Wednesday, December 16, 2009

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."


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