We are especially privileged to be participating in this important conference. Thanks to the Bakers group for inviting us and special thanks to Ross Paul and Jeremy Baker for facilitating it.
Ladies and Gentlemen – this conference could not come at a more opportune time. We in Maldives have decided to take a new more sustainable path to national development. The effects of climate change have forced upon us the need to rethink development and the recent transition to democracy has created the opportunity to change direction. We believe that responsible leadership requires that we leave to our children a legacy that is better than the one we inherited. We must do everything possible to stop global warming not because it is good for the economy or politics, but because it is the right thing.
We are encouraged by the emergence of new and enlightened leadership – from your very own Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to President Barrack Obama in the USA – who have been elected with a clear mandate on changing the direction. We remain optimistic that with the assistance of such leaders we will broker a deal in Copenhagen.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me start off by giving you a short introduction to the Maldives...or at least to a Maldives that you may not be so familiar with. Much of what the rest of the world knows about our country comes from glossy tourist magazines. Maldives dates back to the time of Marco Polo, Ibn Batuta and even ancient Greeks. We have been ruled by kings and queens, our cowry shells have been used as currency and ornaments in many civilizations. In short, Maldives has been around for a while. Therefore, the mere thought that it may not survive for another 100 years is a troubling one to say the least.
The Maldives is a country with about 1100 coral islands – 200 islands inhabited by a population of approximately 350,000. Much of the population is disbursed in a few islands – approximately 1/3rd live on the capital Male’ – there by making it one of the most densely populated places on the planet. A further 1/3rd live on about 10 other islands, while a minority live on smaller, isolated islands. If you look at it, we share a similarity with Australia in that we have large population centres in a few urban or semi-urban settings – with small ‘village’ or ‘township’ developments in far-off areas. Most islands are barely 1 meter above sea level.
At least for twenty years we have been struggling to achieve basic human rights and we finally obtained basic freedoms such as freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and the right to form political parties. Under the new constitution, we are the first democratically elected government. We are very proud that we are one of the few countries where a home grown democratic movement has peacefully replaced a 30 year old dictatorship in a country that is predominantly Muslim. But only to find out that the struggle for human rights have to be extended now to the right to survival and the right to nationhood linked to climate change.
Today, the most pressing issue faced by the government is coastal erosion. Majority of the islands are seriously threatened. The first political demonstration I had to face after taking office was on the island of Maduvvari where storm waves eroded the land beneath the homes of a dozen families. Adaptation to climate change has become the most urgent development need for many Maldivians. These include rebuilding coastline and reefs, protection of ground water, provision of clean water and sanitation, and the physical raising of islands, and protective walls against sea level rise. Much of the public sector investment programme will include adaptation to climate change. For us this is basic survival.
A meaningful and satisfying life must go beyond survival. It must be spiritually nourishing and emotionally exciting. It must be professionally challenging and socially rewarding. Therefore it is imperative that we live a life that is in harmony with nature and one that is enriching. That is why we have decided Maldives should become carbon neutral. We set the goal for 2020 not because we believe that our actions will make any difference to reducing global warming, but because we need it for ourselves.
The goal was announced only a few months ago and we are in the process of developing a detailed plan of action. We have requested the World Bank and European Union to assist us in the development of this plan. We have set up an apex body, the Presidential Council on Climate Change to oversee the development of policies and programmes. The carbon neutrality policy envisages a switch from diesel to 100 percent renewable energy. Chris Goodall and Mark Lynas at Oxford estimate that 155 1.5 MW wind turbines, coupled with half a km of solar panels, a biomass plant and battery bank will provide us enough clean energy. It is estimated that this will require investing 100 million dollars a year for the next ten years. There are other scenarios we need to explore before we embark on expensive investments.
We realise that transition to a low carbon economy will take a few years and that is why we must begin embedding clean energy in existing infrastructure at the outset and to launch a vigorous programme on energy efficiency. Furthermore, as Cathy Crowley mentioned in her presentation, transitioning to an ecological age requires a system wide effort including the preparation of society to support a new set of values.
In addition, there are other policy reforms underway to support the goal to achieve carbon neutrality. On the key issue of energy, we are currently privatizing our national utility, with a bidding structure that provides strong impetus for renewable energy components. We understand that the issue of affordability will arise – but we intend to use a combination of “green” taxes from tourism to cross-subsidize the consumer in order to make this more affordable. Furthermore, during the course of this conference we will be looking at how we can establish a carbon trading regime for the industry in our country – along with the establishment of a national environment friendly accreditation system that will promote greater competition among resorts for eco tourism. We understand that installing renewable energy may not be an economically viable venture in remote areas – especially even where conventional energy is not economically viable – but we are combining the handing out of tourism licenses with commitments from the private companies to provide renewable energy solutions to remote areas. Already, we are seeing a number of resorts catering to the increasing calls for greater environmental awareness by their clientele by introducing such measures as no-plastic bottles, increased use of solar energy, micro-smart grids, and ‘living’ coastal management technology.
Other policy reforms include moving away from subsidizing electric companies towards targeted direct cash assistance to needy groups. I addition, we have requested the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank to find the right partner for the state water company. In the privatization of our capital’s water supply, we have assigned greater weight to environmental sustainability considerations.
There is more that needs to be done to promote sustainable development. These include revision and further development of the legislative and regulatory frameworks, the establishment of monitoring and evaluation capabilities, stimulating public demand for sustainable solutions, and building human resources to manage, operate and maintain new technologies and systems.
You must have noticed by now that our approach to climate change is very different from many other developing countries. We no longer complain about the problems, we look for opportunities. We have never been part of the problem, but we want to be part of the solution. We will make Maldives carbon neutral island by island and resort by resort. We would like to invite you to join us.