Climate Change — > A Scientific Theory for Most Nations = An Existential Crisis for Maldives
On the bucket lists of many, Maldives is a paradise offering the luxury of pristine white-sand beaches and shimmering, azure lagoons. Located in the Indian Ocean, Southwest of India and Sri Lanka, the archipelago nation comprises a string of 1,192 enthralling coral islands. The current predicament faced by this group of islands showcases exactly how vulnerabilities to climate change are not uniformly distributed globally, but critically faced by some.
Paradise to Paradox
It is both ironic and unfortunate that a tropical island, among the lowest contributors to global greenhouse gas emissions, is forecasted to be the first casualty of climate change. The world’s lowest-lying country at five feet above sea level is highly susceptible to rising sea levels, ocean acidification, vagaries in sea surface temperatures and adverse weather conditions. By the year 2100, 77% of Maldives could effectively be underwater.
Grappling to Stay Afloat, Literally
Tourism and fishing are the main drivers of economic growth in Maldives with biodiversity-based sectors contributing to 89% of GDP and 71% of employment. In 2015, 1.2 million tourists visited Maldives mainly from China, Germany, the UK, Italy and India. Therefore, any significant dip in the revenues of these two sectors will adversely impact Maldivians. The Maldivian dream of owning a boat someday, one that is akin to the American dream of owning a home, seems to be drifting away. In fact, many Maldivians live in constant fear of tidal waves, while the area is witnessing gradual erosion of coastal territory, and struggling with unpredictable fish migration patterns.
Are We Helping?
The 2009 World Bank-promoted Maldives Climate Change Trust Fund (“CCTF”) embodies the moral obligation of government agencies and aid programs of developed nations to provide technical and financial expertise to disadvantaged coastal communities. The Australian government and European Union have offered a long-term commitment to assist Maldives in addressing the challenges arising from climate change through monetary support and sharing of technical best practices.
The Modus Operandi
Under the CCTF, Australia and the EU have contributed $14 million in funding to spearhead a three-pronged strategy with the support of Maldivian government capability-building. They have adopted a targeted approach by selecting specific geographic regions and involving local stakeholder participation to generate awareness and inculcate a sense of accountability.
Coral Reef Protection and Wetland Conservation: Wetlands and coral colonies play a crucial role in promoting tourism and fishing and serve as natural defenses against soil erosion and floods. A recent survey revealed that approximately 60% of coral reefs were impacted by bleaching on account of rising ocean temperatures. Community-based drainage management, ecotourism and rainwater harvesting procedures have been implemented in a sustainable manner. A web-based technology platform was developed to aid private resorts in monitoring marine protected coral reefs. Rainwater harvesting and a desalination plant helped to mitigate the issue of limited groundwater resources.
Clean Energy for Climate Mitigation: The tourism sector accounts for one third of the country’s energy consumption. Grid-connected solar PV systems have been installed on Thinadoo island to provide 300 MWh of annual renewable energy so as to reduce fossil fuel consumption. In addition, several resorts have been encouraged to implement ecofriendly measures to contribute to greenhouse gas reductions.
Solid Waste Management: Haphazard disposal of solid waste has damaged the wetland and coral reef ecosystems. In response, recently set up waste management centers in Ari Atoll islands have played a hand in inculcating discipline in recycling and composting organic waste. The design of a transport system to remove residual waste efficiently has helped protect marine biodiversity and control greenhouse gas emissions.
Where the Gap Lies
The government agencies of Australia and the EU have played a meaningful role in Maldives’ effort to build resilience to climate change and generate awareness. However, one of the key drawbacks has been the lack of locally available skilled resources. The CCTF needs to invest resources to train public sector officials on biodiversity conservation and periodic assessment of development projects and collaborate with resorts to leverage the expertise of their marine biologists to help identify conservation strategies and track environmental quality. Moreover, a dedicated approach to test wind energy potential should be adopted so to supplement the ongoing solar energy efforts. A bottom up approach by investing CCTF funds to educate students on natural resource conservation through environmental projects and curriculum changes can have a long-lasting impact.
Before donor fatigue sets in, the government bodies and the World Bank must advocate for additional assistance from other donor countries to continue to implement projects. So long as Maldives continues to promote initiatives such as the Kyoto Protocol, Convention on Biodiversity and the recent Paris Climate Agreement, and makes a concerted effort to conserve resources, it deserves the support of NGOs and foreign governments to build infrastructure and capabilities to defend against climate change.
It’s Maldives Now, But Who is Next?
Sea levels have been rising at 0.14 inches annually since the early 1990s. If this trend is not curbed, coastal locations such as Venice, Florida and Maldives are exposed to the risk of getting submerged. The global community should be entrusted to introduce measures to avoid large-scale human resettlement and protect the natural and cultural heritage of coastal communities from being lost to the sea forever.
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Student comments on Climate Change — > A Scientific Theory for Most Nations = An Existential Crisis for Maldives
Very scary projections in this post! I’ve never been to the Maldives, but I certainly dream of doing so one day and it’s sad to think that this might not be possible in the future. You make a good point about a big obstacle being the lack of locally available skilled resources. The Maldives is not the only island nation facing these issues; so are many other island nations in Oceania. The Solomon Islands in particular have already had 5 or 6 islands become partially or completely submerged. I wonder if there can be a global task force that develops specialized knowledge on how to stave off this disaster – and can serve as a centralized knowledge base for many island nations to rely on? That could potentially address the lack of skilled resources to address what are likely many similar concerns across these island nations.
It is really an irony that the nations that have least contributed to the global warming are the ones having to pay for it the most.
It is amazing to see that Maldives is doing more than just protecting their Coral Reefs like investing in clean energy.
I would like to think that there is hope for these nations and that they are not just fighting a losing battle – After all the Paris Agreement came into force on 4th Nov 2016, thirty days after countries accounting for at least 55% of the greenhouse emissions ratified the agreement.
On the other hand, what the Paris agreement promises to achieve and eventually ends up achieving may not be enough to save countries like Maldives.
I don’t know the answer to that one, what I do know is that Maldives is now higher on my bucket list than it was before (which unfortunately also adds to the global warming!)
The Maldives are definitely the unfortunate losers in the global climate war as the islands are forced to suffer from exogenous factors that affect their biodiversity and weather patterns. One potential strategy to mitigate some of these costs would be to raise prices on the 1.2 million tourists flooding the islands every year. With either an entry or exit tax payable at the airport (the latter being commonly used by island nations and small airports), the Maldives can ensure that they will at least have some more financial resources to contend with the impending changes to their ecosystem. These taxes on tourists could also help fund the education and clean-up programs that you discussed, and I highly doubt that demand from tourists would wane much. My hypothesis is that trips to the Maldives are relatively price-elastic–if you have the money to fly there and book one of the high-end resorts, then a few extra dollars at the airport is a small price to pay for the ability to come back one day.
Carina, I appreciate the post. It is unfortunate that some of the most vulnerable people to climate change have been the least contributors to emissions.
The primary aim of the recent Paris agreement is to hold the increase in the global average temperature to under 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, particularly through reduction in greenhouse gas emissions . For the Paris agreement, each of the 195 participating countries submitted its plan (INDC) to reduce emissions based on its circumstances. Unfortunately, the agreement relies on political pressure to enforce pledges rather than international law as there are no enforcement mechanisms . There is a process to review each country’s progress against emission targets regularly.
By 2020, advanced countries pledged to contribute $100 billion per year to a fund, called Green Climate Fund, to support the efforts of developing countries to cope with the effects of climate change and reduce emissions . The Maldives should lobby to draw from the Green Climate Fund to fund some of its climate change programs. The Maldives should also explore other innovative sources of financing. For example, Brazil taxes airline tickets to support some of its social programs .
 UN, 2015. Adoption of the Paris Agreement, Paris: Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC).
 Levi, M. A., 2015. Was the Paris climate deal a success. Newsweek, 14 December.
 Manolas, E., 2016. The Paris climate change agreement. International Journal of Environmental Studies, 73(2), pp. 167-169.
 UNITAID, 2010. Annual Report, Geneva: UNITAID.
This is an incredibly poignant and relevant post. We should certainly use the Maldives as a ‘case study’ warning for other areas that could too fall victims of rising sea levels. I am also interested in how the Maldives is coping with how climate change is threatening access to fresh water – I remember reading that a few years ago drinking water had to be flown in from India for the capital when the only desalination plant was set on fire – which is in no way sustainable! Attached is the article from the Telegraph – would love to discuss it further with you!
Carina – I think your post raises an excellent question regarding who should pay for climate change mitigation and conservation efforts. (If you are interested, check out this article: https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/S0030605303000413) As you point out, many tourists from around the globe flock to the Maldives to enjoy a slice of paradise. However, costs of conservation are often borne disproportionately by the local communities and residents. While the Maldives has implemented several initiatives including “Coral Reef Protection and Wetland Conservation”, perhaps the Maldives could also implement a “conversation tax” for foreign tourists. While a tax has the potential to distort incentives and discourage tourism, I think that the monetary benefits may outweigh the potential costs and may help the Maldives invest in flood mitigation efforts for the long term.