Sunday, March 29, 2009

Global awareness of climate change has increased, says President Nasheed

Global awareness on climate change has increased over the years, President Mohamed Nasheed has said. The President made the statement before the inauguration of the Earth Hour celebrations in the Maldives.

The Earth Hour celebration began with the switching off the lights of the Muleeaage by President Nasheed at 8.30pm, last night.

In his speech, President Nasheed highlighted the negative impacts of climatic change on the Maldives. He also said that the celebration of Earth Hour symbolize that each one of us, working together, can make a positive impact on climate change. Further, he said, the celebration was also an effort to actively participate in the efforts to minimize the effect of climate change, pollution and global warming.


How to tackle climate change — the Maldives example

The tiny Indian Ocean nation of the Maldives will become carbon-neutral within 10 years. This was the pledge made by Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed on March 15.

The low-lying country will be among the first in the world to be inundated by rising sea levels caused by human-induced climate change. The highest point in the chain of 1200 islands and coral atolls is just 1.8 metres above sea-level.

The latest research indicates that if present rates of carbon emissions continue, global warming will likely cause sea level rises of about one metre by 2100. This is close to double the rise predicted by most scientists just two years ago.

At the request of the Maldives government, a plan for carbon neutrality has been developed for the Republic of Maldives by British climate writers Chris Goodall (author of Ten Technologies to Save the Planet) and Mark Lynas (author of the best-selling book Six Degrees). An outline of Goodall and Lynas’s plan has been posted at .

Carbon neutrality

The plan focuses on the replacement of fossil fuels with renewable energy for electricity, most land and sea transport, and household cooking by 2020.

About 160 wind turbines will provide the bulk of electricity for the inhabited islands. Wind power will be supplemented with solar power farms built in shallow island lagoons. These two power sources are expected to generate considerably more electricity than the Maldives currently consumes.

To account for the variability of wind and solar power, Goodall and Lynas suggest the country invests in a biomass combustion plant, mainly using coconut husks, for backup energy needs in the capital Male. Outside the capital, backup energy supply can be secured by storing energy in lithium phosphate batteries, they say. Currently, diesel-powered generators are a major source of energy on most of the islands.

About US$100 million will be needed to rework the electricity transmission network to make the most of renewable supply and to improve energy efficiency.

Under the plan, diesel fuel used in larger boats can be switched with power from renewable electricity. Petrol used to power cars and smaller boats can be sharply reduced via the steady replacement of the combustion engine with electric battery-powered vehicles. In the long run, electricity will be a far cheaper option than petrol for land and sea transport, Goodall and Lynas say.

Wood and kerosene are used by most people in the Maldives for cooking fuel. Goodall and Lynas suggest the introduction of “highly efficient closed stoves” for remote islands. For homes and tourist resorts with access to the grid, the replacement of older stoves with electric-powered alternatives will be needed. Solar cookers are another option for household use.

The release of methane gas from organic waste is responsible for a estimated 20% of the nation’s total emissions. This can be mostly eliminated through organic composting techniques. The compost can be used to improve the Maldives’s poor soil fertility and increase local crop yields.

Outside of their small fishing industry, the Maldives economy is almost completely dependent on foreign tourism. After electricity, the next most important source of carbon emissions is from aviation.

Goodall and Lynas propose that the Maldives could offset aviation emissions by buying, and then cancelling, emissions permits from the European Union carbon trading scheme.

This is the most questionable part of the ambitious plan. The EU’s carbon trading scheme is widely discredited for failing to reduce emission while allowing speculators to make windfall profits from buying and selling the “right to pollute”.

Action from industrialised countries in sharply cutting emissions is the only real “offset” the Maldives can rely on.

A larger problem is that the entire plan will cost at least $1.1 billion over a decade — far more than the Maldives can afford.

The plan would only be possible if the country were to receive loans from international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank — bodies notorious for impoverishing, rather than helping, countries in the global South.

Despite the cost of setting up renewable energy infrastructure, Goodall and Lynas predict the switch to renewables would save the Maldives money in the long term. Cutting the country’s dependence on oil would reduce the nation’s energy bill by $50 to $130 million every year.

No excuse for inaction

The announcement from the Maldives government came just days after the International Scientific Congress on Climate Change had met in Copenhagen in early March. The key findings of the conference were summarised in a blunt press statement on March 12.

Climate change is much worse than we thought, the scientists concluded. The “worst-case” scenarios outlined in the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report are being reached, or even surpassed, right now.

“For many key parameters, the climate system is already moving beyond the patterns of natural variability within which our society and economy have developed and thrived. … There is a significant risk that many of the trends will accelerate, leading to an increasing risk of abrupt or irreversible climatic shifts”, the statement said.

“Rapid, sustained, and effective mitigation based on coordinated global and regional action is required to avoid ‘dangerous climate change’ … There is no excuse for inaction.”

The conference gave further scientific backing to what growing numbers of people already fear. The planet is perilously close to passing climate tipping points which, if crossed, will provoke runaway global warming and threaten billions of lives.

The Arctic ice cap — one of the Earth’s natural “air-conditioners” — is melting. The oceans are warming, turning the planet’s greatest carbon-sink into a carbon emitter. The Siberian permafrost is retreating, releasing mega-tonnes of trapped methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more powerful that carbon dioxide, up into the atmosphere.

The world’s glaciers — irreplaceable sources of fresh water for billions of people — are shrinking rapidly. The huge ice caps of Greenland and Antarctica are becoming fragile; their melting would herald further rises in sea levels and turn millions of people into climate refugees. Weather systems are changing in unpredictable ways; extreme weather events are on the rise.

Urgent, international action to end the burning of fossil fuels for energy is required now to avert the climate change threat. Despite this, wealthy polluting nations such as Australia continue to make excuses for inaction.

‘The choice is that stark’

On March 17, Nasheed outlined the reasoning behind the Maldives’s ambitious plan for carbon-neutrality in a video address streamed to the British launch of the forthcoming feature film about climate change by director Franny Armstrong, The Age of Stupid.

“If we can achieve this — a small, relatively poor country — there can be no excuse from the rich, industrial nations who claim that going green is too complex, too expensive or too much bother”, Nasheed said.

“Now the world has an opportunity to come together and prevent the looming environmental catastrophe. That opportunity is called Copenhagen.

“And let’s be very frank about this: Copenhagen can be one of two things.

“It can be an historic event where the world unites against carbon pollution, in a collective spirit of co-operation and collaboration.

“Or, Copenhagen can be a suicide pact.

“The choice is that stark.

“My message to you, my message to the world, is simply this: please, don’t be stupid.”

If the Copenhagen conference in December fails to set emissions cuts that can restore a safe climate, then the fault will lie with the governments of the developed world, who are desperately resisting change.

At the last international conference on climate change, held in the Polish city of Poznan late last year, the Australian government helped to sabotage a binding international agreement.

The Australian delegation chaired a bloc of some of the world’s biggest polluters, including the US, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Canada. The bloc was dedicated to stopping agreement on a proposed 25%-40% emissions reduction by 2020.

Unfortunately, they were successful.

The Rudd government’s push to legislate sickeningly low emissions cuts of 5%-15% by 2020 is designed to undermine the Copenhagen conference and stop it from adopting the serious cuts urged by the Maldives and other countries in the global South.

This reflects the reality of climate policy in Australia: the biggest, wealthiest polluters call the shots. The Rudd government defends them, while pretending to be serious about climate change.

Both the government and the powerful fossil fuel interests must be confronted, and their agenda defeated, if we hope to secure a safe climate.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Rise of sea levels is 'the greatest lie ever told'

If one thing more than any other is used to justify proposals that the world must spend tens of trillions of dollars on combating global warming, it is the belief that we face a disastrous rise in sea levels. The Antarctic and Greenland ice caps will melt, we are told, warming oceans will expand, and the result will be catastrophe.

Although the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) only predicts a sea level rise of 59cm (17 inches) by 2100, Al Gore in his Oscar-winning film An Inconvenient Truth went much further, talking of 20 feet, and showing computer graphics of cities such as Shanghai and San Francisco half under water. We all know the graphic showing central London in similar plight. As for tiny island nations such as the Maldives and Tuvalu, as Prince Charles likes to tell us and the Archbishop of Canterbury was again parroting last week, they are due to vanish. [Read More]


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Saarc Summit likely to be deferred

The 16th Saarc Summit is likely to be deferred until at least the first quarter of 2010 as the host the Maldives expressed its inability to arrange the gathering before October 2009 amid the current economic recession.

The summit of the eight-nation South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (Saarc) grouping was scheduled to be held in the island nation in September this year as decided at the 15th Saarc Summit in Sri Lanka in 2008.

Diplomatic sources said the Maldives Foreign Minister Ahmed Shaheed at a meeting of Saarc Council of Ministers in Colombo recently expressed its incapability to arrange the summit as the country is seriously affected by the economic meltdown.

The meeting requested the Maldives to set up a new schedule before October. But the Minister said the Maldives, dependent on tourism industry, would not be able to hold the summit after October, as it is the peak season for tourists of the island nation.

It may be mentioned that the Maldives earlier expressed its inability to arrange the 15th SAARC Summit in 2008 because of its general elections and Sri Lanka then came forward to host the summit which coincided with the 60 years of its independence.

Sources said it is still unsettled who would host the next summit as the Maldives yet to decline to host the gathering. It offered to host it in the first quarter of next year.

However, Bhutan, which never hosted the Saarc summit since its birth, for the first time has officially proposed to arrange the summit in spring (MarchApril) 2010.

Diplomatic sources said Bhutan on March 13 contacted the Saarc Secretariat in Kathmandu saying it would host the 16th summit in the spring of 2010.

Meanwhile, the visiting Saarc Secretary General Sheel Kant Sharma yesterday informed Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina that the summit is likely to be held in Nepal, according to the Prime Minister's Press Secretary Abul Kalam Azad.

On Bhutan's eagerness to host the 16th summit, official sources here said countries host the summit in alphabetic order.

Before giving the final nod to Bhutan, the Saarc Secretariat must consult with other member countries, including Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and the Maldives as it is yet to decline to host the gathering, said a source.

There is no way Bhutan can host the summit at this stage because it will have to wait till Nepal, Afghanistan and Bangladesh host the summit.


Monday, March 23, 2009

Wisdom of the small

A tiny country is planning to go carbon-neutral

ON MARCH 15th the president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, announced that his country would try to stop using fossil fuels—and thus eliminate most of its greenhouse-gas emissions—by 2020. The Maldives is not wealthy but it leads richer nations in tackling climate change.

Mr Nasheed has good reason to be so conscientious. The Maldives, a collection of atolls in the middle of the Indian Ocean, stands less than two metres above sea level. That means it will probably be the first country to disappear as sea levels continue to rise—and, in the meantime, growing storm surges will make life there parlous.

Yet the Maldives’ contribution to climate change is minimal. Fewer than 400,000 people live there and most of those own neither a car nor many electrical appliances. Even the carbon emissions generated by newlyweds flying in for their honeymoons—the mainstay of the economy—are negligible compared with what those holiday-makers generate at home.

Mr Nasheed has recruited two British environmentalists, Mark Lynas and Chris Goodall, to draft a plan for the Maldives to replace the oil that fuels the country’s generators, cars and boats with power from solar panels, wind turbines and biofuels. This, they reckon, will cost $1.1 billion. It will, however, spare the place the expense of importing petrol, diesel and kerosene, and so pay for itself in 10 to 20 years, depending on the price of oil.

Mr Nasheed says mildly that he hopes other countries will follow the Maldives’ example. He is too gracious to add that rich countries, which bear the lion’s share of responsibility for climate change, should be ashamed that his, which bears almost none, is doing relatively more to fight it than they are. European politicians like to congratulate themselves for setting the goal of generating a mere 20% of power from renewable sources by 2020. Many of their American counterparts, meanwhile, are arguing against even that modest target, on the grounds that their states cannot afford it. Income per head in Mississippi, one of the places protesting most loudly, is seven times that of the Maldives.

Perhaps a few politicians in the rich world will focus on this injustice. But a more important point is that overhauling the Maldives’ energy supply within a decade does not look impossible. The islands are famously sunny and also (though this is less widely advertised) quite windy, so there is plenty of raw material. And the falling price of wind turbines and solar panels makes turning that energy into electricity more affordable than it used to be—a trend that is likely to continue. Of course, the wind does not always blow and even the sunniest tropical paradise goes dark at night. But Messrs Lynas and Goodall reckon $315m-worth of batteries combined with a biomass-fuelled power plant should be enough to keep the lights on during windless hours of darkness.

In many ways, therefore, the archipelago is well suited to an energy makeover. But it is worse off in some others. The population is scattered across a chain of islands 900km long, which makes it expensive to connect everyone to a power source. It is also a bad time to be raising money for such a project. But even if rich countries do not have the decency to help pay for Mr Nasheed’s plan, they should, at least, shamelessly plagiarise it.


Maldives aims to become first carbon-neutral country

The Maldives – the island nation threatened by rising sea level as a result of global warming – is attempting to become the world's first carbon-neutral country.

The Independent has learnt that tomorrow President Mohammed Nasheed will reveal details of a plan to achieve full carbon neutrality within 10 years. In doing so, his country of islands in the Indian Ocean, will join a small group of nations racing to be first in what environmentalists have described as "the Carbon World Cup".

Five other countries – Costa Rica, Iceland, Norway, New Zealand and Monaco – have signed up to a UN-backed plan to become zero net emitters but none intend to achieve carbon neutrality as quickly as the Maldives, a nation of island atolls which is highly vulnerable to rising sea levels.

Earlier this week, Ahmed Shafeeq Ibrahim Moosa was appointed the country's new envoy for science and technology and is investigating ways to make the country carbon neutral. Mr Moosa, a former political activist and journalist, was appointed with a new Agricultural Minister, one of whose tasks is to reduce food imports.

Mr Moosa said: "Ten years – that's the target. We're going to be looking at solar, wind and waves and working out the best system for us. There will have to be a lot of education. People need to know everyone can do their bit. The Maldives is a small country with only 300,000 people. It will be achievable."

Local environmentalists welcomed the plan. Ali Rilwan, founder of Bluepeace, noted individual resorts were aiming at carbon neutrality, using solar panels to generate electricity and sea water for air-conditioning. "This is the sort of thing international donors are very interested in," he said.

The country's first democratically elected president, Mr Nasheed has made the environment a priority. Confronted by rising sea levels that threaten to swamp many of the 1,200 atolls that make up the Maldives, he announced plans for a fund to buy an alternative homeland, perhaps in India or Sri Lanka. The country has spent £30m on a three-metre-high flood defence wall around the capital, Male, but 80 per cent of the islands are just one metre above sea level or less.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Maldives bribed to recognize Kosovo?

The Maldivian parliament has launched an investigation into allegations that this country's government had recognized Kosovo in exchange for a USD 2mn bribe.

Parliament's national security committee that will investigate these claims will include the speaker and several MPs.

The Maldives foreign ministry officials will be interviewed, and official documents examined, Maldive's Minivan News reported today.

According to the media in this predominantly Muslim island nation in the Indian Ocean, which recognized Kosovo Albanians' unilateral independence declaration last month, the government officials, including foreign minister Ahmed Shaheed, had accepted a bribe from Behgjet Pacolli, who heads a Kosovo Albanian opposition party.

The price tag on the recognition was allegedly USD 2mn.

Pacolli was in Egypt last week, where a conference of the Arab League was held, "to lobby for independence", says Tanjug news agency.

He told Priština-based Albanian language daily Express that "three countries should recognize Kosovo by the end of March, one of them being Qatar".


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

UN support sought for WOC

Indonesia is suggesting the United Nations adopt the World Ocean Conference as its new international agenda for discussing ocean protection and climate change.

Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Freddy Numberi is seeking support from Indonesian lawmakers to ‘lobby’ the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to become an ‘umbrella’ for future talks on marine conservation.

“We hope the WOC in Manado will be the first Conference of Parties (COP), a new agenda for regularly discussing ocean development that could be placed under the UNEP program,” Freddy told the House of Representatives’ Commission I for foreign affairs and security in Jakarta on Thursday.

Indonesia will host the first WOC in Manado, North Sulawesi, on May 11-15. Around 10,000 delegates from 121 countries and some UN bodies such as UNEP, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have been invited.

The meeting, to be attended by ministers overseeing maritime and environmental affairs, will conclude with the signing of a non-binding Manado Ocean Declaration.

Senior officials from 43 countries began a two-day meeting in Jakarta on Thursday to drawn up a draft for the declaration.

Freddy said the declaration would detail the impacts of climate change on oceans, the role of oceans in regulating global climate change and opportunities for regional and international cooperation.

Maritime activities are currently regulated under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which came into effect in 1982.

Around 135 countries, including Indonesia, have ratified the UNCLOS, which outlines ground-rules on maritime activities.

The UNCLOS, however, does not address the method of managing maritime resources in circumstances of global climate change.

The oceans cover almost two thirds of the earth surface, with million of people living near and relying on the sea for food and income.

Experts predict the oceans are capable of storing about 50 times the carbon dioxide emissions currently released into the atmosphere.

Global warming could cause ocean acidification, temperature and sea level rise and flood entire small island states, such as the Maldives.

Indonesia has about 5.8 million hectares of ocean that could absorb up to 40 million tonnes of CO2 per year.

The maritime minister also unveiled an initiative for the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI) to legislators, claiming it was the world’s first initiative to protect coral from the severe impact of climate change.

The heads of states of six countries – Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands and Timor Leste – will officially launch the CTI at the sidelines of the WOC. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has confirmed his intention to witness the launch, while United States Secretary Hillary Clinton is also scheduled to attend.

Minister Freddy said preparations for the WOC were about 90 percent complete, though some obervers, including lawmaker Joko Susilo, have warned the government about ignoring pressing issues that require quick organization.


Sunday, March 1, 2009

South Asia urged to push lenders for payment relief

South Asia should push international lenders for a year's halt on payments and create a network of currency swaps to help weather the global crisis, Sri Lanka's president told a regional bloc on Friday.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who chairs the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), also urged a meeting of its foreign ministers to boost efforts to counter terrorism in a region beset by unrest and poverty.

"The instability caused by this crisis can be considered quite similar to the threat caused by terrorism to our societies and our region," he said.

SAARC represents roughly a fifth of the world's population, but has rarely risen above squabbles over a free trade agreement and has been hobbled by regional rivalries, particularly those between India and Pakistan.

Neither nation sent their foreign ministers to the two-day meeting. Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Bhutan, the Maldives and Nepal round out the rest of the group formed 23 years ago to boost economic cooperation.

Rajapaksa said the bloc should push multilateral and interational lenders for standstill arrangements on debts for at least a year "so that developmental initiatives ... will not have to be abruptly stopped".

"Such arrangements could also be flexible enough so that at the end of one year, these could be reviewed and extended if the global financial crisis would still exist," Rajapaksa said.

That issue is close to home for the Indian Ocean island nation, which saw its rupee currency hit an all-time low on Friday amid low foreign exchange reserves that prompted Fitch to cut its outlook to negative. [ID:nHKG210950]

To help bolster reserves, Sri Lanka has already entered into a currency swap deal worth $200 million with one country it will not name, and the central bank says it is in advanced discussions with two other nations.

Rajapaksa said a similar regional iniative would be a tonic to soothe the trickle-down effects of the crisis, as the ASEAN bloc has successfully implemented.

"I am reminded of the success in our adjacent region, East Asia, which during the East Asian financial crisis, created a network of bilateral swap arrangements and has now created a reserve fund to address liquidity problems," Rajapaksa said.

Full economic cooperation has long eluded SAARC, despite signing a free trade deal in 2006 that has yet to show any real benefits.

Intra-SAARC trade is just over 5 percent of South Asia's total trade, compared to 26 percent seen among ASEAN countries and 55 percent among EU members.

Sri Lanka is halfway through its one-year chairmanship, after an August summit in Colombo at which leaders signed a pact to combat terrorism and to create a food bank to fight hunger amid then-rising food prices.


Crisis won’t deter spending on higher education

Countries in South, South-West and Central Asia have decided to increase public spending on higher education notwithstanding the global financial crisis. This resolve to ensure that it does not suffer for want of funds was made at the conclusion of the two-day, sub-regional conference of South, South-West and Central Asia on Higher Education here on Thursday.

Adopting the resolution at the preparatory meeting of the region for the World Conference on Higher Education — slated for June in Paris — members said there was need to explore alternatives to augment available resources. They decided to encourage all stakeholders in local communities to participate in resource mobilisation.

Also, they favour expansion of higher education through national and regional funding. Though expansion of higher education in the region has been largely met through an expansion of the public system, the participating countries said possibilities of expanding private initiatives — consistent with public objectives — must be explored. Stating that public support was essential in those states where other actors might not be available,declaration placed on record the fact that contributions from philanthropic initiatives supplemented the expansion of higher education.

New approach

The Delhi Declaration also acknowledges the role of private initiatives in meeting the rapidly growing need for higher education, particularly technical and professional courses. However, the participating nations were of the view that private institutions should be inclusive in their approach to access. Also, the signatories urged private providers to balance disciplines for a well-rounded development of human resource in the region in keeping with the national regulatory framework.

The Declaration called for increasing enrolment in higher education in the region for participation in the global economy. It also recognised the need to increase enrolment to specially prepare quality faculty for all levels of education.

The Declaration said there was need to establish regulatory frameworks to ensure optimum benefits of cross-border educational opportunities and promote mutual collaboration and equal partnerships.

The two-day meeting was organised by the UNESCO in collaboration with Union Human Resource Development Ministry and drew participation from 14 countries including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Uzbekistan. It was the fourth in the series of six regional conferences being organised in the run-up to the World Conference.