With its highest point a mere two metres above sea level, global warming is an imminent concern for the Maldives. As the conversation on climate change heats up prior to the December conference in Copenhagen, President Mohamed Nasheed spoke to Kunda Dixit about his plans.
The Maldives is a country whose very existence is threatened by climate change. What kind of strategy do you have to cope with it?
I have always said that climate change is not an environmental issue. It is a human-rights issue. It is actually also a security issue: the Maldives faces a challenge to its existence; we are a frontline nation. Just as defending Poland was important in 1939, it is important to save the Maldives today. What is happening to the Maldives will happen to the rest of the world. Security should not be defined just in military or geo-strategic terms. The security of the planet is at stake because of climate change – global warming will have huge social, economic and political consequences. This should be a matter for the Security Council. Climate change is not a vague and abstract danger; it is a real threat to our survival. But climate change not only threatens the Maldives, it threatens us all. The level of warming and associated sea-level rise that would inundate the Maldives could also tip climate change beyond man’s control. If the world cannot save the Maldives today, it might be too late to save London, New York or Hong Kong tomorrow. This is a global emergency. The world is in danger of going into cardiac arrest, yet we behave as if we may have caught a common cold.
Why have you decided to make the Maldives carbon neutral?
We want to be a carbon-neutral country by 2019, and set an example to the rest of the world. But we are not doing that just to save the planet. We also need to invest in renewable energy so that we can sustainably meet our development needs into the future. It is just not going to be feasible to go fishing in a diesel-powered boat anymore. Making this radical shift to carbon neutrality will not be easy. But where there is a will, there is a way. In some parts of our country, carbon neutrality is already a reality. Some of our resorts like Soneva Fushi will go carbon neutral this year and zero-carbon next.
But is it going to make any difference to the planet?
Let us make Kyoto [the 1997 Protocol] or COP 15 [the Copenhagen meet] about what we can do, not about what we cannot do. People often tell me you are not going to make a difference, you are too small. Or that caring for the environment is too expensive, why bother at all. What we in the Maldives do or do not do is not going to make a difference to the planet. But if we do things right we can go to sleep thinking we have done our bit, and we will have the moral authority to speak out at international conferences. We do not want to get into the blame game. Being carbon neutral is not our way of trying to rescue the global climate. It is to change our own lifestyle so that even if we are headed towards disaster, we can say we tried to do the right thing. Sure, installing solar panels and wind turbines does not come cheap. But there is only one choice for us. Going green might cost a lot, but refusing to act now will cost us the Earth.
How will this convince the rich countries to pay for adaptation to climate change in countries such as the Maldives?
Only if we clean up our own energy use will the West listen to us. We have to say, we are spending so much ourselves, how much will you give us for adaptation for embankments and sea walls, among other things? We have to be able to tell them, look, we are drowning because of your unsustainable use of fossil energy, how can you help us? It is not so important anymore who was responsible for historical emissions. What is important is that those who were responsible share the moral responsibility, and make money available to those who need it for their survival.
You have decided not to go to Copenhagen. But what outcome would you expect there?
The time for reports and action plans is now over. We do not want more talk on greenhouse-gas emissions. We want green technology and a switch to renewable sources of energy. We need to have a clear vision and implement that vision.
~ Kunda Dixit is the editor of the Nepali Times in Kathmandu.