UNDP and AusAID target US$340,340 to building civil society

The Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and have signed an agreement to boost civil society in the Maldives.

UNDP said the aim of the project would be to strengthen civil society organisations in the hope of promoting an open and democratic society.

The ‘Support to Civil Society Development’ project will particularly target smaller and more remote organisations at a grassroots level, as well as financially support NGOs in human rights, governance, rights-base development and gender equality.

“A strong civil society can only make a democracy stronger, by promoting dialogue, good
governance and even differing points of view,” said UNDP Resident Representative Andrew
Cox, in a statement.

“This project will be an important and practical step in bringing real support and building the capacity of Maldivian NGOs,” he said, acknowledging “the important role played by civil society organisations in
advancing the democratic process.”


Maldives seeks to end oil addiction

The Maldives must cure itself of its addiction to oil and develop alternative energy sources from local resources if it is to prosper, Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan said today at a UN roundtable held at Bandos Island Resort.

The occasion was the Maldives signing a commitment to phase out hydro-chlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) emissions by 2020, a decade ahead of other countries, and one that has attracted an assistance grant of US$1.1 million from the UN.

HCFCs (such as chlorodifluoromethane) is used in older refrigeration and air-conditioning units as a replacement for heavily ozone-depleting CFCs, however it also is now considered too harmful.

“It makes sense to move away from HCFCs,” Dr Waheed said. “It is outdated technology and has already been phased out in most western countries, and it is increasingly difficult to repair appliances that use it.”

The move was part of the government’s larger agenda of becoming carbon neutral by reducing reliance on fossil fuels, driven by economic as well as environmental imperatives, the VP explained.

“The Maldives is highly dependent on oil. Our economy totally dependent on imported fuels, but we have absolutely no control over oil prices,” Dr Waheed said. “Our economy is slowly recovering from mismanagement of the past, and an oil price hike now would destabilise our economy. We all know how volatile oil prices are – and the global economic recovery means an increased demand, which is likely to increase prices further.”

Because of the country’s dependency, Dr Waheed explain, “a high oil price means a high cost of doing business. We want to break our dependence on foreign oil using our own natural resources: sun, wind and waves. In the Maldives renewable energy makes sense because imported oil is costly – it is very expensive to ship oil to small islands like the Maldives.”

The Maldives’ oil addiction meant that “today we have one of the world’s highest prices for electricity – 25-30 US cents per kilowatt hour, and there are some reports islands where people are forced to pay 60 cent per kilowatt hour. Schools complain that 25 percent of their budget is spent fueling their diesel generators.”


A report published by the UNDP in 2007 on the vulnerability of developing countries to fluctuating oil prices ranked the Maldives dead last, a fair stretch behind Vanuatu, effectively placing the country among the world’s most oil-addicted nations.

“Island countries in general are extremely vulnerable to increased oil prices. They comprise distant and small markets and have to bear the burden of higher shipping costs, while electrical power generation is largely fueled by diesel,” the report noted.

President Mohamed Nasheed said that the Maldives stood perfectly placed to demonstrate to the rest of the world “that a less hazardous development pattern is possible, viable and financially feasible.”

He acknowleged the efforts of the previous government towards that development, noting that the Maldives was able to phase CFCs two years before its mandated deadline.

“I thank the previous government, especially former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, for his singular focus on CFCs, ozone depletion and the environmental issues he raised very early.”

He also acknowledged that even if the Maldives succeeded in demonstrating that a country could be powered by renewable energy and reached its goal of carbon neutrality, “what we do not have major impact health of planet.”

Rather, Nasheed said, the Maldives could prove to other countries that isolated communities could be self-sustaining.

“The window of opportunity this planet has is not so long – science is very certain and we have to act,” he said. “If we don’t, this planet will go on, with new equilibriums and balances that may not be receptive to human habitation – that is what we are trying to overcome.

“We have the technology already – it is a question of how bold we are in implementing it.”


Q&A: United Nations Resident Coordinator for the Maldives, Andrew Cox

Andrew Cox is the newly-appointed UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative for the Maldives. Before arriving in the Maldives, Cox was based in New York as the Chief of Staff for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in New York.

Prior to this he held several positions in Sudan where he worked on comprehensive peace agreements between warring factions, and in Afghanistan. Before his UN career Cox worked as Field Director for Concern Universal in Sierra Leone and had assignments with various companies and NGOs in the UK, Democratic Republic of Congo and Côte d’Ivoire.

JJ Robinson: How does your experience in development and within the UN system benefit your new role in the Maldives?

Andrew Cox: I’ve worked for the UN since 1999 and NGOs before that. I come from a development background, but I just seem to have ended up in a lot of conflict, post-conflict and post disaster-places.

During my three years in Sudan I spent a lot of time working on a comprehensive peace agreement, and I spent time in Afghanistan in 2002 just as the situation there was changing – I was very sorry to leave, actually. I have also spent some working in Sierra Leone, which oscillated between conflict and post-conflict.

I think the process of transition in [such places] is very interesting – it’s about how people behave when their basic assumptions are changing and the bedrock is shifting under them. People act in extreme ways and sometimes it’s very difficult to get institutions in these countries to change.

What is especially difficult [about countries in transition] is the need for urgency. You don’t have luxury of 10 years to see if something might work. You just have to try things at high speed and discard them if they don’t.

One of the interesting things about coming to Maldives is that I find this transition happening. There is a tremendous amount of dialogue, although sometimes a little above the level of dialogue in terms of intensity and rhetoric.

What the Maldives is going through is not unusual and is to be expected in such circumstances. What I hope I can bring from my past is help and advice, and assistance from the UN system in managing this transition.

JJ: The Maldives has made a major transition to democracy, and the next major transition is the transition from less developed country (LDC) status to middle income. What does this mean and what are the key challenges for the country?

AC: On the surface there are some things the Maldives will lose along with its LDC status, such as access to concessional credit, which is probably one of the more important things. It will also lose a certain amount of grant income from donors.

But the point is to look at it as an opportunity; OK it may hurt in certain areas at the beginning, but in the end the Maldives has got itself where it needs to be and now has more to offer the world than it might have had before – it’s not just about offering beaches to tourists coming in.

When I saw the President I asked him if he had thought about having the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF) serve in UN peacekeeping operations – it’s one way in which Maldivian experience can be sent out there to benefit the rest of the world, and of course it’s a learning experience for those who participate.

Similarly, the Maldives was a victim of a major natural disaster in the tsunami, and in my view it would make a lot of sense for the country to join the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC), which sends in disaster coordination experts to a country whenever there a natural disaster. The Maldives should be able to contribute to that.

I also think, and the President said this and I fully agree with him, that the Maldives should not be about dependency on aid. It should be about development, trade, and punching greater and greater weight in the region.

What everyone seems to be doing at the moment is focusing on the future. The loss of income from donors, if things go well, will be replaced by greater trade and economic growth. But there are some structural issues making that difficult, no doubt about it.

JJ: What kind of structural issues?

AC: The budget deficit is the major one. I’m not completely up-to-date with the figures, but last time I looked it the deficit was 33 percent of GDP, which everyone – the government as well as international institutions – has said the Maldives has got to address.

The deficit in Greece is 12 percent of GDP. Obviously Greece is a very different place [to the Maldives], but everybody needs to be serious about the problem. It’s a huge challenge and until it is solved it is going to be difficult to change other things.

The UN’s position is to help the government find ways dealing with this. There’s various things you can do but in the end the gap between income and expenditure has to change, because it is simply not sustainable at the moment.

JJ: How does the UN navigate the polarised politics here? How do you find the middle-path and involve the opposition?

AC: There have been many changes here over the last few years, and the UN has been here throughout that entire period. I think we played quite a positive role – although you can’t get everything right. But by sticking to its principles, the UN tries navigate its way through. For example, during the change to democracy the UN worked closely with then-president and his party, as well as the opposition.

What we tried to do was help them manage the process [of transition]. It’s very clear what the UN stands for – our principles are out there. There’s no hidden agenda and the approach is consistent across the UN. There are many different levels of support the UN can bring.

I’m not trying to be naive or idealistic – but it’s [an approach] that works just as well if you’re dealing with rebels in the middle of a conflict or if you’re dealing with development challenges – you help those who are there to make the right choices, and sometimes provide an enabling environment for that to happen.

The UN is also here to try and improve the lot of ordinary Maldivians. One of our principles is that we work with all parts of society and we do that in an open way, and that can sometimes be difficult to explain. But in the end it is our job to work with everybody who can be a positive force for change, and to try and advise those who are less convinced for the need to change to change their approach. That’s consistent across all the countries we work in.

JJ: What are some of your experiences from the programs you have worked on in the past that you think would also work in the Maldives?

AC: I worked on the last stages of the comprehensive peace agreement in Sudan, which is a mostly Muslim country. The key in Sudan was doing everything you could to get the parties to sit together. Obviously we don’t have the same kind of situation in the Maldives, but the principles are still the same.

A facilitating role sounds a little bit ‘wishy washy’, until you realise what happens when you don’t have that. It doesn’t have to be the UN – in Darfur the African Union had the lead on the political side, and the UN helped them to do their job.

As a newcomer to the Maldives, it is very obvious that there is a certain amount of heat in the political discourse, to say the least. A lot of this is a very natural outcome of the change everyone has gone through. I think the trick is to find areas where there can be cooperation, and not to allow bigger disagreements to pollute the water where consensus might be possible.

For example, I think the cross-party effort to deal with domestic violence is very interesting right now. Everyone agrees domestic violence is a problem, and although there may be disagreement over how that problem should be addressed, this is absolutely one of those areas for mature political dialogue. We will try and help that process along, but it needs to be the parties in parliament to figure out how they want to deal with domestic violence issues.

The UN's role is to facilitate dialogue, explains Cox
Civil society is weak in the Maldives, explains Cox

JJ: To what extent should be UN be a leader of civil society in a country, in terms of supporting NGOs and helping them work properly and efficiently?

AC: I don’t think leader is the right word. If we were, then if we withdrew our support the whole thing would collapse and that’s not the way it should be. The real strength of civil society in most countries, to use an overused phrase, is ‘grassroots.’

Civil society is only powerful if it comes into being organically. I think most people on either side of the political divide recognise that civil society is very weak in the Maldives, and that much more needs to be done to support its growth.

I think the UN can play a major enabling role. There are an awful lot of people around the world who have [grown civil society], and one thing we can do is to bring some of them in to explain how they did it. That process of sharing information and knowledge is very important.

JJ: What do you mean when you say civil society is weak in the Maldives? There are a great many NGOs and it does seem to be a sought-after profession.

AC: Yes exactly – I think across all parts of society, and obviously it varies area to area, from human rights to gender to drug prevention, there are a number of things you look for, such as sustainability of funding and resources. In the end civil society will only be strong if Maldivians embrace their own civil society and start paying for it.

Some of that is about government funding, but much more of it is local philanthropy and gift giving – and earning the organisation that you’re associated with.

The UN can give out a grant of US$20,000 [to an NGO], and what they’ll do is buy a computer, pay for some travel and training and so on, then it’s gone and that’s it. What happens then?

This is a very important question that a lot of civil society organisation managers are thinking about – or at least I hope they are. Because in the end, international funding can’t be assured for anybody over time.

I think the whole point is to use that external support as a way to building up a civil society organisation so it can have links with the community and an income stream, and a sufficiently strong volunteer network to get done what they think needs to get done.

How do we help them through that process? Definitely we have supported NGOs in the past, and there has been a proliferation in the last year or two, but now they need to move beyond that start up phase and become a bit more secure. You really need a strong civil society because it gives you a way to get important things done that is separated from politics.

JJ: The Maldives recently beat Iran to the UN Human Rights Council – what kind of an achievement does that represent?

AC: I think it’s a remarkable achievement. The Maldives ran a good election campaign on its own merit and got the support, which was a very big deal.

The Human Rights Council is in organisation in flux, and I think both [UN Secretary General] Ban Ki Moon and the High Commissioner of Human Rights [Navi Pillay] see it as a long term project – and many of its members see it in the same way.

For the Maldives it represents a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate it can be a world leader, as it already is in the area of climate change. For a country to progress so far on the human rights side allows it to go out there with a very honest position and say ‘we’re not perfect yet, but this is what we’ve done.’

Another part of the Human Rights Council is that you have support from your peers to deal with human rights issues, so when it works well is when there is an atmosphere of cooperation and people get down to business away from the heated rhetoric you also sometimes hear on human rights issues.

But I would also say that because the Maldives has a somewhat exalted position on this council, this is also a challenge. The Maldives can’t stop its progress on human rights, because the eyes of the world are on the Maldives as much as eyes of the Maldives are on the world in the human rights sense. I think it is very important that this election provokes a renewed investment in human rights in the Maldives, and if it doesn’t happen then the Maldives’ position on the Human Rights Council could invite unwelcome attention.

It just the way we seen these things work over the years. I sincerely hope – and everything I’ve heard suggests this will continue to happen – that the Maldives will continue to strengthen human rights in the country, especially now.

JJ: How would you describe the level of human rights in the Maldives, from the perspective of a newcomer?

AC: I would probably describe it again as a situation of change. There have been tremendous advances made, but obvious areas that need strengthening – areas like access to justice.

I think there are important bills pending on the judiciary, things like access to legal aid. The Maldives needs to invest in the judiciary and its ability to do its work, and there needs to be investment in corrections – I think the problems are self-evident. Then there’s right to information, and of course the police, who now have themselves been changing and adapting to new challenges. I think there’s a raft of institutional legal framework measures that are needed to strengthen human rights in the Maldives.

I think the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) needs to continue to be supported, for obvious reasons. It’s important to have a strong home-grown human rights commission to encourage the government to take the steps it needs to take, and I think it is absolutely important to have strong human rights organisations on the civil society side. This is a priority for UNDP, and we’ll be scaling up our support to human rights NGOs. If you get them right, there’s a knock on effect to other NGOs.

JJ: Human rights issues such as freedom of expression and gender equality appear to sometimes conflict with stricter interpretations of Islam. Is it possible for human rights to be fully realised in a 100% Islamic country?

AC: I think there is a very strong human rights tradition in Islam, and I think it’s absolutely possible. I know there are many different legal systems under the Islamic system, and what I think is quite important is to learn from other experiences around the world and shamelessly steal the best parts. I see absolutely no contradiction between Islam and human rights.

JJ: The Maldives has established itself as an international leader on climate change based on its vulnerability to rising sea levels, but at the same time it’s trying to attract long term business investment. Is there room for these to exist side by side?

AC: I think it’s an interesting dilemma, and if it’s going to get solved anywhere it be here. Obviously I’m not a climate change scientist, but speaking as the manager of UNDP I think there’s interesting opportunities in the Maldives over how to cope with climate change.

We still don’t know how bad it’s going be, so yes, risk inherent in every situation. But let’s not forget that the Maldives is not alone in this – the Maldives may have problem with rising sea levels, but there are many other countries with problems related to climate change – you just have to look at sub-Saharan Africa, and see how climate change is affecting water and food production there.

Certainly from the Maldives side, the country has to press on with mitigation and creating a low-carbon economy. There are thousands of different possibilities, and money to be made off successful models of technology that can be proven to reduce carbon. On the adaptation side there’s a lot we don’t know how about how reefs will react to changing water temperatures, and new technologies which can be looked at in terms of sea defenses. And things like if you’ve mangroves that you look after, you got a much greater change of withstanding rising sea levels and weather events than if you don’t have them. It’s a matter looking at these things and the impact of communities that live in these areas.

With all that in mind, the Maldives is a good place to invest in from the point of view of climate change-related industries. Businessmen and women are not stupid – they evaluate situations and make decisions accordingly. One of the things the government has committed to is loosening the trade environment and having clear regulatory frameworks, and I suspect if they successful pushing that through then that will also encourage investment.

So don’t think the two messages are contradictory. You have to do an awful lot because of climate change, but you can continue to build the economy as well.

I think adaptation is also very important – people need to be able to manage risk more than they can at the moment. Generally speaking we estimate that for every dollar spent on disaster risk mitigation you save $10 in losses when a natural disaster strikes – the economics are quite obvious.

We have quite some interest in the Maldives’ obvious vulnerabilities to climate change and major weather events, and it’s useful to use different communities around the Maldives to test ways of strengthening people’s ability to withstand natural disasters. If we get that right, then that is also something the Maldives can export – knowledge and know-how about how to deal with vulnerability in the face of climate change.

What we are going to be doing over the next year or two is looking along with the government at creating a global climate change centre in the Maldives. We are working on the details at the moment.

Another priority area is to look at governance programs and see how we can help. A major step forward of the last few months was the government getting together its strategic action plan – it’s a great document but it’s very thick, and it’s not much use unless it gets implemented. We all feel it is quite important to have a results framework, and if the government is able to do that, Maldives stock will go up in eyes of donors.


New UN representative presents credentials to President Nasheed

Andrew Cox, new United Nations Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, presented his credentials to President Mohamed Nasheed yesterday afternoon.

The meeting focused mainly on the UN programmes being carried out in the Maldives, and in the assistance the UN system could provide to the country in its transition from the Least Developed Countries (LDC) status.

Cox assured the president of the UN’s support to the Maldives through graduation from LDC, and congratulated him on the Maldives recent election for a seat in the UN Human Rights Council.

Cox has worked with the UN system since 1999 in different capacities and several countries around the world. He has worked in Sudan, the USA, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone.

Before working with the UN, he worked with several NGOs in Sierra Leone, the UK, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Côte d’Ivoire.

Cox said that “the UN system is a long time friend and partner to the Maldives.  I am personally committed to deepening this partnership and to helping strengthen the capacities of the government, civil society and the people of Maldives in achieving the country’s aspirations and development objectives.”


UNDP briefs media on decentralisation bill

The UNDP and the Ministry of Home Affairs held a press conference today at the UN building in Malé to discuss the government’s proposed decentralisation bill.

Opposition to the bill resulted in a bitter parliamentary stand-off between the MDP and DRP during parliament’s final sittings last year. This culminated in protests outside parliament between the two parties on 30 December.

Speaking at the conference today was Jens Peter Christensen, senior advisor in local government in his home country of Denmark.

Christensen started his presentation by saying that “Denmark is a good example of decentralisation—probably the most decentralised country in the world.” He said it provides a clear view on “transparency and participation” of government entities and civil society.

The slow process of decentralisation

Christensen stated that decentralisation is “the most difficult public sector reform you can make,” adding that “a lot can go wrong,” but it’s a “part of modern nation-building.”

He said the process of decentralisation is “time-consuming” and mentioned that in Denmark it has taken about 25 years for the decentralisation of government to take full effect.

In other countries, like Bhutan, the process of government decentralisation began in the early 1980s. They held their first local government elections in 2002, and have continued to hold them every three years.

Bhutan “faces some of the same challenges [as the Maldives] in dealing with remote communities,” said Christensen, and added that the Maldives could learn from Bhutan in the “cooperation between government and international donors supporting decentralisation.”

Cooperation between local government and the community

Christensen said one of the main benefits of decentralisation is “empowering local governments” and “build[ing] on the resources that are available” to each island, atoll or province.

He listed a local government’s basic functions as being primary education, health services (including care of the elderly), waste management, social welfare, public utilities, local infrastructure and promoting local economic development.

Christensen said “in developing countries [there is] usually a very weak local government,” which is why Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and the media have “a very important role in government reform”.

“This was particularly true when dealing with transparency in the government, and acting as a ‘watch-dog’ to make sure the momentum of the reform doesn’t die down. The media have a big responsibility to the community.”

Expanding on the media’s role in a situation where the government is undergoing a major reform, Christensen said they must be aware of distributing information fairly to the public, and must look for adverse consequences.

“There will always be resistance to reform; not everybody will be in favour.”

To combat resistance and the inevitable challenges, Christensen suggested finding “a common vision” and “exploring synergies” between local government and the community.

Participation needs to be facilitated, he said, so the community isn’t left out and the government knows what is needed the most.

Reform within the reform

One of the reasons decentralisation has worked so favourably in Denmark has been its ‘Access to Information’ laws.

“You cannot expect people to become involved in government if they don’t have access to information,” says Christensen, adding that it is mandatory for every local government in Denmark to have a webpage where they publish any information concerning the government and the community.

Each local government in Denmark also has a “press officer to specifically talk to the media” and holds “regular meetings with journalists” to discuss public issues.

There is a proposed new rights to information bill in the government’s decentralisation plan, which would include similar reforms in ministries (ie having one specifically trained media officer for each ministry and local government).

Issues with proposed decentralisation bill

The main issue Christensen found with the Maldives’ decentralisation bill was there was no costing information submitted to parliament.

“What will it cost to implement [this bill]?” he asked, noting that in some situations, the task proposed can be too much for the country’s economy to undertake.

“Funding is always an issue, and lack of capacity is sometimes used as an excuse not to decentralise.”

He also warned that the proposed availability for local governments to take out loans could create big debt, and was something that needed to be watched carefully.

A word from the Ministry of Home Affairs

From the Ministry of Home Affairs, Mohamed Shareef said he had done some costing earlier, but still found that “there won’t be sufficient funds for everyone,” since “not all local councils will be able to raise their own revenue immediately.”

He also said that under the new reform, with each of the twenty atolls having at least two constituent seats in government, “the power is with the people”.

Shareef also said there will be an independent commission for the local governments, to establish a platform of communication between central and local governments. This was also one of Christensen’s main concerns regarding the decentralisation plan.

Christensen has worked extensively in policy formulation, planning and capacity development for central and local governments, and has worked with NGOs, including the UNDP.


President Nasheed meets with UNDP regional Director

President Mohamed Nasheed met with UNDP Regional Director at the Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific Ligia Elizondo yesterday morning at the President’s Office.

President Nasheed and Elizondo discussed the UNDP projects in the Maldives. The president said that due to issues with project management, completion of a number of development projects had been delayed.

President Nasheed noted the importance of having a central project management office and sought technical assistance from UNDP to strengthen project management, project monitoring and ensuring projects would be to the greatest benefit to the people of the Maldives.

Elizondo assured the president that the UNDP would continue their assistance to the government of the Maldives and offered further assistance and advise to the government on development projects and their implementation.


UNDP pumps $9.3 million into climate change adaptation

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has begun recruiting staff for a $9.3 million climate change adaption project in conjunction with the Ministry of Environment, Housing and Transport.

The UNDP’s “vision” was to have “a community enabled deal which addresses climate change impact,” said Mohamed Inaz, the UNDP’s assistant resident representative of environment and energy.

“Currently the ministry is in the process of recruiting. They need project staff who can address and implement the different issues,” he said.

The four year project, which was signed early in December and will run until March 2014, is intended to  “integrate climate change risks into resilient island planning in the Maldives”. The project is the result was the result of a national adaptation program of action (NAPA) study completed in 2008, which attempted to identify activities that would assist a country to adapt to climate change.

According to the UNDP, the main focus of this project was to integrate climate change risk into sustainable human development and reduce the country’s vulnerability.

“We want risk assessment across all areas such as land use planning and decentralisation, and we also want to improve the meteorological service to provide more up-to-date data specific to the Maldives,” Inaz said.

While the ministry will implement the project, the UNDP noted that it would be closely monitored.


Maldives’ youth delegates return from Copenhagen

Three of the four young climate delegates from the Maldives have returned from representing the island nation at the youth climate conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The event preceded the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference (COP 15) that began today, where 192 parties are meeting with the intention of formulating an agreement to stabilise the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Organisers hope the conference will prove as successful as COP3 in 1997, known as the Kyoto Protocol, which led to agreements on mandatory emission reductions.

Aishath Shifana, Mohamed Ansar and Aminath Riuman Wasif returned home on Sunday while the fourth Maldivian delegate, Mohamed Axan Maumoon, will remain in Denmark for a several more days after being chosen to meet the Danish Prime Minister.

Axan is revelling in his role as youth climate ambassador of the Maldives, appearing on award-winning US news program Democracy Now, the largest community media collaboration in North America.

“On the basis that you know what you are doing is wrong and you can see that the victim is begging for mercy, would you commit murder?” Axam asked the program’s viewers.

The other school students were welcomed home at the UN building by Education Minister Dr Mustafa Lutfy and UN staff including Mansoor Ali, Unicef representative to the Maldives.

Mansoor urged them to “keep up the momentum”, by trying to engage more of their contemporaies in tackling climate change, pledging the support of Unicef, while Lutfy offered the support of the education ministry to buoy the efforts of the schools’ climate clubs.

“I hope the trip was useful from an individual perspective as well as anchoring your efforts into the future,” Mansoor said, adding that he hoped the students had also had time to see Denmark.

Officer-in-charge of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in the Maldives, Dr Arun Kashyap, suggested the students continue to work together and develop a proposal for a youth climate summit to be held in the Maldives.

Coping in Copenhagen

The Maldivian delegates explore a forest in Denmark
The Maldivian delegates explore a forest in Denmark

During the week-long visit to Denmark, over 200 delegates aged 14-17 from 42 countries set up stands in Copenhagen town hall promoting their country’s efforts to combat climate change. The Maldivian delegates confessed theirs “was one of the most popular”, with many people fascinated by the immediate threat climate change and sea level rise poses for the low-lying island nation.

“It was very interesting to see how people responded to the issue of sea level rise,” Wasif explained. “Everyone kept saying: ‘we’d better go and see the Maldives before it is under the sea.'”

The Maldivians’ response, Ansar said, was to say “we don’t want to be under the sea. We’re an innocent [party] suffering from the actions of developed countries.”

The students’ enthusiasm for their subject was quickly picked up by the attending media and the group were inundated with interviews throughout their time in Denmark, frequently making national headlines.

There were a lot of journalists and we were always busy with interviews,” Ansar said. “I don’t think we’ll ever be afraid of journalists again,” he laughed. The trick, he explained, was “to talk normally, as you would to a friend.”

Seeing an opportunity to gain support from the education ministry, Shifana asked Lutfy to “please give the school climate clubs more support, because they are the least popular clubs in school.”

“We would like more students to join and be as interested in the environment as we are,” she said.

The four students were chosen from across the Maldives. A short-list of 10 competed in a quiz broadcast on TVM, from which the final four were selected.