The Director-General of TERI, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, President of NDTV, Dr. Prannoy Roy, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Of all the distinguished speakers in this panel, I represent the fewest number of people and the smallest country in size. However, the Maldives is definitely the most threatened by the warming planet and the rising seas.

First, I wish to present to you a couple of geographical and topographical facts about the country.

1. The Maldives is a chain of 1,190 tiny coral islands in the Indian Ocean. The population of just over 300,000 live on 193 of these islands. Over one-third live in the capital island, Male’.
2. Three-quarters of the total land area of our islands is no higher than one and a half metres above mean sea-level.
3. The Maldives is 99% sea and only 1% land.
4. The economic mainstays of the Maldives are tourism and fisheries. There are no non-marine natural resources at our disposal to boost our economy.
5. Recent surveys show that 119 of our 193 inhabited islands are suffering from beach erosion.

These facts alone prove that the Maldives is among the most environmentally vulnerable nations on the planet, but the question is ‘how vulnerable are we’?

To answer this question, let us focus on some of the scientific findings in the IPCC’s fourth and most recent assessment report.

1. Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level.
2. Global sea level has risen since 1961 at an average rate of 1.8 millimetre per year, and since 1993 at 3.1 millimetre per year.
3. Since 1975, the incidence of extreme high sea levels has increased worldwide.
4. It is almost certain that, in some marine and freshwater systems, shifts in ranges and changes in algae, plankton and fish abundance are associated with rising water temperatures.
5. In Small Islands, sea-level rise is expected to exacerbate inundation, storm surges, erosion and other coastal hazards, thus threatening vital infrastructure, settlements and facilities that support the livelihood of island communities.
6. The deterioration in coastal conditions, for example through erosion of beaches and coral bleaching is expected to affect local resources.
7. By mid-century, climate change is expected to reduce water resources in many small islands.

From the above scientific data, we know with a high degree of certainty that the effects of global warming and sea-level rise will be catastrophic for the Maldives and other low-lying countries.

In fact, long before the international community began to accept that our climate system was undergoing severe changes as a result of anthropogenic activities, the people of the Maldives knew of the coming danger. For over three decades, our weather patterns have been changing drastically. Being a country that straddles the Equator, our fishermen used to predict local weather and ocean current patterns with some accuracy. In fact, the two monsoons used to bring contrasting yet predictable weather in all parts of the country.

That is no longer the case. The calendar is no longer able to predict weather patterns accurately in either monsoon. Fishermen therefore go out to sea not knowing when the next severe storm would threaten their boat.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Over the centuries, our people have lived in harmony with the surrounding seas. Until recently, the sea was always a reliable friend. It was our most precious resource. It was also the main source of sustenance.

Over the past thirty years, our faith in the sea has been slowly but surely waning away. The frequency and intensity of stormy weather has been increasing. Storm surges and tidal swells have now a regular occurrence on some islands. More frequent and prolonged El Niño’s have been threatening our colourful coral gardens.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

For many years, we have been warning the international community of the impending danger. At first, there were very few who listened, and even fewer who believed. Prove it, many would say! At that point, the Maldives and other SIDS did not have the financial or technical resources to provide concrete scientific proof of what we were experiencing.

Before long though, we found a friend and ally in the form of the IPCC. Assessment report after assessment report of IPCC continued to paint a bleak yet factually accurate picture. Sceptics could no longer ignore us, and the world could no longer leave us to drown.

Today, there is near universal acceptance that both climate change and sea-level rise are clear and present dangers. There is also no doubt that the world’s small island states will be the first victims if there is a failure to address this global environmental calamity.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

While, for many years, our people have been concerned for the welfare of our future generations, it was recently that we witnessed first hand the sheer scale of destruction that our children may have to face in the not too distant future.

At 9.20 in the morning of the 26 of December 2004, the lives of every Maldivian changed forever! Without warning, the sea came crashing onto our islands. After half an hour, what was left on many islands was only rubble. 108 innocent lives were lost, and over 13,000 people were displaced. Hundreds of homes, other buildings, jetties, machines and agricultural lands were destroyed or extensively damaged. Our development was set back by nearly a decade.

Although the tsunami was a natural disaster, it alerted us to the need to redouble our campaign to ensure environmental security for the Maldives. The irony of climate change and sea-level rise is that, while Small Island Development States such as the Maldives stand to face the worst effects of the problem, their role in creating the problem was negligible. We also lack the financial and technical resources to adequately mitigate against the problem. Except for maintaining strict national environmental standards, the only track available to us is that of diplomacy and campaigning.

I therefore have taken every opportunity presented to me over the past twenty years to highlight our fate to policy and decision-makers. While our joint efforts have been quite successful, we continue to wait in expectation of a day when the international community will take concrete action to stop climate change in its tracks.

Lately, there have been signs that our dreams may become a reality in the not too distant future. We came away from Bali with a Roadmap that could potentially lead to a comprehensive post-Kyoto agreement on climate change.

The Maldives has always supported the concept of ‘common but differentiated responsibility’. We are ready to do our part, and hope that those with more resources will rise to the challenge and ensure the safety and security of our people.


Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

The latest assessment report of the IPCC, together with the Stern Review of 2006, leaves no room for doubt that we must take action right now.

To some, climate change is still a threat of the future, but for the Maldives it is already a part of our daily lives.

The biggest environmental challenge that the world faced in the twentieth century was trans-boundary air pollution and the depletion of the ozone layer. At Montreal and in Vienna, the world came together to find a solution to the problem.

It is time that we show a similar willingness and determination to solving what is definitely the toughest environmental challenge of our time.

Thanks to the IPCC, uncertain science is no longer an excuse for inaction. The Stern Review proves that the cost of addressing climate change now is indeed feasible.

The only thing that appears to be stopping us is the self-interest of some countries.

We must realize that curbing global warming and sea-level rise with added urgency will save not only the people of the Maldives and other low-lying countries, but those living in all corners of the globe.

Thank you.