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'Climate funds must be made available to the needy'

Aug 06, 2009

Instead of blaming each other for emissions, countries need to support the most vulnerable by providing adequate resource, says Mohamed Aslam, Minister of Housing, Transport and Environment, Maldives. According to him, the island nation needs more investment and partners to explore alternative ways of producing power.

Manila: Developing economies are vulnerable to climate change and need funds to implement much needed adaptation and mitigation measures. This is one of the key points that needs to be addressed during the next round of UN-led negotiations on climate change in Copenhagen, according to Mohamed Aslam, Maldives Minister of Housing, Transport and Environment.

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Government negotiators - meeting in Copenhagen Dec. 7-18 - are expected to argue over emissions targets. Industrialised countries like the US are insisting that the fast rising Chinese and Indian economies should also commit to cap their emissions, while the latter argue that developed economies are the culprits behind global warming.

Mohamed was in Manila recently to attend a regional forum on climate change. In an interview, Mohamed expressed his frustration over the ‘who-did-what’ bickering over climate change.

"We do not need handouts, we need partners to come out and help us"

"Whoever did it, it doesn’t matter," said Mohamed , adding that what is crucial now is that "whoever has the funds must make them available for the ones who need it."

The tiny and picturesque Indian Ocean nation of the Maldives is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change as its 1,190 individual islands are only 1-2 metres above sea level. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has repeatedly warned that sea level rise caused by global warming is very likely to exacerbate storm surges and coastal erosion of small islands.

Mohamed said that the Maldives government is doing what it can, but with modest resources, it is impossible for them to implement costly adaptation and mitigation measures.

Excerpts from the interview.

Inter Press Service: What are the main issues that the Maldives panel will raise during the Copenhagen dialogue?

Mohamed Aslam: We do not want to see the blame game. Whoever did it, it doesn’t mater. But what matters is that whoever has the funds must make them available for the ones who need it. We need technology. We do not need handouts, we need partners to come out and help us.

We do not want any more studies and action plans. There has been enough of that. It is about time we have clear vision of what to do now.

We do not want to talk about cutting down on greenhouse gases. We want the world to invest in green technologies. We will continue to use the fans and the air conditioning, and we are not going to stop doing that. So we must develop an alternative way of producing power.

IPS: Are you experiencing the effects of climate change right now?

MA: What was predicted as effects of climate change - like erosion, flooding and swirls, droughts, changes in rainfall patterns - we are seeing all that now in Maldives. Many coastlines are eroding as well. This is not something we saw when we were children.

As for drought, for the past few years, we [the Maldives government] has had to supply fresh drinking water to many of our islands. We are also seeing lots of floods. In 2005, there was a major flood and it was not caused by a storm close to us, but by storms far off shore - Maldives is in a storm-free region. Because Maldives’ islands are low-lying, any swirls which are above normal will cause flooding.

IPS: How is the Maldives government preparing for climate change?

MA: The government is advocating. That’s the best that we can do. We want to change the habits of the people. The long-term solution to this problem is for everyone to get involved. Everyone has to realise that they have some level of contribution to mend this.

We have money allocated for coastal protection as well as to address the shortage of fresh water. We cannot deal with the major issues by ourselves. We simply do not have the funds.

Adaptation is not cheap. We need almost 40 million dollars just to protect the coastline of one island.

IPS: Do you get any financial assistance from multilateral agencies?

MA: Nothing significant. There is a lot of talk of available financing but I do not know how many countries have received them. We have not. Maybe we do not know how to get it. Maybe somebody needs to tell us how to do it.

IPS: How is the tourism sector - your country’s biggest industry - helping the government in coping with climate change?

MA: We are trying to bring tour operators and resort owners into the country’s development programme. We encourage them to help us provide basic services and infrastructure to the people.

IPS: What is the most urgent project that you need to do now to cushion the Maldives from the impacts of climate change?

MA: We need to implement projects on physical adaptation. We need to prevent coastal erosion and to manage our waste.

IPS: How bad is your waste problem?

MA: Over the past few decades we have seen a lot of economic growth. Habits have not changed. We also at times chose the path of non-sustainable development. When people started consuming new items, the Maldivian government did not show them methods of disposal. People who used to throw away the fish bones into the sea, will also now throw baby diapers into the sea.

Thirty years ago, we didn’t have toilets in our houses. Most people just went to the bush, so we had no problem of sewage treatment or garbage disposal. But now everyone has toilets in their houses and the government has not laid down the network to get rid of that waste.

IPS: The Maldives government recently announced that it plans to become the first carbon-neutral country in line with the global campaign against climate change. Please expound on this new project.

MA: We know that us going carbon neutral will not change the global climate. We do not emit that much carbon. But we want people in the Maldives to start living a lifestyle which is environmentally friendly. We want to set an example for our people and the outside the world. If we sink - and God forbid we sink - we will sink knowing that we did the right thing.

Source : IPS
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