“For climate change, size doesn’t matter”

The Maldives is punching above its weight in the struggle to limit the impacts of climate change threatening the country's very existence. UNEP DTU has long been a partner in the efforts, and last week welcomed representatives for a training session.

February 22, 2018

Life in the Maldives is changing.
Beaches and, reefs are disappearing and harvesting rainwater is becoming difficult. All because of climate change. But positive developments are also happening because of the country’s efforts to do something about a global problem.

Even though emissions from the Maldives only account for 0,003 % of the global total, the small island state remains committed to becoming a Low Carbon Economy, and contributing to the goals set forth in the Paris Agreement.

“We are a small country with a very small contribution to the global emission, but we want to show that no matter how small you are, there is still something that you can do,” explains Ali Shareef, Director of the Climate Change Department in the Ministry of Environment and Energy.

Along with representatives from several government departments in the Maldives, he is participating in a training session at UNEP DTU this week on their work on the Maldives first Biennial Update Report to the climate change convention.

The flattest country in the world

The geography and an economy based on tourism makes climate change a double threat to the population of the Maldives.

The highest point in the Maldives is just 2.4 m above sea level, making the country the flattest in the world. With densely populated islands and critical infrastructure close to the coastlines, it is extremely vulnerable to a rise in sea levels.Ali Shareef, Maldives

“Even a storm surge can flood important infrastructure and cause significant damage,” Ali Shareef says.

Beaches and coral reefs draw more than a million tourists to the small country every year, forming the backbone of the economy. However, climate change threatens to destroy the beautiful nature.

Almost all of the nearly 1.200 islands in the Maldives are experiencing beach erosion and rising temperatures are destroying the coral reefs, that not only attract tourists but are home for massive ecosystems.

At the same time, the country has experienced changes in rainfall patterns. Rainwater is harvested for drinking and cooking, and according to Ali Shareef, a current shortage of drinking water can partly be attributed to the changing climate and changes in rain patterns.

A committed country

This week a delegation of the Maldives is visiting UNEP DTU Partnership to receive training on the preparation of Biennial Update Reports. This report contains updates of the national greenhouse gas inventory, information on mitigation actions as well as needs and support received.

Despite Maldives marginal contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions, the country is committed to take actions to reduce its emissions and meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

The training is provided by experts from the UNEP DTU Partnership and covers different items such as uncertainty analysis and the IPCC greenhouse gas inventory software. In addition, an expert on monitoring, reporting and verification from the Danish consultancy company NIRAS is joining the training.

UNEP DTU Partnership developed baseline

The Maldives have previously received support, provided by the Global Environmental Facility through the UNEP DTU Partnership, for the preparation of its Nationally Determined Contribution to the Paris Agreement.

Before that UNEP DTU Partnership developed a model for Low Carbon Development Strategy for the island state. This model has since then been the baseline for climate related initiatives in the entire country.

“UNEP DTU Partnership developed a straightforward model that we have been able to take forward ourselves and apply to our work with climate change and renewable energy. The experts at UNEP DTU Partnership are at the cutting edge of information when it comes to climate change adaptation and mitigation,” Ali Shareef says about the cooperation.

Oil imports drain 20 % of GDP

Becoming a low carbon economy is not just about climate and CO2 emissions. For every five dollars in the country’s GDP, one of them is spent buying and importing oil.

In a country that as recently as 2011 moved up from being on the list of least developed countries to being a developing country, becoming more self-reliant with renewable energy will also benefit the national budget.

“If we can reduce oil dependency, we can use that money to supply better healthcare and other sectors with more needs plus getting a sustainable source of energy for the future,” Ali Shareef explains.

Right now, the focus is on implementing more solar power. To that end, the government has exempted renewable energy equipment from import tax and is working towards reducing risks for private sector investments.

The goal is to convince the private sector of the business case of solar energy, changing the energy sector of the small island state. Because even though the Maldives are responsible for an insignificant fraction of the global CO2 emissions, they know only too well, that climate change needs to be taken seriously.

As Ali Shareef puts it: “For climate change size doesn’t matter.”