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.


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