Maldives: Many islands will disappear, despite COP 21 agreement

Abdullahi Majeed, the Maldives’ Minister of State for Environment & Energy, fears that many island states will be wiped off the map, even if an ambitious agreement is reached at COP 21. EURACTIV France reports

Abdullahi Majeed is Minister of State for Environment & Energy of the Maldives and has represented his country at the international climate negotiations since the Rio summit in 1992. He answered EURACTIV’s questions at the international symposium “Cooperation for addressing climate change challenges” in Paris.

The next international Climate Conference will be held in Paris in December 2015. How are the Maldives preparing their national contribution for this event?

We began work on our national contribution for Paris Climate 2015 (COP 21) six months ago, with the help of the Global Environment Facility. We hope to have it ready by August or early September.

At the moment we spend a lot of money on oil; nearly 30% of our GDP. But oil is a double-edged sword for us, because it is expensive and polluting. We hope to develop solar energy to produce 30% of our daily energy needs.

Today we produce two to three hours worth of the energy consumption of the smaller islands from solar. In Malé, the capital, we currently only produce 4% of our energy in this way. It is an ambitious objective, but we hope to achieve it within four years.

The Maldives are currently at the head of the Alliance of Small Island States, which are directly impacted by the effects of climate change. What difficulties do these states face?

The Alliance of Small Island States has 44 members. Our main problem is that we are very small countries at very low altitudes. The average height of the Maldives is only 1.2 metres above sea level, so of course we are seriously threatened by rising sea levels!

The Maldives are made up of 1200 islands, of which 200 are inhabited. Our geography is our main challenge.

We are also often exposed to natural disasters, like the cyclone that recently hit Vanuatu. A tsunami, like the one that occurred in 2004, takes a few minutes to destroy everything; we spent ten years rebuilding.

What is more, ten years ago the dry season lasted three months in the Maldives. Now it lasts for five months and causes water shortages, because drinking water on many of the small islands comes from rain water and wells. Right now, 53 islands are asking for water to be delivered from the capital. We have had to rent a cargo ship, fill it with water and send it out to supply the islands, some of which take two days to reach by boat. This is a costly exercise that we have been doing for almost ten years.

The World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction that took place in Japan last week ended in a disappointing agreement…

I have been taking part in climate negotiations since the beginning of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and I know just how frustrating these international conferences can be!

In Sendai, we hoped to reach an ambitious compromise, especially with the catastrophe that was unfolding in Vanuatu. It is only a matter of time before these natural disasters affect the whole planet.

The Paris conference will be an opportunity to discuss how adaptation to climate change will be funded. What do you expect from developed countries?

We expect more. The developed countries had promised a Green Climate Fund of $100 billion, but for the moment only $10 billion have been raised! It is not good to make promises if you do not intend to keep them.

Sometimes, certain developing countries – especially the poorest countries and small island states – are seen as a “bunch of beggars”. There may be some truth in this, but the developed countries saw to their own development and their industrial revolutions, and now we are the ones that are suffering the consequences of climate change.

But it is more than just a question of money. We don’t have the technical capacity, or the education, necessary to deal with these problems.

We need not only money, but also access to technology and the means to inform our populations.

Before, the main problem was the attitude of the United States, a big polluter that did not take part in the fight against climate change. Fortunately, President Obama has brought the United States on board. At least once in my life, I will have seen an American President who recognises the reality of climate change and wants to be part of the solution. This is real progress.

You have taken part in many international climate negotiations. Are you optimistic about the Paris conference?

Over the last three years, we have held discussion after discussion. We hope the document on the negotiating table today will lead to a binding action plan in Paris.

When the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997, the small island states had called for a greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of 25%, and we ended up with an objective of 5%! Today, scientists agree on the fact that greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced by at least 60 or 70% in order to stabilise the effects of climate change, like rising sea levels and melting ice caps. But the best we can hope for this time is an objective of 40%

Even so, many people still think it will be very difficult to keep the global temperature rise to below +2°C, and that we could end up with a rise of 4 or 5°C! In this situation there would be no future for many small island states.