Wednesday, December 16, 2009

You can’t cut a deal with Mother Nature says Maldives president

For the past week, a striking photo exhibition has lined one of the walls inside DGI-Byen, where the people’s climate conference (Klimaforum09) is taking place alongside the official UN meetings. While many of the displays at Klimaforum09 document the difficulties in the Global South, few draw such important attention as the BluePeace photography display aptly titled ‘Vulnerable’. Depicting scenes from life in the Maldives, a nation precariously close to sea level, the pictures document island erosion, protective sea walls, and houses forced onto stilts due to rising water levels. Captions below each photo explore ideas that fisheries will be run out of business — or worse, that an entire nation of people will be displaced in the coming years, climate refugees from one of the most beautiful places in the world.

The small island nation in the Indian Ocean is home to over 300,000 people spread across 200 inhabited islands out of 1,192 that make up the country. One of the most widely geographically disparate countries in the world, the Maldives is also the nation closest to sea level. While often described as a tropical vacation paradise in tourism brochures, the islands hit the headlines in the wake of the 2004 tsunami. A total of six Maldivian islands were lost in the disaster, and nearly 60 others were evacuated.

In a low sea level climate prone to monsoons and erosion, problems with extreme weather have forced many communities onto higher ground. The nation’s coral reefs, which serve as natural sea walls and protect against floods and tidal waves, have been slowly dying off as water temperatures continue to rise and pH levels in the ocean shift. Fish that rely on the reefs for a home have also perished, leaving the people that depend on the fishing industry scrambling to make ends meet.

But among Maldivian people, even in the face of such adversity, hope has been on the rise. This week, their optimism spread all the way to Copenhagen and excitement reached a fever pitch at Klimaforum09 on Monday when it was announced that President Mohamed Nasheed, the Maldives’ first democratically elected leader, would address his country’s commitment to becoming carbon-neutral in an effort to thwart the effects of global warming. Sitting with well-known American writer and activist Bill McKibben, President Nasheed spoke to a crowd he addressed as ‘fellow environmentalists’.

Nasheed’s own history is as complicated as that of his home. A former political prisoner in his own country for his outspoken criticism of the government, Nasheed has been recognized as an Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience since 1991 and lived as a political refugee outside his home country between 2003 and 2005. On a number of occasions before his self-imposed exile, he was imprisoned for his statements against the government. It has been reported that during his prison sentences, he was placed in solitary confinement and tortured.

While in exile Nasheed helped found the first political party in the Maldives, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), through which he rose to power last year. The MDP, a liberal party committed to human rights and democracy, has had an impressive first year under Nasheed. In addition to Nasheed’s pledge to turn the country carbon-neutral through the use of solar and wind power; in cooperation with Bill McKibben’s campaign, President Nasheed held an underwater cabinet meeting in October to draw attention to the threat of climate change to low-lying island nations around the world.

In his speech on Monday afternoon, President Nasheed explained that after overcoming personal battles in the name of democracy, his country now stands to test the international community with the task of standing up for small island nations. In a speech given alongside McKibben, Nasheed made references to his own time as a political prisoner as he demanded a reversal in climate change patterns. “Four years later and a continent away, we meet here to confront another seemingly impossible task” Nasheed said, referring to his 2005 return to the Maldives. “We are here to save our planet from the silent, patient and invisible enemy that is climate change.”

Echoing Klimaforum09 themes from the previous week — that smaller nations can set an example for the world’s superpowers, and that indigenous activists are leading the fight against global warming — President Nasheed expressed his hope that the Maldives will set a precedent for other countries. “We believe that if the Maldives can become carbon neutral; richer, larger countries can follow”, he stated. “But if there is one thing I know about politicians, it’s that they won’t act until their electorates act first”. Asking citizens to become more involved, Nasheed stated, “This is where you come in.”

Like other speakers at the people’s climate summit who have advocated non-violent resistance, Nasheed asked the assembled crowd to consider action in the streets. “History shows us the power of peaceful protest. From the civil rights movement, to Gandhi’s Quit India campaign; non-violent protest can create change”. Nasheed added hopefully, “Protest worked in the struggle for democracy in the Maldives”. His presence in the Copenhagen auditorium proved that much.

Throughout his speech, Nasheed repeated the figure ‘350’, referring to the safe upper limit of CO2 in parts per million in the atmosphere. “I am not a scientist, but I know that one of the laws of physics is that you cannot negotiate with the laws of physics”, Nasheed stated. “Three – Five – Oh”, he spelled out, “is a law of atmospheric physics. You cannot cut a deal with Mother Nature. And we don’t intend to try”.

While deeply inspiring for the auditorium packed full of activists, scientists and journalists, it is still uncertain whether the needs of island nations like the Maldives will be considered and respected as the official UN talks wrap up this week. With some nations threatening to walk out and others absent for parts of this week, it remains to be seen if President Nasheed’s concerns will be taken on board — or whether it will truly be a movement of the people that saves countries like the Maldives.


Copenhagen: Alex Salmond throws a lifeline to sinking Maldives

ALEX Salmond has pledged to help one of the world's most vulnerable nations to fight the effects of climate change, in an address to an international audience in Copenhagen.

The First Minister signed a joint statement with the president of the Maldives at a fringe event yesterday, as world leaders gathered in the Danish capital to thrash out a global deal to beat climate change.

Mr Salmond promised to share technology and research with the Maldives, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean at particular risk from sea-level rises.

Critics questioned whether the new relationship was a stunt, and claimed the First Minister had been left embarrassed after California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, London mayor Boris Johnson and United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki Moon, who were scheduled to speak at the side event, all pulled out.

Maldives profile: Island paradise just 6ft above the sea fears

However, Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed hailed Scotland for its support, which was pledged in front of about 350 people at a Climate Leaders Summit. The First Minister said: "The Maldives face a very real threat from rising sea levels, and I share President Nasheed's ambition to prevent the environmental disaster and human rights' catastrophe that would befall the islands, should the world fail to tackle this problem."

The Maldives, an archipelago of 1,200 islands, is at risk of disappearing under rising seawater. The nation's highest point is only 6ft above sea level. Mr Nasheed praised Scotland for its support.

"Maldives and Scotland have signed a joint statement, to develop a concrete plan of action next year aimed at co-operation on climate mitigation," he said. "We are inspired by its commitment to low-carbon growth. Scotland is an example for others to follow."

Ahmed Moosa, the president's envoy for science and technology, told The Scotsman that both were small countries trying to make a big difference. The Maldives is aiming to become carbon-neutral by 2020 and Scotland has set ambitious laws to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 42 per cent.

"Both countries are leading by example and the message is everyone should work together to try to get a solution," he said.

Mr Moosa, who lives in Glasgow and is also attending the summit, added: "You might think, 'What's the big deal of Scotland and Maldives working together?' If our emissions become zero, it's not going to change the impact of climate change, but the message is, 'Let's lead by example'."

The finer details of the partnership will be thrashed out next year, but a Scottish Government spokeswoman said it would not involve Scotland giving money to the Maldives.

Scottish ministers have been left out of the official UK delegation to the Copenhagen summit, but Mr Salmond decided to attend, alongside Scottish Government climate change minister Stewart Stevenson.

Other speakers at the Climate Leaders Summit included Prince Albert II of Monaco; Mike Rann, the premier of South Australia; and Jean Charest, the premier of Quebec. Prince Charles spoke at the opening of the high-level section of the talks, in which he told delegates they had the power to "write our future".

Labour's environment spokeswoman, Sarah Boyack, said she supported the idea of a partnership with the Maldives, but added: "I hope it isn't a stunt. I hope they have thought through the long-term relationship."

She thought it had become "embarrassing" for Mr Salmond that Mr Schwarzenegger had pulled out of talking at the same event.

She said: "Alex Salmond's visit to Copenhagen is becoming embarrassing. Instead of chasing Arnie around with his autograph book, the First Minister should get back to Scotland, roll up his sleeves and get on with the real work of reducing carbon emissions. The reality is that he's had six months to get things moving after the parliament passed our Climate Change Act, but so far we've yet to see any progress."

However, an aide for Mr Salmond denied that the non- appearance of Mr Schwarzenegger and the others was a snub.

"Obviously, they decide their particular schedule nearer the time. They were down to attend but, given the huge variety of different events, other representatives will take their place."

A group of 17 activists disrupted the Climate Leaders Summit, protesting against the support of the organisers, the Climate Group, for carbon trading. They held banners reading "Climate Group: Leading us into climate chaos", before being arrested.

Green MSP Patrick Harvie said: "It's hardly surprising that the First Minister finds himself snubbed by Arnie and on the wrong end of climate protests, given his love for new motorways and coal power stations."


Maldives president: People, not politicians, can save the planet

The president of the Indian Ocean nation of the Maldives Islands, Mohamed Nasheed, stressed the power of people to take action on climate change, when he spoke to a packed audience at Klimaforum09, the alternative climate summit in Copenhagen, on December 13.

“The social movements have the power to save the planet from the effects of climate change”, Nasheed said. “My message to you is to continue the process of movement building after the conference.”

Nasheed used his own personal story to illustrate the point. A few years ago, he was in prison because of his work as a human rights activists, but upon his release he became the first democratic elected president of the island nation acutely threatened by the rising sea levels.

“We had no power, but our cause”, the president explained, before he went on to promise to turn his country into the first CO2 neutral society in the world in just ten years time.

“Let us make the goal of reaching 350 parts per million. We believe that if the Maldives can become carbon neutral so can larger countries.”


Sunday, December 13, 2009

'Renewables produce cheaper electricity than generators'

Maldives confident cost of ambitious plan to go carbon-neutral by 2020 will be more than justified by the savings when it would no longer have to spend on oil

Maldives: President Mohammad Nasheed believes climate change is the 21st century's greatest human rights issue and has called for massive investments in renewable energy and green technologies to address this critical issue.

His government aims to eliminate the use of fossil fuels by 2020, with plans for renewable generation of electricity and new power transmission infrastructure, including wind turbines, rooftop solar panels and biomass plants.

The move will require significant investment and support from developed nations across the globe. Gulf News spoke to President Nasheed on his recently-announced plans to make the Indian Ocean islands carbon-neutral within a decade.

Gulf News: What will be the cost of reaching your ambitious 2020 carbon-neutral goal?

Mohammad Nasheed: The Maldives carbon-neutral plan was drafted in February by British climate change experts Chris Goodall and Mark Lynas. The plan calculates that the Maldives can attain carbon-neutral status in ten years by switching from oil to wind, solar and biomass for electricity production, switching to biofuels for maritime transport and offsetting aviation pollution.

The plan calculates the cost of achieving carbon-neutral status at approximately $1.1 billion (Dh4 billion) over ten years. The plan would pay back, however, in 11-20 years (depending on the oil price) as we would no longer have to spend money importing oil.

The government is actively seeking foreign investments in our energy, transport and waste sectors. This year, we signed two agreements with international energy companies, who are planning to build farms in the Maldives. We hope to attract further investments in future. Renewables produce cheaper electricity in the Maldives than our existing diesel generators, enabling investors to make good profits and consumers to enjoy cheaper power.

What incentives do you think should be given to developed countries to help poorer nations in this respect?

In the Maldives, successful climate change adaptation has not been possible in the absence of good governance. The Maldives has recently undergone a peaceful transition from authoritarianism to democracy. The previous government spent tens of millions of dollars on adaptation projects in islands across the country. Most of these projects have failed. The projects were built in the wrong place, the contracts were given to the wrong people, local people objected to what was proposed. In order to have successful adaptation, we need a mechanism whereby local people can tell those in power how best to undertake adaptation projects on their islands. For the Maldives, that mechanism is democratic good governance.

What measures will the Maldives take if the international community does not rise to the challenge of making the Maldives carbon-neutral by 2020, as they may be spending to make their own economies and industries greener?

We believe that going carbon neutral is not only the right thing to do, it also makes economic sense. Oil supplies are running out and fossil fuel prices unpredictable. Renewable energy lessens our dependence on fossil fuel imports, minimising uncertainty and enhancing energy security. Moreover, while renewable infrastructure is quite costly, once it is in place the operational costs are lower than fossil fuels because raw materials such as the sun, the wind and the waves are essentially free. So renewables offer long term cost savings.

Do you still have plans of purchasing land abroad as security if the Maldives disappear due to rising sea levels?

Nobody in the Maldives wants to leave home. The government is doing everything we possibly can to remain here. We are improving sea defences, such as sea walls, revetments and embankments. We are working to improve the coral reefs and coastal vegetation, which are our islands' natural defence mechanisms. And we are exploring new building designs, such as building houses on stilts so they withstand storm surges and floods. The bottom line, however, is dry land and if the world allows the climate crisis to turn into a catastrophe, then future generations of Maldivians will have no choice but to seek new homes on higher ground. I believe it is right to have this conversation today so we can start to plan for the problems tomorrow may bring.

Last year, I suggested we should start saving a portion of our tourism revenues in a Sovereign Wealth Fund, to help future generations cope with climate change.

Ultimately, this fund could be used to help people leave.

I stress that this is not a problem unique to the Maldives. We are merely the first people who are talking out loud about these issues. If we ignore the warning signs and continue blindly down a ‘business as usual' polluting path, then it will not just be Maldivians looking for a new home but also the good people of London, New York and Hong Kong.


Friday, December 11, 2009

Small island states on Friday unveiled a draft deal they say is the minimum needed to halt climate change and which answers concerns of major developing nations like China who held up talks over a similar proposal.

The draft from the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) would set extremely stringent emissions reduction targets for developed nations that go far beyond their current offers and are likely to be rejected.

The draft calls for developed nations to cut emissions 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and provide financial aid to poor countries equivalent to up to 1 percent of national income.

The group also wants a legally binding deal in Copenhagen, even though hosts Denmark say this is highly unlikely.

"Major emitters among the industrialised countries must take the major responsibility for the past and the major responsibility as we go forward," Dessima Williams, chair of the AOSIS group of 43 members, told a news conference.

Selwyn Hart, from Barbados, said the draft answered the main concerns of Chinese negotiators who rejected a similar proposal from the tiny Pacific Island state of Tuvalu. Beijing objected largely because it cast doubt over the Kyoto Protocol, he said.

"The major differences are not with content," said Hart.

Debate over the Tuvalu proposal stalled the main talks for two days, although sideline discussions on issues such as technology transfer and financing have continued.

Williams said she did not expect a repeat of Beijing's objections and had met with the G77 and China, a grouping of developing nations, to discuss the proposal.


But even if it protects the Kyoto Protocol, other elements are likely to concern the Chinese team, who say the right to develop must come before the fight against climate change.

Island states that face inundation if sea levels rise say nothing is more important than curbing carbon emissions.

"Our draft does not require developing countries to undertake quantified emission reductions," said Hart.

"However ... it is impossible for our ambitious targets to be met without action by all countries, including ourselves."

The draft calls for a cut in global emissions of 85 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

It also aims to limit temperature rises to just 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels -- below the 2 degrees targeted by most major emitters.

But the delegates say their proposals are serious and they want the ambition level of the talks stepped up.

"Survival is not negotiable," said Maldives Environment Minister Mohamed Aslam. "We do not want people to walk out at the end of this conference feeling good but having done nothing."

Tuvalu delegate Ian Fry said it was not out of the question that some leaders, who arrive for a summit next week, could block a deal if it was too weak.

"It's possible if there's no intention of seriously considering a legal agreement at this meeting, a number of heads could say 'This isn't good enough'," he told Reuters.


India-Maldives final tomorrow: Bangladesh crash out of SAFF Championship

Bangladesh's hope to play the final of the Bangabandhu 6th SAFF Championship was shattered as they suffered a 0-1 goal defeat to India in the second semifinal at the Bangabandhu National Stadium (BNS) here Friday.

India will now play the high voltage SAFF final Sunday against the holders Maldives, which earlier confirmed their final berth eliminating Sri Lanka in the day's other semifinal at the same venue.

The final kicks off at 7:30 pm. State-owned Bangladesh Television (BTV) will telecast live the match.

In the day's match, Indian skipper Sushil Kumar Singh scored the all-important goal for India in the 62nd minute with a ground shot four yards from the D-box after taking a close pass from his fellow Rebert Lalthlamuana, leaving the jam-packed stadium in a mood of despair.

Thousands of Bangladesh supporters came to cheer their team on the weekend, but they had to leave the big bowl in frustration after the final whistle.

Three times SAFF champion India today clearly dominated Bangladesh in the whole proceeding and played a better football compared to their previous group three matches. But the hosts ultimately could not come back.

India launched the first attack in the 19th minute as Rebert Lalthlamuana header off Denzil free kick from danger zone went beside the sidebar.

He again took a powerful free kick from 10 yards form the goal bar, but this time Bangladesh custodian Aminul brilliantly fisted the ball.

Aminul again foiled the Indian attack when Jibon Sing took an angular shot from vantage position in the in the 39th minute.

Bangladesh got only a scoring chance in the 43rd minute, but Zahid Parvez powerful shot from outside the danger zone was saved by dependable Indian custodian Arindam at a cost of corner.

In 2005 SAFF Championship in Karachi, India beat Bangladesh by 2-0 goal.

Yellow cards: Jibon and Rebert (India); Ariful (Bangladesh).


Huge wind farm to get even bigger

Planning approval has been given for a wind farm in Scotland to grow - making it the largest onshore site in Europe.

The Whitelee wind farm on Eaglesham Moor, East Renfrewshire, currently has 140 turbines.

ScottishPower Renewables has been given the go-ahead to add another 39 turbines bringing the wind farm's generating capacity up to 593 MW.

The Scottish government said the growth would enable the site to power 275,000 homes and support 200 jobs.

The expansion was announced by First Minister Alex Salmond at a news conference in Edinburgh.

He said: "Scotland continues to lead the way in developing the technology and capacity - in renewables, in carbon capture, in energy efficiency measures - to reduce emissions and mitigate climate change.

"The Whitelee extension underlines Scotland's place at the cutting edge of green energy and our comprehensive climate change framework, including the world-leading emission reduction targets of 42% and 80% by 2020 and 2050 respectively."

'Ambitious targets'

Mr Salmond also unveiled plans to work with one of the countries most vulnerable to rising sea levels to tackle the impact of global warming.

The first minister said he would be in Copenhagen next week to sign a joint-statement with The Maldives President, Mohamed Nasheed.

This will highlight Scotland's ambitious climate change targets and press for a similarly ambitious global agreement.

He added: "This week Scotland became one of the first countries in the world to publish a climate change adaptation framework.

"Along with our plans to increase green energy capacity and cut emissions, our adaption plans can provide an exemplar to other nations on building resilience to the potential risks.

"This will form part of our work with the Maldives, to transfer knowledge about the capacity building needed to respond to the huge challenges posed by the climate change around us."