Ms. Lene Christiansen, Country Director for United Nations Population Fund; Mr Mansoor Ali, Acting UN Resident Coordinator; Excellencies; Ladies and gentlemen:
The fact that climate change is going to have devastating impact on the Maldives is not new and no longer up for debate. Global warming is resulting in sea level rise, warming of ocean temperatures, melting of the polar ice cap, destruction of coral reefs, contamination of our ground water and disruption of livelihoods.
Any agreements reached, if at all, in Copenhagen will be far short of what is needed to secure Maldives as we know it today. As you know, those who have been following the debate towards Copenhagen, the ambition levels that are being discussed are far too low from what we have been advocating in the Association of Small Island Developing countries. Therefore, the eventual effects of climate change have to be faced and we must brace ourselves to the effects of climate change as best as we can.
Part of the preparation is to refocus our efforts on the people. It means reexamining our focus on population policies, trends and future scenarios. It also means further development of gender relations and the role of women in development. Our usual discussion centres around mitigation and adaptation. For several years now, we have been reinforcing our coastlines to prevent erosion – our primary focus of adaptation. We have announced the goal of achieving carbon neutrality in ten years. Although a small contribution to global emission reductions is an important step towards sustainable development in the Maldives.
No doubt, we must build concrete walls to protect coastlines where necessary and we must introduce low carbon technologies. But we cannot forget that none of these efforts will be complete without a focus on our people.
The subject of today's report is “Facing a changing world: women, population and climate”. We cannot face the change passively and wait for the solutions to come. Our response has to be a proactive one where our people shape the change. I believe that the change we desire must happen in us before it happens out there. We need to put people at the centre of our discourse on facing the challenges of climate change.
The Maldives we envision is not one in which our homes flood every year or one in which homes flood every year, or one in which our women and children have to bear the brunt of natural disasters on their own. We want to minimize the negative effects of climate change on our people. This will require a rethinking of the type of communities we want to build, the kinds of infrastructures we need and the central role of individuals, families and communities in creating and sustaining a healthy and safe living conditions.
While we pursue hard on engineering solutions to both mitigation and adaptation, we must also address human rights and social relations. Democracy is not just about elections. It is more about meaningful participation of people in the critical decisions that affect their lives. Participation comes from increasing human capacities – education, excess to information, and an enabling environment are all necessary for people's participation.
When we discuss the capacities of families and communities that face the challenges of climate change, we must focus on the people whose lives are most directly affected and are on the frontline. In most of our islands, in most of our communities they are women, youth and children.
Women are central to the survival of our families and our nations in the face of climate change. Well, they are the most vulnerable because they have the least income and resources but the greatest responsibility for the care of their families and the development of their islands.
As we develop national strategies to combat climate change, risk reduction and disaster management we must place special attention to the capacities posed and position of women.
We mustn't assume that Maldives as a nation has already done all it can to achieve gender equality, to provide a quality education for all women and to provide equal opportunities for women to develop and contribute to the nation.
Although we have made significant progress in achieving several MDGs, we are far from achieving MDG goal 3: promoting gender equality and empowering women.
The gender gap in our society seems to be getting wider. More women are being kept outside the work place. More girl children are getting excluded from education and more women are being exploited as a result of outdated views imported from archaic and primitive cultures. These traditional conceptions of the roles of the women adversely affect women as they already tend to spend more of their time on domestic work and looking after children.
No society can achieve sustainable development and prosperity with half of its population ill-prepared for the challenges of an unpredictable future. Public policies are needed to achieve to actively promote women and girls in development. The ICPD has reiterated the need for a right spaced population policy. Therefore we must pursue active policies to promote girls' and women's education, employment and participation in decision making. Both men and women need to be fully aware of the impact of climate change in the Maldives, especially its effect on health and wellbeing of the families. Women must participate in the preparation of island specific risk reduction and disaster management programs. They should be part of the decisions affecting the future of their lives. They must decide if they will stay on their islands or move to another, if they should spend more resources on coastal management and harbour development or on deforestation, for example.
A true democracy is one in which all its citizens, women, men and young people can participate in the critical decisions that affect them. No doubt, that good governance is essential for climate change adaptation, but it will remain a dream without increased capacities for our people, especially women's participation in decision making.
I would like to congratulate the United Nations Population Fund for bringing out this year's State of the World Population report, especially on a topic that is so important and pertinent to the future of the Maldives.