Democracy and good governance are vital elements in humanity's struggle against climate change, says the leader of the Maldives, one of the world's most vulnerable countries to sea level rise.
"When climate changes, and when you start feeling the actual impacts…you will be wasting all the resources without a proper governance system," cautions President Mohamed Nasheed, the first democratically elected head of state of the Indian Ocean nation.
In an exclusive television interview with TVE Asia Pacific's Director Nalaka Gunawardene, President Nasheed explains: "Traditionally, we've always thought that adaptation (or living with climate change) represents physical structures – revetments, embankments, breakwaters, etc. But we feel that the most important adaptation issue is good governance and, therefore, consolidating democracy is very important for adaptation."
President Nasheed calls climate change both a global human rights issue and a security threat to small, low-lying island nations such as the Maldives.
"We will die if this goes on," he says gravely during the interview. "We have a fundamental right for life. If that is challenged, we have to link it to be a human rights issue, and not just an environmental issue."
He sends an urgent message to the world: "We are one of the frontline states of a security threat, and we feel that countries should be defending frontline states. If you cannot defend the Maldives today, you will not be able to defend yourself tomorrow."
Since being elected president of the Maldives in November 2008, President Mohamed Nasheed has been an outspoken and pragmatic voice speaking on behalf of his and other small island states, grouped under the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). During the current run-up to the crucial Copenhagen Climate Conference in December 2009, he has been urging the world to defend the 'frontline states'. He made this call at the 64th United Nations General Assembly, the UN Summit on Climate Change and other high level gatherings around the world.
|"Going on and on about who did it is not going to save us. This is the time to realise that the (climate) deed is done. So let's see how we may be able to proceed from here…"
- President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives, interviewed by TVE Asia Pacific
In late August 2009, President Nasheed filmed an exclusive interview with TVE Asia Pacific's Director Nalaka Gunawardene. In this wide-ranging interview, recorded in the Maldivian capital Malé before he headed out to New York for the UN meetings, he shared his concerns and visions for his island nation.
Based on the interview, TVE Asia Pacific has just completed a short film, titled Small Islands – Big Impact (6 mins). Produced in collaboration with COM+ Alliance of Communicators for Sustainable Development, it is being released online for the International Day of Climate Action, 24 October 2009.
In this film, President Nasheed sums up his message to the world leaders gathering soon to negotiate a new climate deal: "Don't be stupid! The deed is done, so instead of finger pointing, let's see how we can cope with impacts."
The Maldives is the smallest country in Asia – it packs 325,000 people into a land area just under 300 square kilometres. With an average ground level of 1.5 metres (5 feet) above sea level, it is also the lowest country on the planet, and now on the frontline of climate change impact. As the polar ice melts and sea levels rise, these and other low-lying islands will be the first to go under water. Coastal erosion, salt intrusion and extreme weather events will make many islands uninhabitable much sooner.
Recently, the global news magazine TIME included President Nasheed in its Heroes of the Environment 2009. The editors of time noted in a profile: "Since coming to power last year in an election that ended a three-decade-long dictatorship, Nasheed, 42, has championed the fight against climate change."
In his interview with TVEAP, President Nasheed describes climate induced pressures building on fisheries and tourism – the two most important elements of the Maldivian economy.
Referring to the miniscule contribution made by his tiny nation to the global climate crisis, the President says: "Of course, the injustice of it all is very much felt…and specially when people know more about why these climate changes are happening, they understand that it has nothing to do with them…that they didn't do any of these things."
In March 2009, President Nasheed's government announced that the Maldives would become the world's first fully carbon-neutral nation within a decade. To accomplish this, they would vigorously pursue renewable energies and green energy sources to replace current dependence on fossil fuels.
Outlining his vision, he says: "We understand that our becoming carbon-neutral will not save the world, but at least we would have the comfort of knowing that we did the right thing."
"President Nasheed is extremely well informed, articulate and passionate," says Nalaka Gunawardene, who as a science writer has been covering the Maldives and climate change for 20 years. "He keeps a calm ahead in the thick of a slowly mounting crisis. It's not everyday that we come across policy makers who can balance the short and long term interests of their countries."
Read the full interview here.
Small Islands, Big Impact' was produced by TVE Asia Pacific in collaboration with COM+ Alliance of Communicators for Sustainable Development. It is available free for broadcast, educational and online use without copyright restrictions. Contact
Photographs TVEAP Image Archive and Ibrahim Yasir