Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Leading by an achievable example

A promise that the Maldives will go carbon-neutral in 10 years is not just good for PR, says the country's president Mohamed Nasheed. In this week's Green Room, he argues that the goal sets an example for the developed world proving that a green country is not only practical, it is profitable.

Some people may find it ironic that the Maldives, which emits just a tiny proportion of global carbon dioxide emissions, has set the most ambitious carbon reduction goals of any nation on Earth. To some, it may seem even odder that the Maldives has made such stringent environmental targets when it is also a relatively poor, developing country.

Conventional wisdom dictates that small, developing nations such as the Maldives should refuse to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. This wisdom suggests that we should be lobbying for permits to pollute more, while apportioning blame for climate change squarely on the shoulders of big, industrialised nations.

But I am sceptical of this conventional wisdom, and of finger-pointing at the West, for neither of these policy positions does anything to help solve the climate crisis.

And what a crisis climate change is. Scientists meeting in Copenhagen earlier this year warned that Arctic ice is melting quicker than anyone previously imagined possible.

Experts further cautioned that 85% of the Amazon rainforest will die if temperatures continue to soar. This week, the World Health Organisation published a report which calculated that climate change is claiming the lives of a third of a million people every year.

Rising threat

These warnings are particularly alarming for the Maldives, an Indian Ocean nation of tropical coral islands, just 1.5m above the sea. But climate change does not just threaten the Maldives, it threatens us all.

There is a growing consensus that, unless the world takes drastic action to slash carbon pollution, warming will tip beyond man's control, unleashing unprecedented global catastrophe.

This is why, on 15 March this year, the Maldives announced its plans to become the world's first carbon-neutral country in ten years. Our oil-fired power stations will be replaced with solar, wind and biomass plants; our waste will be turned into clean electricity through pyrolysis technology; and a new generation of boats will slash marine transport pollution. By 2020, the use of fossil fuels will be virtually eliminated in the Maldivian archipelago.

People often ask me why a country that contributes less than 0.1% of global greenhouse gas emissions should bother to go carbon neutral. After all, the Maldives' environmental efforts will not stop global warming if big polluters refuse to countenance all but token emissions reductions. One thing a small nation can do, however, is show the world that rapid reductions in emissions are possible, practical and profitable.

'Free advertising'

Since announcing the carbon neutrality goal a little over two months ago, the Maldives has witnessed something of an environmental enlightenment. Dozens of foreign technology and energy companies have approached us, keen to set up pilot renewable energy projects in the islands.

Multilateral funders and development agencies have offered to finance green projects. And local Maldivian companies are starting to pioneer environmentally friendly technologies that could make them world leaders in the green economy of the future.

The global publicity around the announcement has also provided free advertising for government policies such as the part-privatisation of our energy, waste and transport sectors (naturally, green investors will be given preference).

Carbon neutrality also boosts our tourism industry, as increasingly eco-conscious tourists seek out climate guilt-free destinations. In time, our economy will also be more stable as it decouples from the unpredictable price of foreign oil and relies instead on cheap, raw materials the Maldives has in abundance: the sun, sea and the wind.

The Maldives should certainly benefit from greening its economy. But it is on the world stage that I hope our environmental efforts will add most value. The Maldives' example provides ammunition to environmentalists and concerned citizens around the world. The common bureaucratic excuse - that drastic emissions cuts are unfeasible - is now a little less credible.

If a small, developing nation can go carbon neutral, what excuse can richer, industrialised countries have for refusing to do the same? By demonstrating that radical climate change action is achievable, the Maldives can act as a beacon of hope in a sea of environmental lethargy.

The Green Room is a series of opinion articles on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website

Do you agree with President Nasheed? Is one small country's effort enough to influence that of major global carbon emitters? Do the economic differences between giant and tiny nations make the Maldives' example irrelevant to larger economies? Can a shift to carbon-neutral be a profitable prospect for the globe?

Source: BBC News


Maria@Conversations with Moms said...

That is such an amazing goal for a small country or any country for that fact. Way to set the example.

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