President Mohamed Nasheed galvanised thousands of environmentalists at a 350.org rally in Copenhagen yesterday, vowing to persevere until a politically binding climate change treaty was attained.
“I refuse to believe that a better world isn’t possible,” said 42-year-old Nasheed at Klimaforum, the global civil society counterpart of the official UN conference.
“I have three words to say to the doubters and deniers. Three words with which to win this battle. Just three words are all I need. You may already have heard them. Three-Five-Oh,” he said.
World leaders will meet in the Danish capital this week at the historic UN climate change conference to thrash out a successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
But, the two years of negotiations have reached a virtual impasse as the developed and developing world remain at loggerheads over who should shoulder the lion’s share of emissions cuts.
Over on 350.org, Bill McKibben, the man behind the campaign, wrote that Nasheed was the first head of state to arrive in Copenhagen and “he drove the crowd into a frenzy…with a thousand people on their feet chanting ‘3-5-0’”.
The 350 campaign is lobbying for cuts in atmospheric carbon to the safe levels of 350ppm, a figure cited by James Hansen, the head of the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Current levels stand at around 387ppm.
In October, Nasheed demonstrated his commitment to the campaign by diving into a lagoon with 11 of his ministers to hold the world’s first underwater cabinet meeting.
The laws of physics, said Nasheed, could not be argued with. “You cannot cut a deal with Mother Nature, and we don’t intend to try. That is why, in March, the Maldives announced plans to become the first carbon neutral country in the world.”
In March, the president unveiled plans to make the Indian Ocean archipelago carbon neutral within a decade by switching to 100 per cent renewable energy and offsetting aviation pollution, primarily generated by tourists flying to one of the country’s luxury resorts.
Addressing yesterday’s rally, Nasheed said going carbon neutral was not simply a question of taking the moral high ground but was also economically prudent.
“Countries that have the foresight to green their economies today,will be the winners of tomorrow,” he said. “These pioneering countries will free themselves from the unpredictable price of foreign oil. They will capitalise on the new, green economy of the future.”
Looking back over history as well as his own experience, Nasheed said he believed in the power of peaceful protest.
“From the civil rights movement, to Gandhi’s Quit India campaign; non-violent protest can create change. Protest worked in the struggle for democracy in the Maldives,” he said.
Last year, Nasheed, the leader of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party unseated Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in the country’s first democratic elections. A former journalist, Nasheed was jailed by the former regime for his political writings on numerous occasions.
Recounting this period, he said, “We sat in those cells because we had deliberately broken the unjust laws of dictatorship. We had spoken out for a cause in which we believed. That cause was freedom and democracy.”
While the former government had “guns, bombs and tanks”, the opposition only had the “power of our words, and the moral clarity of our cause.”
“My message to you is to continue the protests. Continue after Copenhagen. Continue despite the odds. And eventually, together, we will reached that crucial number: Three-five-oh,” he said.