The Republic of Maldives is the smallest country in all of Asia. It consists of 1,190 islands in 20 atolls spread picturesquely over 900 km in the Indian Ocean. Of these, 199 islands are inhabited and have a population of slightly over 300,000 people. The highest point of land is 2 meters or about 6 feet above sea level. Rising seas caused by global warming will simply overrun the islands, and the Maldives will cease to exist.
Mohamed Nasheed has been President of the Maldives for just over a year. During his tenure, he has been very outspoken about raising awareness of the potential disaster facing his country and his people if the world does not wake up – and wake up quickly – to the looming dangers of climate change. At the Summit on Climate Change convened by the United Nations in September 2009, President Nasheed pleaded with the world community that “…if things go as business as usual, we will not live; we will die. Our country will not exist.”
In an attempt to bring the world’s attention to the problems faced by the tiny island nation, President Nasheed came up with the idea of holding a cabinet meeting underwater. The President is an avid scuba diver and the Maldives is famous for its stunning underwater coral formations and for the richness of the aquatic life in and around them. In order to participate in the meeting, all the cabinet officials had to be certified for scuba diving so those who were not previously had to take classes to become so. In all, one cabinet minister was away from the country and two were denied permission from medical personnel for health reasons. On October 17, 2009, the remaining ministers descended to a depth of around 20 feet and communicated with white boards and hand signals. After being submerged for about 30 minutes, the president and cabinet signed a communiqué calling on all nations to cut their global emissions.
Although the underwater cabinet meeting was seen by many as a lighthearted attempt to bring attention to the problems facing the Maldives by climate change, the seriousness of the issue can absolutely not be ignored or made light of. President Rasheed subsequently called for the formation of the by the Climate Vulnerable Forum (V11) and hosted its first meeting in the Maldives this past week. Attended by 11 poor nations, including Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, and the Maldives from South Asia, which are all severely threatened by climate change, the Forum called on US President Barack Obama as well as the leaders of India and China to attend next month’s Climate Change Forum in Copenhagen.
Only time will tell whether these and other leaders will come up with a meaningful agreement which will effectively reduce carbon emissions and spare countries like the Maldives from almost certain obliteration.
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