Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Political upheaval should not affect Maldive climate policy - official

A change of leaders in the Maldives should not affect the country’s much-praised climate policy and the country remains committed to becoming the world’s first carbon neutral country, a top environmental official told AlertNet. The Maldives, a collection of picture-perfect islands and small atolls in the Indian Ocean favoured by well-heeled tourists, is one of the world's countries most vulnerable to climate change. It is the lowest-lying country on the planet, with an average ground level of 1.5 metres (5 feet) above sea level. Over the last century, sea levels have risen by about 20 cm (8 inches) and further rises could submerge the Maldives. Ibrahim Naeem, head of the country’s Environmental Protection Agency, said the recent political upheaval which saw the overthrow of president Mohamed Nasheed, a well-known climate change campaigner, would not derail the Maldives’ leadership on climate issues.  “True, Nasheed has been very vocal and very popular with western society. He's really a good man advocating for (action on) climate change and the impacts we're facing in the Maldives,” Naeem told AlertNet. “But I don't think this change will bring any change to the climate policy because it is (Nasheed’s) vice-president who's ruling the country now,” he said, speaking on the sidelines of the Second Asia Pacific Climate Adaptation Forum in Bangkok. Naeem earlier told the audience at a panel discussion on challenges faced by small island states that “climate change is already knocking at our doors but… we are working very vigorously on that.” “The Maldivians have been living in these islands for over 3,000 years and we don't have any intention to leave this country,” he insisted. The country is moving to renewable energy - it has begun installing solar panels in several large buildings in the capital Malé and plans are ongoing to construct wind power generation facilities, he said. Even the Presidential Palace now runs on solar power, he said. The country also has established seven water facilities in regional islands to help with increasing water shortages during the hot season and to reduce the cost of providing desalinated water from a central desalination plant. ‘POPULATION CONSOLIDATION’ POLICY Perhaps the most ambitious project the country of about 400,000 is embarking on is what it calls the “Population Consolidation Policy,” in which resident of some of the smaller and remote islands with less than 200 inhabitants are being encouraged to move to larger regional hubs with better facilities and protection from flooding. "We have to do that in order to survive because we can't afford to have sea walls or coastal protection around all the inhabited islands," Naeem said.    In an interview with AlertNet, he said the government will provide incentives for whoever is willing to move but the final number of relocations has not been decided. “We have done a series of consultations with people who want to move and people who are willing to accept them. Those consultations took a very long time because sometimes some people don't like to move,” he said. About 3,000 people have been moved so far, and care has been taken to ensure that islands selected for relocation have roads, facilities and land use plans to accommodate the newcomers, he said. “It is very important for the international community to realise the importance of adaptation, not mitigation, to small island states like the Maldives because climate change is already here,” he said. “The Maldives becoming carbon-neutral doesn't mean anything to the international world in terms of emissions because we emit very low amounts of carbon dioxide. But we want to show that if we can become carbon neutral, why not other countries?” he said. “I think we have to be more serious and take action rather than talking and having meetings everywhere,” he said. Source:

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