Among the first human habitats to be impacted by climate change will be small, low-lying island states. TVE Asia Pacific's latest film highlights the plight of the Maldives, one of the world's most vulnerable countries to sea level rise.
"If you run any of the scenarios of sea level rise, you will…realise that within no time, we would be under water. This is a very real threat to us," says President Mohamed Nasheed, the first democratically elected head of state of the Indian Ocean nation.
For President Nasheed and his Maldivian people, the danger is imminent and impacts are already evident. He says: "Even now, some islanders are having to move homes from where they lived to elsewhere. There are serious coastal erosion problems. So that's all very real -- and it’s happening now!"
"Look forward, not backward!"
In Small Islands, Big Impact, President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives sends this key message to leaders of the world gathering in Copenhagen in December 2009 for the crucial climate summit:
"In a nutshell, I'd like to say what has already been said: 'Don't be stupid!'. Going on and on about who did it is not going to save us. This is the time to realise that the deed is done. So let's see how we may be able to proceed from here. If you have some money, please give it to someone who doesn't have. If you have technology, please give it to someone who doesn't have that technology. There is no point pointing fingers."
President Nasheed is featured prominently in Small Islands – Big Impact (6 mins), produced by TVE Asia Pacific in collaboration with COM+ Alliance of Communicators for Sustainable Development. It is being released online today in time for the International Day of Climate Action, 24 October 2009.
The film was shot on location in the Maldives, which is the smallest country in Asia by area and population: it packs 325,000 people into a land area just under 300 square kilometres spread over 1,192 islands and islets. 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 can make some islands uninhabitable sooner.
Small Islands, Big Impact is based on an exclusive television interview President Nasheed filmed with TVE Asia Pacific's Director Nalaka Gunawardene in late August 2009.
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).
Recently, the global news magazine TIME included President Nasheed in its Heroes of the Environment 2009.
In this film, President Nasheed reiterates his view that climate change is 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 also describes climate induced pressures already acting on fisheries and tourism – the two most important elements of the Maldivian economy.
Read the full interview with President Nasheed here.
For nearly a quarter century, small island states have been highlighting their plight at the UN, G8 and other international forums. They now want their plight to be addressed urgently at the inter-governmental negotiations at the upcoming 15th conference of parties (COP15) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UN-FCCC) in Copenhagen in December 2009.
Small Islands, Big Impact was shot on location in the Maldives in August 2009 by a Maldivian crew comprising Ibrahim Yasir and Hussein Makzoom. It was directed by Nalaka Gunawardene, and edited by Umesha Fernando at TVE Asia Pacific's studios in Sri Lanka.
"I have been covering this story for over 20 years," says Nalaka, who as a young science journalist covered the historic Small States Conference on Sea Level Rise in Male, the Maldives, in November 1989. "I hadn't been to the Maldives for a dozen years, and was taken aback by the changes that had taken place in that time."
Small Islands, Big Impact was produced on an editorially independent basis 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. In the coming weeks, it will be distributed widely in the Asia Pacific region and beyond.
Photographs TVEAP Image Archive and Ibrahim Yasir