Sunday, October 10, 2010

Eco Symposium: Maldives president says 'travel hurts us but we can't live without it'

Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed appealed to travel agents to package the Maldives as a low-carbon destination as it moves to be carbon-neutral by 2020. He cited host resort Soneva Fushi, set to be carbon-neutral in 2012, as a choice customers could make over more carbon-intensive destinations.

But speaking to TTG at the Eco Symposium 2010, he admitted he had no answer to the problem of travel’s economic contribution to the Maldives versus its climate impact on the region. “It’s bad, travel is going to hurt us, but we can’t live without it. We’ve fashioned an economy out of travel and leisure.

“The only alternative we would be able to offer is no carbon emissions once you come here - so increase the length of your stay to minimise impact.

“This is where I concede I don’t have a good answer.”

In a passionate speech to delegates, Nasheed made clear the stark realities of the crisis his country is facing.

“The signs are clear – there is no doubt,” he said. “This is a very present challenge, not an issue for the future. We have already had to relocate people from 16 islands and we have water problems on 70 islands, pressure on fish stock and food security issues.”

He said the prospect of relocation was very difficult to talk about or consider for him and his people. “We have been here 5,000 years, we have a written history 1,000 years old. I recently visited an island where eight homes were being evacuated. Everyone was crying. A woman said to me: ‘I can move but where will the butterflies go? Where will the sounds and colours go?’

“It is not easy to talk about but the bottom line is dry land.”

When asked how to get the US to tackle climate change, the president called on young people in the country to replicate the street protests of the 1960s in a bid to persuade politicians to take action.

He said: “To move the US we must have direct action. The battle must be fought on the street. Politicians do not do anything unless told to do so by the people.

“In the US it must be possible to galvanise the people. I believe it is possible and mass direct action must happen. I don’t know when it will happen, but I think we will see another 1960s when everybody is out on the streets.”

Nasheed said his government had tabled a new national building code this month as part of the move to carbon neutrality, and other moves included a recent ban on shark fishing, with a payout of $30 million to compensate families whose livelihoods were affected by the ban.


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