Good afternoon, the Chancellor, the Rectors, the Deans, Lecturers and of course dear students.
I am so pleased to be here today. I have had two very beautiful days in Korea. I have been fortunate to have meetings with you President, with your government, with your civil society, with students and also with the UN agencies, which were also so kind to give me the award yesterday.
I have also been blessed with your beautiful music. I have also had the opportunity to enjoy your beautiful scenery and to of course have a very good time in your excellent country.
I come from the Maldives as you would now have known. It is a country fairly far away from here. It is a country of more than a thousand small islands. None of these islands are more than 1.5 meters above the sea level.
We are dispersed through out a vast area of the Indian Ocean. We sit right in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
We may be very small in numbers of our population – we have a population of 340000 people. But we occupy more than 800 miles of geography in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
Because of our geography and our topography, climate change and whatever happens to the elements and have always been very important matter, issue in our daily lives.
For any Maldivian, the elements, the environment is important because it is right in front of you. We grow up with the sea around us. We grow up with a lot of swimming and a lot snorkelling and a lot of diving.
So for us, environment and nature is very important. I am glad and fortunate, today, to meet you, students. I will not spend so much time speaking myself, but I will spend as much as available so that I can interact with you and try to answer your questions.
President Kennedy said he chose to go to the moon in 1962. When he said that, humans should go to the moon, no one had an idea on how they should actually go about doing it. But 7 years later, Americans, Neil Armstrong, landed on the moon. The point here is, if you give political leadership, technology will follow it and all the other possibilities will make it possible.
So in my mind, to say that we want to do something and to have a focus on trying to do something and to be consistently at it is important. If you can do that, I think and I believe everything else will follow. So this generation, our generation must actually choose to stay on the earth and to make sure this only planet, this one planet that we have survives. So that we may be able to hand over for future generations what we have so been able to use and enjoy.
It is in that regard that I want to have a conversation with you on how we may be able to hand over this planet to coming generations. I must say, I am sorry, our parents have not been very clever in handing over this planet in this state to us.
In the last century we have consumed more than this planet can produce. To produce all the materials and the resources that we are consuming, I am just told that it takes one year and five months to produce all the materials and resources that we consume in one year. So we have a gap – we have a gap of five months – of consumption where there is a shortfall in resource allocation or generation. Now the question is how we can fill this gap.
I don’t want to ask you to give up your good life. I do not want to say that you should limit your living standards especially in a beautiful country as this where within one generation you have been able to transform yourself from a developing country to a fully fledged industrialised developed country. That happened during a period of one single generation. Unlike many other countries which took them hundreds of years to achieve what this country has been able to achieve in a matter of a decade or a few decades.
So of course, rapid change and the idea of change, in my mind, will be very receptive in this society. So it is for me a welcoming sign that people here are willing to rapidly have drastic change.
Now, again, we face a moment in time where we are required to change very rapidly. We have to be able to say that we will have to find innovative uses or ways of using the resources that we have, that are available for us so that we may be able to save it for the future generations. So the question is how do we do it.
In my mind, you cannot save, for instance, the existing set of resources that you have – fossil fuel. Because of the manner in which we are using them, because of the rate at which we are using it, it will be difficult to save those resources and still have the same standard of living. Therefore will have to find another set of exactly similar resources that would produce similar products and that would give us a similar consumption pattern.
What I am saying is, we have abundance of sunshine; we have abundance of wind, geothermal, wave, and many other untapped resources. It is a question for science and a question for academia to be able to tap upon these resources and use it for our benefit so that we may be able to not use very many other resources that we are using now.
Carbon, excessive use of carbon, will bring the world to many imbalances. We are presently seeing some of these imbalances.
The Maldives faces a number of challenges because of climate change. We already have more than sixteen islands where people have to be relocated. So we therefore have to find other resources instead of using the same resources that our parents, grandparents and our forefathers used.
I don’t think that this is impossible. I believe in the ingenuity of humanity that is why, in my mind, we are called homosapiens – because we have a mind and we can use it. So how do we go about using our mind to harness the resources – harness the sun, harness the wind, and many other resources we have – exactly to the same effect and the same use as we have been doing with fossil fuel.
We have always made the mistake, I think – in my mind, we have made the mistake to assume that there are free goods. At least I was taught in college and in university that air, the atmosphere is a free good. But of course it is not. For the past so many years, we have been dumping our waste, in terms of carbon emissions to the atmosphere.
We are now at a situation where 450 parts per million of concentration of carbon in the atmosphere. We cannot survive with that amount of carbon, with that amount of waste in the atmosphere. Certainly we have to reduce the amount of waste in our atmosphere.
As long as we go on saying that the atmosphere is a free space for us to dump the waste, it will be very difficult for us to put a better price or a more realistic price to the energy that we are using now.
If we are able to price carbon, or if we are able to price free air or the air that we use and say how much rent fossil fuel companies will have to pay for atmosphere, then, very instantly, renewable energy become economically viable and feasible.
I think it is very possible for us to find alternative sources of energy and I think we should be using our minds to do exactly that.
We have heard a lot of climate deniers being very sceptical about climate change and the whole issue of the environment. Many people have been saying that climate change and sea level rise is not happening and it’s not true at all.
Sceptics and deniers especially in the last six months seem to be getting the cutting edge or the winning edge. We are loosing the momentum, so we have to be able to regain the momentum for climate change and the new environment science.
In the past few months, you would have heard about leaked emails and the mistakes in the IPCCC reports. But I like to point out these mistakes – IPCCC report is a 3000 page document, and just one mistake in that document does not make any material difference to the facts. Even if you combined all the leaked emails together, that again does not bring any material difference to the facts.
So it is therefore, not really what is factually correct that we should be concentrating upon, but what is perceived to be correct. It is very easy for media companies, very easy for big publicity companies to change your perception of how you think about things.
I would like you to be more mindful of what the media is presenting to you. I would like you to start thinking with your own minds and start you to understand that there other reasons there are other factors and there are other issues to every single story that is laid in front of you.
I say to the climate deniers, to those people who are saying there is no climate change, I invite them to come to the Maldives – to come and have a look at our beaches, how it is eroding; to come and have a look at our reefs, how it is bleaching; to come and have a look at what is happening in the Maldives and then look into our eyes and then say if this is happening or happening or not.
Climate change is real and it is happening and now we cannot chose to live in the age of stupid. We have to be clever and we have to understand that there are intricacies, relationships with every action that we make and what is happening to the planet.
So again and again, what I would like to stress is that if you want to change something, and if you want to work for change, you have to be focused and you have to consistent. If you are focused and consistent, there is, I believe, nothing that you cannot achieve.
Many times, many people and many societies have worked against the odds and succeeded. Even two three years ago, no one in my country or any where else, for instance, for that matter would have believed that I would be standing here in front of you as the president of the Maldives taking to you about environment. But because we chose to fight against the odds, we have been able to succeed. Because we have never let go of our focus, because we have never relented, we have succeeded.
I am sure you can all do that.
Thank you very much.