President Yameen- A No-Nonsense Climate Hero?

Scientists have long had a consensus on the fact that these drastic changes in the weather are caused by the heavy release of carbon-compounds into the atmosphere. The accumulation of these compounds in the atmosphere contribute to the greenhouse effect, by which the earth cannot cool down as quickly or as easily as before.

The storms we’ve seen in the past year; such as with hurricanes Harvey and Irma; the drought that’s left California dry since 2011--these are just a few things which are projected to become more frequent, and more intense, in the coming years.

Rich, industrialized nations such as the United States, China, and Russia have been slow and hesitant to act in response to what the Pentagon has classified a “threat to national security”.

Some of the most vulnerable places in the world to climate change have long been known to be coastal cities; Amsterdam and New York; and low-lying island nations such as Tuvalu and the Maldives.

The Maldives have decided to take matters into their own hands by setting things into motion to achieve a low-carbon economy. “We’re a small country,” said Mr.Moosa Zameer, the tourism Minister of Maldives, “And although we can’t undo the damage that’s already been done by rich countries--we can hope to lead the world by our example.”

The Maldives are a nation of 1,200 islands in the Indian Ocean; around 200 of which are inhabited; united by a central government based in the capital Male’. Widely recognized for its natural beauty and known as a tourist destination and its island resorts; it has a population of 417,000 people; just about the population of Minneapolis.

The country has been considered to be one of the first countries which would be affected by the effects of climate-change, particularly sea-level rise.

The former administration, led by a foreign-educated populist Mohamed Nasheed, had implemented a public relations campaign to highlight his own personal dedication to environmental causes. Ranging from the mildly practical; installing solar panels on the roof of his office; to the ridiculous; performing a pantomime of a cabinet meeting underwater, in scuba-gear; Nasheed’s PR-stunts managed to get people talking about the issue.

However, his devotion to the cause stopped there. There seemed to be no policies, strategies, or protocols implemented or put into place to achieve a “carbon-free economy” within a decade, which he had announced in London in 2009.

Things have begun changing for the better.

Since being elected to office at the end of 2013, the Maldivian President Yameen Abdul Gayyoom launched several programs to diversify the local energy sector by promoting the use of renewable energy sources. “The government aims to install renewable energy systems up to 30% of day-time peak load of electricity in all inhabited islands by the end of 2018,” said Azhar Abdullah Saeed, a media official at the Environment Ministry of Maldives.

The Maldivian government had signed a Free Tree Agreement with China in November 2017; and a Chinese company has been contracted to develop hybrid power plants in two provinces in the north of the country. Solar PV-diesel hybrid systems have already been installed in some islands, and the FTA is expected to encourage the increase in imports of solar panels for private use in the coming years.

Two island resorts in the Maldives; Ellaidhoo Resort and Dhigu Finolhu; have completely switched over to solar power.

In addition to this, the government of the Maldives have introduced loans through the publicly-owned Bank of Maldives which encourage renewable-energy based investments.

“Waste management is a high-priority area of focus for the government,” said Mr.Azhar.

For years, and throughout Nasheed’s administration, waste produced by the capital Male’, the most populous island in the Maldives, was dumped in a land-fill in an island called Thilafushi. Many islands throughout the Maldives used a similar approach. This lead to a number of issues; beyond simply releasing greenhouse gases and toxic fumes through trash-burning; including respiratory diseases, pollution of the water near these landfills, the bleaching of corals, and the death of marine wildlife.

Within the first year of President Abdul Gayyoom’s administration, a new policy on waste management was set into place and special legislation was passed. USD$ 2.4 million from the national budget had been set aside to develop a special incineration facility on Thilafushi capable of processing 20 metric tonnes of waste per day. Similar waste-management centres are currently being developed in seven areas of the country with the intention that waste from small islands would be taken to these regional centres. The project is aimed to be completed by 2018.

“The level of carbon emissions in the Maldives is one of the lowest in the world,” said Mr.Azhar, “We’ve done a lot to mitigate our carbon emissions, and we are a very vocal advocate to reduce carbon emissions--internationally. The Maldives is seen as a leader--especially among small island states.” The Maldives is currently chairing the Alliance of Small Island States for the second consecutive term.

“Even though we reduce our emission rates and switch to green energy,” said Mr.Zameer, “We still have to face the consequences of rising sea levels, sea-surges, and storms.”

President Yameen has, since his inauguration, avoided the spotlight and avoided grand announcements and PR-stunts with any of his innovations to local environmental policy. His no-nonsense attitude hides a brass-tacks, practical approach to policy-making, and the changes sweeping the country makes this quite apparent. It remains to be seen if these strategies being put into action by the government will bear fruit and whether the Maldives will be able to brave the coming storms.

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