Greenpeace to conduct programme with coastguard to monitor illegal fishing

Greenpeace International has commenced a programme with the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) coastguard to monitor illegal fishing in the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEC), Oliver Knowles, Senior Oceans Campaigner of Greenpeace UK, said at a press conference in Male’ on Friday.

The Rainbow Warrior – flagship of environmental NGO Greenpeace – is currently visiting the Maldives as part of a two-month tour of the Indian Ocean.

“Greenpeace has come to the Indian Ocean in order to learn about fishing activities in the region, and to talk to communities, governments, officials and the tuna fishing industry, with the intention of working together to combat overfishing and to stop destructive and illegal fishing,” the international organisation stated.


Government to unveil “new environmental strategy”

The government will “not completely” reverse the former government’s carbon neutral policies outlined by President Mohamed Nasheed during his three years in office, the President’s Office has said.

President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza told Minivan News the government was this week expecting to unveil details of a new environmental strategy for the nation.  Riza claimed this strategy would seek to play up  national debate about sustainable practices at both an island and national level.

Riza’s comments were made as the government this month launches a number of environment-themed events to coincide with the Rio+20 sustainable development summit that is taking place in Brazil between June 20 and June 22.

Meanwhile, former President Mohamed Nasheed, who maintains he was removed from office in February under a “coup d’etat”, claimed it would be “impossible” for the present government to outline sustainable development strategies unless it had the stability of a democratic mandate.

Abbas however maintained that President Waheed would “not totally reverse” Nasheed’s environmental commitments towards carbon neutral policies.

“In the next 24 hours or so we will hope to be unveil more details of our new strategy. We will not be enacting a 180 degree change in direction to the previous government’s zero carbon strategy,” he claimed. “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.”

The former government conducted a number of high-profile exercises in a bid to raise the profile of its efforts to secure funding and assistance to make the country carbon neutral by 2020, such as the now internationally famous underwater cabinet meeting.

Riza added that the government was looking to establish new laws and regulations to safeguard nationwide sustainable commitments. There had been “very little” debate on environmental policy in parliament during Nasheed’s presidency, Riza said.

Destination: Rio

The Rio +20 Conference taking place later this month aims to bring together world leaders, NGOs and private sector representatives to outline new directions for political commitments on overcoming the challenges setting back sustainable development.

According to the Maldives government, the conference will focus on bolstering green economies to relieve poverty, as well as improving coordination between various international bodies and national authorities.

In the lead up to the event, the Maldives has launched a new social media service on Facebook, the Future of Maldives Sustainable Development, which details work presently being conducted by authorities towards eco-friendly commitments.

In the next few weeks, a number of sustainability themed events will be held around the country. These include a no-vehicle day in Male’, which will see non-emergency traffic banned from the capital’s roads for several hours next Tuesday (June 12), a renewable energy exchange at schools, and the launch of a Climate Change Trust Fund.

Presidential promotion

During his inaugural address in March, President Waheed claimed that like former President Nasheed, he would remain an internationally outspoken proponent on the plight of small nations facing the 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,” stated the president. “The Maldives will always participate in voicing the concerns of small island nations.”

The president was heckled on multiple occasions whilst trying to give his constitutionally mandated address to parliament by MPs of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), which continues challenge the legitimacy of Dr Waheed’s government and demand early elections.

Waheed eventually delivered a truncated speech in April during a rescheduled Majlis session, amid loud protests in the parliament chamber and violent clashes between civilians and police in the capital.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has meanwhile remained an outspoken advocate for the Maldives’ efforts to adopt wide-scale carbon neutral practices.

In an interview prior to the screening of the Island President at the Hay Festival in the UK, the former president said the lack of a stable government in the Maldives would set back efforts to promote its sustainable policies and interests internationally.

“It is going to be very difficult for us to adapt to climate change if we do not have a solid and secure democratic government,” Nasheed told the UK Daily Telegraph newspaper.

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.

Speaking to Conde Nast Traveler to promote the film at the time, Nasheed expressed hope that the country would continue to work towards becoming carbon neutral, even as he 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.”

In March, local environmental NGO Bluepeace claimed that ongoing political uncertainty in the country and questions over the legitimacy of the current government had set back the country’s commitments to sustainable development.

Bluepeace Director Ahmed Ikram said discussions on domestic environmental commitments were being sidelined by increasingly partisan political thinking throughout the country.

Ikram claimed that the national media was also not providing much coverage or promotion to climate change adoption in the Maldives. He 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, Ikram said Bluepeace fully supported the present government’s role in supporting projects such as the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Earth Hour initiative.

Asked if he felt that Maldivians were committed to long-term conservation beyond one-off annual events such as Earth Hour, Ikram said 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.

International perspective

Despite Nasheed’s high-profile climate activism, 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 recognised that fighting climate change and promoting development go hand in hand,” said Wendel Trio, Climate Policy and Global Deal Coordinator for Greenpeace International.


Development and climate change adaption “go hand-in-hand”, says Greenpeace

Rather than establishing a one size fits all-style blueprint for more sustainable economies, the Maldives’ well publicised carbon neutral commitments demonstrate how national development and fighting climate change can be mutually exclusive, environmental organisation Greenpeace has said.

Wendel Trio, Climate Policy and Global Deal Coordinator for Greenpeace International, believes that the Maldives can play an iconic role in promoting the potential benefits of adopting alternate energy programmes, rather than detailing how to practically adopt a lower carbon economy.

“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,” Trio explained.

The claims come as the country has this month found itself elected as a Co-Chair of the World Bank Strategic Climate Fund Governing Committee (SCF), a development the Maldives Environment Ministry believes grants it a much louder voice in outlining international green policy on sustainable energy sources.

The SCF is part of the governing body of the Climate Investment Funds (CIF), which are used in attempts to finance pilot projects in developing countries that focus on generating cleaner and renewable energy sources as well as other sustainable agricultural policies.

Trio claimed that with the Maldives’ elevated status in the World Bank’s CIF programme, the country can act more as an example of the “bold commitments” that a nation can make on environmental issues rather than existing as a model that can be adopted by other nations looking to go carbon neutral.

In looking specifically at the Maldives being elected as Co-Chair of the SCF, the Greenpeace spokesperson accepted that the country is somewhat limited by its size in the role it can have as an advocate for more sustainable business and lifestyles.

“By coupling both strong words and the need for the big emitting countries in the developed and the developing world to reduce their emissions sharply, with a strong commitment at home, the Maldives has also gained respect,” Trio explained to Minivan News. “However, obviously none of the big emitting countries are looking at the Maldives as an example, as they all claim that their social and economic development cannot be compared to that of a small island state.”

Ultimately, Deputy Environment Minister Minister Mohamed Shareef says the appointment of the Maldives to a co-chair role in the Climate Fund Committee will not directly impact existing carbon neutral aims across the nation.

However, he expects the position to allow the country to have a more active role in outlining global sustainable policy that might better favour national developments.

In terms of national interests, the Maldives is expected to retain its high profile commitments to carbon neutrality, which the Deputy Environment Minister says will be the key to pursuing additional ecological overhauls in relation to waste and conservation.

Aside from the global status afforded by the Maldives’ carbon neutral ambitions, the practical success of energy security and more cost effective fuels afforded by the Maldives’ green ambitions will be essential to fund wider ministry focuses on recycling, conservation and waste management, at least according to the Deputy Environment Minister Mohamed Shareef.

Shareef told Minivan News that although authorities are trying to focus on providing a wide range of programmes relating to conservation and waste management, budgetary restrictions are ensuring sustainable energy is the key environmental focus for the nation.

Despite opening itself up to possible criticism that the Maldivian government is not as committed to commitments like having recycling facilities and even public bins across the country, Shareef believes greener energy is vital to helping bankroll additional environmental commitments.

“At present, about 25 percent of the Maldives revenue is spent on energy due to higher fuel costs,” he says.

In considering the “very high” costs of energy being faced in the country, focusing on more cost efficient supplies of power and fuel is hoped by the Deputy Environment Minister to offset current budget limitations that are claimed to be hindering focusing on recycling and littering that directly impact everyday Maldivians.

Shareef claims that the Environment Ministry is nonetheless working to act on wider sustainability commitments beyond looking to overhaul the nation’s energy supplies.

“We haven’t forgotten [recycling and waste management commitments] and we are working on projects in a number of areas,” he says. “You will increasingly hear more mentions about our energy commitments due to the short deadline – carbon neutrality by 2020 – that has been set.”