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


Averting climate change catastrophe is still possible, says environment minister

Minister of Environment and Energy Thoriq Ibrahim has 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,” said Thoriq in a statement released yesterday (April 14).

“The impacts of climate change are already being felt, and that is why we are calling for a cap of 1.5 degree Celcius.”

Thoriq’s pledges were made in response to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report entitled ‘Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change’, released on March 31.

The IPCC report contends that the world, in many cases, is ill-prepared for risks from a changing climate. However, it also argues that there are opportunities to respond to such risks, though the risks will be more difficult to manage the higher the levels of warming.

The report confirms that carbon emissions have risen more rapidly during the last decade, and that a rise in our current temperature would make the effects extremely difficult to manage. It further urged leaders to invest in low carbon energy projects in order to limit global warming to 2 degrees celcius.

The statement by Thoriq explains that the Maldives – with its low lying islands vulnerable to a rise in sea levels – has been actively campaigning the impacts of climate change for 27 years.

“We are determined and actively working towards increasing our share of renewable in the electricity production of populated islands by 30% within next 5 years,” stated Thoriq.

“The Maldives is committed to introduce cost effective renewable energy as part of a diverse, low-carbon and secure energy mix in our low carbon development.”

The IPCC report prompted calls from Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon for the international community to switch from ” ‘business-as-usual’ mode to ‘action now’ “.

“Let this report be the much needed impetus for this September’s Climate Summit in New York, and let us all put our names in history books for saving the planet for our children, in Paris next year”, said Dunya shortly after the report’s publication.

Policies in progress

In keeping with these statements, the Ministry of Environment had recently revealed plans to set up a climate research institute in the Maldives.

Speaking as the guest of honour at the second forum on climate held in the Maldives, Minister Thoriq said that this forum was an important step in mitigating the risks of climate change that low-lying island states experience, reported local media outlet CNM.

Introduced in the Maldives in July 2012, the Monsoon Forum has taken a multi-hazard approach, integrating issues on forecasts and warning information with concerns regarding geological hazards like earthquakes and tsunamis.

This forum – organised jointly by the Maldives Meteorological Service and the Regional Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems – is geared as an opportunity for dialogue between hydro-meteorological scientists, who generate climate information and promote the application of forecasts and warning information for enhanced management of climate change risks.

Thoriq said that these meetings were crucial as different institutions have to anticipate possible impacts and develop a set of potential responses or management strategies to minimise them. He was also reported to have highlighted the importance of having a climate research institute in the Maldives.

In addition, the ministry recently held an international renewable energy investor’s conference, focusing on the development of solar energy, in a bid to transform the Maldives’ energy sector.

Held on March 26, the ministry reported that a total of 78 participants from government organisations, the World Bank, foreign consultants, and investors discussed photovoltaic systems at the conference.

The conference came after the government last week outlined it’s strategic aims for renewable energy in a proposal named ‘Accelerating Sustainable Private Investments in Renewable Energy programme’ (ASPIRE).

Published March 21 2014, this report detailed some of the difficulties faced by the Maldives, as well as future plans to increase the proportion of sustainable energy consumed in the country.

After the publication of the IPCC report, Thoriq stated that there was “no room at all for any hesitancy”.

“Bold and urgent actions are the order of the day. Now is the time for world leaders to show leadership, implement bold and urgent actions and avert future generations from impending danger before it’s too late. Humanity cannot afford further delay.”


“The world needs more political leaders like President Nasheed”:

Global climate justice NGO has reaffirmed that “urgent action is needed to address the climate crisis” in the Maldives, and that its continued active international leadership is “immensely important”.

In light of the IPCC’s findings and the danger sea level rise poses for the Maldives, has highlighted the essential international leadership role former President Mohamed Nasheed and the country have played for achieving climate justice.

“The IPCC’s 5th assessment report largely reaffirms what we already knew, and makes it abundantly clear that urgent action is needed the world-over. It is immensely important the Maldives to continue it’s active, leadership stance to go carbon neutral within a decade and advocate for more international action,” Will Bates, Global Campaigns Director and Co-Founder of told Minivan News.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changes’s fifth assessment report emphasised the importance of human influence on the climate change system.

“Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased,” read the report released last month.

“As the ocean warms, and glaciers and ice sheets reduce, global mean sea level will continue to rise [during the 21st century], but at a faster rate than we have experienced over the past 40 years,” said IPCC Working Group 1 Co-Chair, Qin Dahe.

The IPCC’s report “sounds the alarm for immediate action on climate change,” declared

“The report, which is the most authoritative, comprehensive assessment of scientific knowledge on climate change, finds with near certainty that greenhouse gas emissions are warming the planet and that climate impacts are accelerating… Scientists have upped the certainty that humans are responsible for warming, increasing their confidence to 95%,” highlighted has been building a global grassroots movement to solve the climate crisis. It has coordinated over 20,000 climate demonstrations in more than 182 countries since the organisation’s founding in 2008.

350 parts per million is what many scientists, climate experts, and progressive national governments are now saying is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere.

“The world needs more political leaders like President Nasheed”:

Bates noted that former President Nasheed has been an integral figure for the global climate justice movement.

“President Nasheed’s courageous and creative actions to confront the true scale of the climate crisis in 2009 and 2010 were a powerful wake-up call for the world. Hearing from an entire nation about the imminent threat to their future through their democratically elected president, and seeing their actions to address the crisis was an inspiration for the rest of the world to step up our efforts to address the climate crisis,” Bates stated.

“The world needs more political leaders like President Nasheed who understand the severity of the threat, and who speak and act truthfully in response,” he added.

The NGO also believes President Nasheed’s leadership within the Maldives has benefited the nation’s domestic climate justice movement.

“I believe it was in part thanks to the openness and freedom given to civil society in general during his administration that allows young people and NGOs to organize on climate change above and beyond what President Nasheed was working on at the national policy and international levels,” said Bates.

“No doubt his efforts to have the Maldives go carbon neutral in a decade was a powerful act of leadership that more governments around the world should be following as well,” he added.

“We support human rights and a free and fair democratic process in the Maldives,” Bates noted in regard to Nasheed’s ongoing domestic efforts to ensure these values are upheld.

Although he emphasised that is not directly involved in Nasheed’s political struggles at home, Bates explained how the non-violent direct action strategy employs can benefit the Maldives in its fight for climate justice as well as democratisation.

“Social movements around the world have proven the power of non-violent direct action as a means of creating change, political and otherwise,” he said.

“President Nasheed’s underwater cabinet meeting in 2009 was a particularly creative form of action, and there are countless ways that different non-violent tactics – from marches and rallies to culture-jamming and online memes – can enhance struggles against climate change as well as for promoting democracy and fair elections,” he continued.

“We’ve seen incredibly creative actions in the Maldives by grassroots activists fighting climate change too and with such international concern for the political situation there, similar tactics could be employed at the current time with great effect,” he added.

Nasheed has often spoken of the close interrelationship between climate change, human rights, and democracy, particularly since his February 7, 2012 controversial transfer of power, and has echoed this belief.

“Human rights and climate justice are very clearly inextricably linked as the climate crisis infringes on people’s access to food, water, health, and general security. Furthermore, the causes of the climate crisis, such as the extraction and burning of fossil fuels and cutting down forests have immense human rights implications. Meanwhile many the solutions, such as more decentralized renewable energy infrastructure, are in many ways a step towards democratizing more of how our world works,” said Bates.

“Although that is not to say that countries that exist with undemocratic systems of government can’t also enact solutions to achieve greater human rights and climate justice,” he added.

Extreme sea level rise threats

“The rate of sea level rise will very likely exceed that observed during 1971–2010 due to increased ocean warming and increased loss of mass from glaciers and ice sheets,” all prospective scenarios in the IPCC’s report projected.

Sea level is expected to rise between 0.26 metres (0.85 feet) and 0.98 metres (3.22 feet) by 2100, depending on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced this century, it added.

While these projections represent the possible low and high extreme scenarios of sea level rise, small island states – such as the Maldives – are especially vulnerable, the IPCC previously stressed in it’s fourth assessment report.

With over 80 percent of the land area in the Maldives being less than a meter (3.28 feet) above mean sea level, “the slightest rise in sea level will prove extremely threatening,” UNDP Maldives previously declared. “A rise in sea levels by 0.50 meters could see significant portions of the islands being washed away by erosion or being inundated [by the ocean].”

“Even now some islands are seriously affected by loss not only of shoreline but also of houses, schools and other infrastructure,” it continued.

Not only is the Maldives extremely vulnerable to sea level rise, other climate change impacts – including extreme weather events, coral bleaching and acidification – which exacerbate these negative effects, it added.

Earlier this year the World Bank also expressed the urgent need for concerted efforts to support the Maldives in adapting to climate change due to sea level rise projections.

Additionally, the UN’s 2013 global human development report highlighted inequality and climate change vulnerabilities as major concerns for the Maldives, despite the country’s “significant economic growth” in recent years.


Durban “road map” points to 2020

Delegates at Durban have reached a legally-binding agreement after the longest debate period in two decades of UN climate talks. It is the first time that leading emitters China, India and the US have jointly signed a climate agreement.

No reform targets have been agreed to, however, and negotiations towards a more explicit emissions-cutting agreement await the 2012 conference in Quatar.

“The Durban Platform for Enhanced Action” is primarily “a road map” to further negotiations for another agreement in 2015, Environment Minister Mohamed Aslam has said, and differences between leading emitters remain on the table.

“What people had hoped for was to look at the Kyoto Protocol and make revisions so it would be more effectively applied, especially by those powers that didn’t ratify it initially. But that couldn’t be finalised, and differences remain among some of the world powers,” Aslam explained. Instead, the Kyoto Protocol was extended for another five years while member countries deliberate a “global, legally-binding instrument” to be voted on in 2015 and, if approved, ratified in 2020.

The agreement will aim to lower the global temperature to 2 degrees Celsius or less, with 1.5 degrees Celsius as a target temperature.

“Those numbers will be maintained unless a scientific report by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), to be released in 2014, finds that the numbers do not accurately reflect the situation,” Aslam said.

Meanwhile, the newly-founded Green Climate Fun intends to help poor nations address issues relevant to global warming such as drought, disease and erosion.

Speaking broadly about the efficiency of discussing climate change at an international level, Aslam said “further action is obviously required” and “more needs to be done internally.

“Countries have been saying that they support reformative action for climate change, and I think countries should start taking these actions.” Aslam pointed out that although the Maldives has consistently said it has “no problem with a legally binding agreement to cut emissions,” it lacks internal legislation in support of that goal.

“I plan to push for legislation to be passed through the Majlis stating our emissions targets. I believe it would be an example for the rest of the world,” Aslam said.

Aslam added that the current pledge-and-review process for evaluating climate deals bore no guarantee that reforms would be met.

Conference officials have issued positive statements about the outcome of the Durban talks, however small states and environmental groups were disappointed that the results were not bolder.

“We came here with plan A, and we have concluded this meeting with plan A to save one planet for the future of our children and our grandchildren to come,” South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said.

Britain’s Energy and Climate Secretary Chris Huhne said the result was “a great success for European diplomacy.”

“We’ve managed to bring the major emitters like the U.S., India and China into a roadmap which will secure an overarching global deal,” he said.

EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard also spoke in favor of the big picture. “The big thing is that all big economies, now all parties have to commit in the future in a legal way and that’s what we came here for.” The EU is credited for pushing China and the US to commit to a legally-binding agreement.

“In the end, it ended up quite well,” said U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern. “We got the kind of symmetry that we had been focused on since the beginning of the Obama administration. This had all the elements that we were looking for.”

India and island countries were more reluctant to hail the outcome as a success.

India’s Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan, who earlier criticised developed countries for not stepping up to the plate but asking developing countries to commit to climate reform, said her country had only reluctantly agreed to the accord.

“We’ve had very intense discussions. We were not happy with reopening the text but in the spirit of flexibility and accommodation shown by all, we have shown our flexibility… we agree to adopt it,” she said.

Local NGO BluePeace Director Ahmed Ikram said the group could not comment on the agreement because “since Copenhagen we have stopped attending these conferences, we doubt anything meaningful will come out of this.

Durban was the scene of protests during the conference, notably by young people calling the talks a “conference of polluters.” Minivan asked Minister Aslam whether the youth were the new face of climate change.

“I’ve always believed the issue of climate change cannot be resolved by politicians,” he said. “It has to be driven by the people. It is everyone’s issue and everyone should be involved. There are no better people to do this than the youth, especially since it is their future we are trying to protect.”