The Maldives could disappear unless the world acts now on climate change
Aerial view of Malé, the capital city of the Maldives | Adobe Stock
The Maldives is the lowest lying country in the world. As an archipelago of approximately 1,200 islands, of which the average height is 1.5m above sea level, the Maldives has been on the frontline of climate change for decades.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report released earlier this year does not tell small island states anything new: if the world does not cut its emissions quickly and drastically, we cannot survive.
The science tells us that human-induced heating has already increased global temperatures by 1.1C. This alone has resulted in an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events all over the world, including the Maldives.
Incidents of flooding, severe storms, erosion, freshwater shortage on our islands, and coral bleaching events now occur with greater intensity and frequency. Rising global temperatures, and the knock-on effects of ocean acidification, will limit the ability of our natural systems – the coral reefs – to protect us as they always have. As a country, we are dependent on the health of the reefs. They feed us, underpin our livelihoods and are our playgrounds.
We know what needs to be done to mitigate the worst impacts of the climate crisis. We must limit the global temperature rise to 1.5C and must support the adaptation needs of small island states and vulnerable countries. This requires greater ambition and urgent action.
The Maldives has been on the frontline of climate change for decades
The nationally determined contributions (NDCs) submitted so far are nowhere near what is needed. In particular, by failing to revise their targets the G20 is in effect telling us they do not care enough about our (and, a few more years down the line, their own) survival. It is extraordinary that, faced with this existential issue, we remain negotiating like it’s a trade deal.
The Maldives has committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2030, dependent on significant technical and financial support. Although our carbon emissions are negligible in the global context, a radical shift to renewable energy provides us with the resilience we will undoubtedly need over the coming decades; unfortunately decades of negotiations have shown we can’t solely depend on the support of others when future crises arrive.
We were the first developing country to phase out HCFCs [hydrochlorofluorocarbons – chemical compounds used in the refrigeration and air conditioning sectors that destroy the ozone layer], 10 years ahead of the target.
Reducing emissions is just half the story. Equally important is building the resilience of our own islands. Which is why we are keen to protect and preserve our natural environment. We are in the process of drafting a marine spatial plan which will see the protection of at least 20 per cent of our waters, and more incorporation of sustainable practices in our blue economy policies.
Our government has, this year, begun implementation of a single-use plastic phase-out plan, and has increased the number of protected areas across the country. The Maldives is also home to the most sustainable tuna fishery in the world.
However, none of the actions we take in the Maldives will be enough to ensure our survival. Like all global issues – from the pandemic to the climate crisis – our collective success is dependent on collective action.
COP26 must produce the ambition we require, and the incentives to implement the radical and just transition the planet needs to keep 1.5C within reach. It must also provide the $100bn (£73bn) that was committed to for adaptation, and identify pathways to increase and improve the access to these resources.
Climate-related anxiety is at an all-time high. In addition to managing a pandemic, the world has been inundated with reports of wildfires, biodiversity loss, floods and droughts. Climate-related conflict and migration is on the rise. The challenges of displacement, existential crises and the loss we will face if we are unable to secure an ambitious way forward at COP26 are far more complex than what is on the agenda now. COP26 must succeed. There is no more time for negotiation.
Sabra Ibrahim Noordeen is the Maldivian special envoy for climate change
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