Interview with Maldives' President at U.N. Island nations express rising concern over rising seas By Nemat Sadat Sep 27 2009, 01:29 AM
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Making a splash
“You know that with sea-level rise over 1.5 meters, more than hundreds of millions of people would be dead. They would simply be wiped out,” says President Mohammed Nasheed of the Maldives in an interview on Thursday morning at the Tudor Hotel in New York.
Maldives and nearly 42 other small-island and low-lying developing countries are considered the most vulnerable to climate change, yet they have historically contributed the least to global warming. Combined all small islands constitute less than one percent of global carbon emissions. In comparison the US and China, the two biggest emitters, each pollute about 20 percent or combined more than 40 percent of the greenhouse gases going into atmosphere today.
Inaction on climate change is not only threatening the existence of small islands but could end up costing the international community as much as $170 billion a year on adaptation measures until 2030, according the UN climate change secretariat, the UNFCCC. But countries cannot adapt forever or fast enough before the rising sea-levels engulf many countries into depths of the ocean.
President Nasheed, in his address to world leaders at the UN Summit on Climate Change last Tuesday, told how bad the situation is and demanded an urgent call for action against the growing threats of climate change. “We warn you that unless you act quickly and decisively, our homeland and others like it will disappear beneath the rising sea before the end of this century. We ask you, what will become of us?” he says.
Maldives was one of the eight heads of state invited by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to speak at the UN Summit on Climate Change. This wasn’t the first time the Maldives has been vocal about climate change. The former President of Maldives, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, gave a dramatic speech, referred to as the “Death of a Nation” to the UN General Assembly on October 19, 1987, which is considered the first time a head of state ever to have brought global awareness on the issue of climate change. At the high-level climate conference ever held, President Nasheed told world leaders they must “discard the habits that have led to 20 years of complacency and broken promises on climate change.”
In Thursday’s interview, Mr. Nasheed explained how the Maldivian economy, heavily reliant on tourism, is doing a variety of things to become the first carbon-neutral country by 2020. “There is no reason why no other country cannot do the same. We understand the costs involved to replace existing energy. We want to focus on what you should do, not what we shouldn’t,” the President says.
“We are investing money in capturing carbon with a bio-charge project and putting more money into renewable energy plants—wind mills and solar panels—that we can harness,” says President Nasheed. Explaining about how 30% of global carbon emissions come directly from buildings, he says, “We have been enforcing strict building codes that are reducing energy and increasing efficiency. In a sense we will develop a survival kit that will also achieve our objectives.”
President Nasheed warned about the induced conflict that climate change would cause, disrupting many parts of the world. “Countries are now under threat because of climate change and because of the stress climate change has on resources. It’s not just an environmental issue; it’s now about a global security issue,” he says.
When asked what his plans were if negotiations were not reached at the UN Summit in Copenhagen in December this year, President Nasheed replies, “Why don’t we all go to Copenhagen; for the whole 300,000 people [of Maldives] to move to Copenhagen?”