Paradise lost?

“Undoubtedly, without a sensible binding agreement that would tackle climate change head-on, the future of the Maldives and other climate vulnerable nations is doomed”

High Commissioner Farah Faizal says the leaders meeting at Copenhagen have it in their power to save the Maldives – or sign its death warrant

My three-year-old daughter loves singing ‘Under the Sea’, from Disney’s Little Mermaid. It always makes me wonder whether this is where her future lies or perhaps that of her children? With the average height of our island nation being only 1.5m above sea level, the IPCC’s forecast of a rise in sea levels of at least 18cm by the end of the century certainly seems to make that a very frightening possibility.

The Maldives is of course known as a paradise for those who have visited the country. With tropical sunshine all year round, white sandy beaches and crystal clear lagoons, our 1,200 islands are indeed a holidaymaker’s dream destination.

Death of a civilisation

However reality closer to home is far from heavenly. In recent years, changing weather patterns have created havoc, bewildering our fishermen and affecting the fish catch. Coastal erosion is taking place in several islands at an alarming rate. If the world just stood by and watched, we could be talking about the possible death of a 2000-year-old island culture that had incidentally contributed the word ‘atoll’ (Atholhu in the local language, Dhivehi) to the English dictionary.

That is why the Maldives is doing its best to highlight its plight and that of other vulnerable small states to the international community and is hoping that the COP-15 would enable a momentous and legally binding deal that would ensure the survival of our countries.

Vulnerable voices

The now legendary underwater cabinet meeting, the first of its kind, held in October this year, is just one example of those attempts to draw attention to the vulnerability of the country to climate change. Others include hosting the Climate Vulnerable Forum in the Maldives in November this year where 11 Heads of State and Ministers from some of the world’s most climate vulnerable countries called on the international community to redouble their efforts at reaching a binding, ambitious, fair and effective agreement.

But we want to go beyond just calling for help. The Maldives is determined to go carbon-neutral by the year 2020 and already the first steps towards it are being put in place. A project to install a wind farm that will deliver enough to provide electricity to the capital Male’, the international airport and nearby resorts was launched last month. Other similar renewable energy projects will follow soon. As President Nasheed stated: “We want to shine a light, not loudly demand that others go first into the dark”.

However, the Maldives going carbon-neutral is not going to make a difference to the actual greenhouse gas emissions internationally. The key to real change lies with the leaders meeting in Copenhagen. It is a historic moment in which the world leaders can either save us or sign our death warrant.

Joint effort

Both developed and developing countries must agree to reduce emissions to ensure that the global average surface warming stays below 1.5 °C; together with a meaningful financial package to assist in adaptation measures for vulnerable countries. Undoubtedly, without a sensible binding agreement that would tackle climate change head-on, the future of the Maldives and other climate vulnerable nations is doomed.
And a country ‘under the sea’ may not be just something for a children’s movie but a tragic reality for us Maldivians.

Above and below: The Maldives cabinet meets under the sea to draw attention to global warming