the best technical advice to those in power: the government, ministers,island chiefs and so on. And secondly, providing things to win hearts and minds of people, so that local people demand change.

AS: What have you learned from the data collected from Maalhos in Baa Atoll, and what does it suggest in terms of harnessing wind and solar energy?

MM: In the study of Maalhos we learned that we absolutely can make the transition to renewable energy without increasing people’s energy bills. Moreover, we can make people’s lives better in the process, by improving their fridges and cooling their houses.

We have to integrate energy and tax policies. For example, a typical fridge in the Maldives uses 10 times as much electricity as the very best fridges currently available in Europe. This costs the household money, wastes government money in electricity subsidies and damages the environment. The irony of the fridges example is that the cost to the government of changing someone’s fridge is less than the cost of subsidising the electricity the old fridge wastes.

The second thing we learned from Maalhos concerns the choices you need to make in order to provide cheap renewable energy. For example, if you only want 30 percent of your electricity to be renewable, you can do it mainly with wind, rather than solar. But if you aim to power an island with 90 percent renewable energy, you need to use all solar and very little wind.

We have to understand these issues, and work out what targets we want to hit, before we spend a lot of money on equipment.

Participants at the Eco-Symposium, including Mike Mason and President Mohamed Nasheed

AS: Will the scattered islands of Maldives make it a challenge to use renewable energy or can we have a one-size-fits-all solution for the islands?

MM: The scattered islands of the Maldives are not a problem in going for renewables. Renewable energy is naturally distributed and there are so few advantages to connecting isolated islands. Each island can generate its own renewable energy.

However, there are exceptions, such as where islands are densely populated, and there is no room to put up all the energy harvesting equipment that is needed, such as solar panels. In these cases we have to go for an off-island solution and possibly an electricity grid [connecting islands to one another].

Male’, for instance, should have a grid linking Thilafushi, Vilingilli, Male’ and Hulhumale’. There may be other areas in the Maldives where an electricity grid is advisable.

AS: There is no income tax in the Maldives; the government imposes import duty on goods. You have said that this could prove to be our greatest national asset on our road to carbon neutrality, how is that?

MM: Everyone in the world who is an expert in this area says one has to tax the ‘bad’ and not the ‘goods’. The Maldives has an interesting tax regime that can be used to steer people towards buying better equipment, by varying import duties depending on whether an appliance is energy efficient or not.

AS: You have said that the Maldives’ most immediate danger is not climate change but our acute vulnerability to oil price shocks. Can you explain that?

MM: In the next 10 years, the world economy is likely to grow by the same amount as it did in every year until 2010. China, India, Indonesia… these countries are experiencing tremendous growth. Economic growth is always accompanied by oil demand and oil prices have risen 10 times over the last 40 years. We have now discovered most of earth’s oil, and we are unlikely to discover new oil as fast as new demands grow. When demand exceeds supply, prices rocket. What happened two years ago [when oil prices reached US$150 per barrel], was a warning for what could happen in the future.

AS: What are the benefits for ordinary people in a country going carbon neutral?

MM: Shifting to renewable energy means you are no longer exposed to the risk of oil price shocks. It means the Maldives no longer has to worry about going bankrupt because of oil price spikes. This is as much a benefit for the government as it is for the people. Put environmental considerations aside; the Maldives should go carbon neutral for economic and energy security reasons.


Geomorphologists meet in Maldives to seek climate change answers

A group of ‘geomorphologists’ are holding a five day meeting in the Maldives to discuss the impact of climate change on the country’s landmasses, and how the marine ecosystem may be affected.

Newspaper Haveeru reported that the scientists meeting  on Paradise Island Resort would devise research policies for the next four years, covering both inhabited and uninhabited islands across the country.

Environment Minister Mohamed Aslam said the research would enable an understanding of how reefs are formed and help determine the impact of climate change on reef structures.

The Maldives is currently suffering from the worst coral bleaching since the 1998 El Nino event, with reports of up to 50 percent bleaching in some areas of North Male’ Atoll as water temperatures rise.

Marine biologists have expressed concern that reefs may be one of the first ecosystems to perish because of climate change.