Maldives: Addressing Climate Change from the Frontline

By Vositha Wijenayake

At 4 feet 11 inches (1.50 meters) above sea level, and the flattest and lowest lying country on Earth, the Republic of Maldives is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. With IPCC AR5 predictions on temperature rise that will result in rising sea levels, the country faces the very real possibility of its land area being underwater by the end of this century. Ambassador Ahmed Sareer, the Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York expressed his concerns over the climatic impacts faced by his country and how the Climate Change Negotiations of the UNFCCC needs to address the growing concerns of the most vulnerable.

Climate Change, an Issue without Borders

“The recent findings of the IPCC Working Groups 2 and 3 underline that climate change is indeed, a borderless issue. Small or big, all nations are subject to the impacts of climate change. However, the low-lying small island developing states are the most vulnerable to climate change and its associated impacts, particularly food and water security, coastal erosion, devastation from extreme weather events and disruption to livelihoods. Maldives is at the frontline of climate change impacts. Our livelihood, health, and homes are being directly threatened by this problem. These irreversible changes threaten everyone. But they will hit us hardest. And they will hit us first,” said the Ambassador.

While highlighting the vulnerability of his country, he also expressed the urgency to take action and to achieve progress in the negotiations of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. He commented on the recent Negotiations held in Bonn and stated that, though that there have been some progress made, the negotiations did not move at the pace required. “We need to move more swiftly towards reaching an Agreement,” he said.

The Ambassador further added that the country has been following the discussions on the pre-2020 ambition during the Negotiations and that he believes that it can be accelerated with more political dialogue and commitment.

“While, we have to consider what we have agreed in Bali, particularly on enhancing delivery of finance, technology, and capacity building, to achieve these we need courage and leadership from developed countries. There must be a balance between the two work streams, if we want to achieve a meaningful outcome as mandated by the Durban platform. The level of ambition in reducing the Greenhouse Gas emission is very critical in achieving the ultimate objective of the UNFCCC,” he added.

UNFCCC Negotiations and Intended Nationally Determined Contributions

Another important issue that has been discussed during the intersession of the UNFCCC held in Bonn this June has been the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). Maldives has been following this topic with interest and deems it to be one of the critical issues.

“We have been following the discussion on the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). We see that this is a critical issue, as this would show the determination by the parties on their commitment. The elements and definitions of INDCs need to be finalised soon as the deadline for the submission is approaching fast.”

Climate negotiations not only happens as individual countries, but also as country blocks which represent co-operation, and common concerns of the members of these blocks. Speaking on the role of Maldives within country blocks, the Ambassador stated, “As far as co-operation within groups, Maldives works extremely closely with AOSIS and G77. Individually, Maldives has been raising its voice for more meaningful action. Collectively, we are advocating these positions within the Groups.”

Elements of the 2015 Agreement

The UNFCCC Negotiations focus on a new agreement, which many call as the 2015 Agreement, as it is expected to be the outcome of 21st Conference of Parties to be held in Paris in 2015. The Durban Platform consists of two Work Streams:

1) During the latest session of negotiations, under Work Stream 1, the ADP discussed: mitigation; adaptation; finance; technology and capacity building (means of implementation); transparency; intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs); and other issues related to elements.

2) Under Work Stream 2, Thematic Expert Meetings (TEMs) on the urban environment and land use were organised, and a forum on the role of cities and subnational authorities in mitigation and adaptation was also convened.

When questioned on Maldives’s view on the 2015 Agreement, Ambassador Sareer highlighted the need to take informed decisions which are fact-based, and respecting the latest scientific findings.

“We need to make science and fact-based informed decisions and consider the recent scientific developments and findings such as the recent 5th Assessment Report of IPCC. Issues such as food and water security, coastal erosion, extreme weather events, disruption to livelihood and other worsening climate impacts cannot be ignored,” he said.

He further expressed the importance of financial commitments being an integral part of the 2015 Agreement, as well as the issue of loss and damage being one of key importance.

“We believe that it is important that adequate predictable and sustained financial commitments are an integral part of the 2015 agreement to implement adaptation and mitigation actions, while emphasising ways of implementing these actions. This must take into account the adaptation, mitigation, technology transfer and capacity needs of the most vulnerable countries. The issue of loss and damage with a risk transfer mechanism need to be part of the 2015 Agreement,” said the Ambassador.

Climate Change, a Treat to National Security

With the increase of scientific data on the impacts of climate change and its impacts being felt through the displacement of many communities in the world, climate change is considered one of the key security threats to many countries. This is due to internal displacement and migration, resulting in impacts on national security of countries with many displaced. The situation has further created the need for redefining the term “ refugee” under international law.

“For the Maldives, tackling climate change is not only an issue that drives the country’s foreign and developmental policy, but it is also a necessity for the country’s security and territorial integrity. As a nation-facing submersion, a people facing national-eviction and a culture facing disintegration; every aspect that would define the Maldivian nation is put in jeopardy by climate change, “ said the Ambassador.

Climate change impacts are not only a security threat but also an economic threat for the development of a country. Ambassador Sareer,explained, “The Government of Maldives is currently spending more than 27% of its national budget on building resilience to combat effects of climate change. There is no question that it is a long-term security threat for the Maldives and many other low-lying nations.”

Not a Follower but a Leader
While countries play the blame game, Maldives believes in taking leadership. Ambassador Sareer explained his country’s stance, “ Our response to climate change is simple: to lead the way!”

The leadership to address climate change of which he mentions, comes in the form of mitigation of the effects of climate change through following a low carbon emissions path and the creation of a national biosphere reserve. The Ambassador further elaborated that the Maldives will adapt, creating the necessary infrastructure, while advocating for global change.

“As part of the Maldives plan on Energy Security, the Government is moving towards greater reliance on renewable technologies, and the eventual phasing out of fossil fuels. Investing in renewable energy is the biggest business opportunity of our generation providing avenues for adaptation and mitigation for future generations,” he said.

The next session of the UNFCCC negotiations which focuses on the 2015 Agreement will be held in Bonn, Germany this October. The role of Small Island Developing States such as Maldives, will play a crucial role in ensuring that the discussions will make positive progress which will be ambitious as well as equitable.

Ambassador Ahmed Sareer, is the Maldives’ current Permanent Representative to the United Nations. He was previously Director at the Secretariat of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation in Kathmandu, Nepal, Deputy High Commissioner for the Maldives in Sri Lanka, chargé d’affaires at the Maldivian mission to the European Union, Deputy High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, as well as the High Commissioner to Bangladesh.

[Image Courtesy: Google]

About The Author:

Vositha WijenayakeVositha Wijenayake is the Policy and Advocacy Coordinator of CANSA and, Regional Facilitator for Asia for the Southern Voices Programme. She is a lawyer by profession and has an LLM from University College London. She specialises in International Environmental Law and Human Rights Law. She has been tracking the UNFCCC negotiations since 2009 with a legal and gender focus.