Climate change is possibly the most crucial issue facing the global community now-a-days. This burning problem has horrendous impacts and it will be infantile to think otherwise. The Republic of Maldives is also encountered with this catastrophe and is, indeed, at the edge of drowning and even complete inundation. Climate change has already caused extreme events and the challenges are expected to exacerbate further in future.
The last two millennia have seen a rapid rate of change in global climate with disrupting effects. Maldives is an archipelagic state, situated in the Indian Ocean (IO) in the west of Sri Lanka. It is located quite near to the equator hence exposed to extreme weather conditions. It is believed to be the lowest (owing to its low land above sea level) and the most dispersed country in the world (owing to the distance between its islands and atolls).
Consequently, the susceptibility of the country heightens due to the rising sea level and as the country’s geographical location shows, it faces a huge risk of inundation. Sea level rise, beach erosion, frequent rainfalls, floods as storms surge and extreme winds threaten the life in the country. The environmental stresses are going to be even worse. If a pragmatic scenario is taken about the Green Houses Gases (GHG) emissions, it is feared that with the projected rise of half a meter in sea level, about 77% land of the country will be submerged into the sea till the next century. However, if the rise in sea level reaches to one meter, the whole country can drown till 2085. As articulated by Dr. Muhammad Waheed Hassan, it ‘stands at the frontline of the climate change battle’ and is ‘one of the most vulnerable countries on earth and therefore need to adapt to climate change.’
In addition, rising sea level is also detrimental to the coral reefs which protect the beaches from storm surges. But this changing climate is leading towards coral death and bleaching along with beach erosion. This effect is even magnified in the areas already disturbed by pollutants. Climate change is also negatively impacting different economic sectors and social life.
Furthermore, drastic climate change has the potential to ruin the marine life and ecosystem along with affecting the beaches and infrastructure. Hence, Tourism industry, which is the chief source of revenue and constitutes the largest economic sector, is also being affected due to the changing climate. This is mainly due to coral bleaching and rising temperatures and it is projected that the contentment of tourists with the respective resorts will decrease. Angling and diving practices will also decrease due to coral bleaching.
Another sector at risk is fisheries (the second biggest source of Maldivian economy), which provides for employment, trade and GDP of the country, accounting for about 11%, 98% and 6% respectively. The rising temperatures are resulting in the migration of fish, while rising sea levels and extreme storm surges can also destroy the assets, properties, professions and housing of the farmers as well as the fishermen. Baits, used for angling, face the risk of extinction due to the harmful impact of climate on the reefs and coral lagoons in the surroundings. Climate change is also leading to the diminishing level of fish exports and hence waning revenue. Therefore, Maldives instead of diminishing, should try to enhance its fisheries trade through gaining a competitive edge in trade and a viable domestic policy, to save not only the local livelihood but the international trade as well.
The population of Maldives is also vulnerable to become socially exposed and physically defenseless. Climate change can cause death, diseases, physical grievances, malnutrition, educational deprivation, and dislocation leading to dispossession of homes, property and family, etc. There is also a risk of water shortage and improper sanitation. The education sector is also at risk as there is a threat of lack of educational opportunities, unavailability of teachers and loss of infrastructure due to climatic catastrophes.
This situation, however, can be countered by building resilient schools, taking initiatives to raise awareness, establishing training platforms, arranging certain activities and developing communication channels. There is also a need to have a better communication link with the common population in order to prevent sufferings caused by climate change and natural disasters.
He also established a global forum named as ‘Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVM)’ and declared to go carbon-neutral in 10 years by using ‘renewable sources of energy’.
The government of Maldives has been taking measures to counter the effects of climate change. The former President of Maldives, Muhammad Nasheed arranged a meeting of his cabinet underwater to raise awareness. He also established a global forum named as ‘Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVM)’ and declared to go carbon-neutral in 10 years by using ‘renewable sources of energy’. Though the decision faced huge critique yet Nasheed has realized that ‘going green might cost a lot but refusing to act now will cost us the Earth.’
However, with the next government, the situation and commitments changed. Abdullah Yameen, went for tourism and infrastructural developments. The more Nasheed was focused on climate change, the more distracted was Yameen. He seldom talked about climate change, and rather kept focusing on employment, infrastructural growth and economic boost.
Unfortunately, due to certain limitations going green is not a feasible option in Maldives. It has limited land area thus less space for solar-irradiance. Again, the replacement of pre-installed power-generation systems is challenging due to the initial investment costs. It can avail only limited wind resources due to its low-lying area. Further, the country is not equipped with sufficient technology to utilize renewable resources. Owing to these barriers, its dependency of fossil fuels remains to be almost the same.
Since its emergence as a security issue in 1980s climate change conferences and protocols have failed to develop international commitments or bring any significant changes. The main reason of this is the rift that exists between national security and environmental security; green security and development security; Global North and Global South; and environmental skeptics and deniers.
In the case of Maldives, climate change is evidently a reality and making the country pay for the mistakes of the whole world. Maldives has a higher risk-profile than many other countries and is susceptible to massive displacement of people and high cultural costs. The government of Maldives should adopt soft adaptation measures to increase resiliency and institutional capacity; and to protect the beaches and coastal life. They can do so by nourishing the coral reefs and coastal areas, developing the uninhabited islands, introducing irrigation systems, protecting marine ecosystems, and constructing disaster safe buildings. In addition to that, the government should focus on less carbon usage options and utilize the available renewable resource to an optimum level. It must take definite measures to deal with this environmental calamity and adopt favorable mitigation and adaptation measures. Maldives can win its battle against climate change if the international community lends a hand in this regard… as ‘together, we can save the world’.
Mudassra Mushtaque has completed her BS in International Relations from
the National Defence University. She is currently working as an intern
at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research.