Your Serene Highness, Excellencies, Friends:
My people are blessed with one of the most beautiful settings that nature has to offer. The beautiful sandy white beaches, turquoise lagoons, swaying palm trees, colourful coral gardens and marine fauna, year-round equatorial climate and weather and welcoming people are attracting over 600,000 holidaymakers to the Maldives each year. To many people across the world, our shores have indeed become an earthly paradise.
This paradise, though, is endangered! Each year, the seas that make up 99% of the Maldives are rising; and, slowly but surely, engulfing our 1,192 low-lying islands and posing serious risks to the lives and livelihoods of the people.
In fact, it was in the mid-1980s that I first came across the twin phenomena of global warming and sea-level rise. A number of groundbreaking reports of the period began unravelling the mysteries that shrouded global warming and its associated ill effects. With this new scientific information, the sheer vulnerability of the Maldives began coming to clearer light.
In 1987, many islands of the Maldives, including the capital Male’, were flooded over by unprecedented high waves. This incident convinced me that my people were in grave danger. As their elected representative, it was therefore my duty to take our plight to the ears of the global audience. That is what I have been doing for twenty years and more.
I can, in fact, still vividly remember my first couple of speeches on climate change and sea-level rise, the first being at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Vancouver on the 15th of October 1987 and the second just four days later at the UN General Assembly in New York. Since then, I have had the honour and privilege of representing the Maldives at many such global fora, and have been able to present our sentiments to many policy and decision makers from all parts of the world.
The choice of a name for this book was not made lightly. I opted for “Paradise Drowning” as, in my mind, it evokes an image fraught with great danger. That, in my opinion, most clearly encapsulates the threat of climate change and sea-level rise to my people.
Throughout my twenty years of climate change diplomacy, I have witnessed the global mindsets, debate and response evolve into what it is today. Back then, I doubt whether any of us would have foreseen such a multi-sectoral and multi-dimensional response to climate change. A global summit such as this would have seemed a near impossibility.
Yet, many of us have worked hard and much has in fact been achieved. Over the years, I personally have been very fortunate in receiving the support and assistance of many many people in my work. I will not attempt to acknowledge each and every one by name, as I am certain that I will miss out some key people. But, I would like to say that I thank them all from the bottom of my heart.
May I thank you all for accepting my humble invitation to attend this function. Also, I am deeply honoured by the presence here of some of the most respected international voices on environment issues. The presence here of His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco and His Excellency Mr. Mah Bow Tan, the Minister for National Development of Singapore is an added privilege for me.
I would like to thank Mr. Achim Steiner, the Under-Secretary General of the UN and Executive Director of UNEP for launching my book "Paradise Drowning".
While this book is a collection of 23 of my speeches at various gatherings, I sincerely hope that "Paradise Drowning" will not to be taken simply as an archive of my work over the years, but rather as a further step in a continuous effort to save an imperilled people. I hope this book will be of help in crossing further boundaries and generating further interest.
Ultimately, what it signals is hope; hope that humankind will find consensus and a clear will to act.
I am confident that we, the peoples of the world, will not allow this paradise to drown.