Page last updated at 13:11 GMT, Tuesday, 2 June 2009 14:11 UK

Leading by an achievable example

Mohamed Nasheed
Mohamed Nasheed

A promise that the Maldives will go carbon-neutral in 10 years is not just good for PR, says the country's president Mohamed Nasheed. In this week's Green Room, he argues that the goal sets an example for the developed world proving that a green country is not only practical, it is profitable.

Maldives atoll (SPL)
One thing a small nation can do... is show the world that rapid reductions in emissions are possible, practical and profitable

Some people may find it ironic that the Maldives, which emits just a tiny proportion of global carbon dioxide emissions, has set the most ambitious carbon reduction goals of any nation on Earth. To some, it may seem even odder that the Maldives has made such stringent environmental targets when it is also a relatively poor, developing country.

Conventional wisdom dictates that small, developing nations such as the Maldives should refuse to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. This wisdom suggests that we should be lobbying for permits to pollute more, while apportioning blame for climate change squarely on the shoulders of big, industrialised nations.

But I am sceptical of this conventional wisdom, and of finger-pointing at the West, for neither of these policy positions does anything to help solve the climate crisis.

And what a crisis climate change is. Scientists meeting in Copenhagen earlier this year warned that Arctic ice is melting quicker than anyone previously imagined possible.

Experts further cautioned that 85% of the Amazon rainforest will die if temperatures continue to soar. This week, the World Health Organisation published a report which calculated that climate change is claiming the lives of a third of a million people every year.

Rising threat

These warnings are particularly alarming for the Maldives, an Indian Ocean nation of tropical coral islands, just 1.5m above the sea. But climate change does not just threaten the Maldives, it threatens us all.

There is a growing consensus that, unless the world takes drastic action to slash carbon pollution, warming will tip beyond man's control, unleashing unprecedented global catastrophe.

This is why, on 15 March this year, the Maldives announced its plans to become the world's first carbon-neutral country in ten years. Our oil-fired power stations will be replaced with solar, wind and biomass plants; our waste will be turned into clean electricity through pyrolysis technology; and a new generation of boats will slash marine transport pollution. By 2020, the use of fossil fuels will be virtually eliminated in the Maldivian archipelago.

Mohamed Nasheed planting coral (U Kloiber)
President Nasheed plants a "nubbin" at the world's largest coral nursery

People often ask me why a country that contributes less than 0.1% of global greenhouse gas emissions should bother to go carbon neutral. After all, the Maldives' environmental efforts will not stop global warming if big polluters refuse to countenance all but token emissions reductions. One thing a small nation can do, however, is show the world that rapid reductions in emissions are possible, practical and profitable.

'Free advertising'

Since announcing the carbon neutrality goal a little over two months ago, the Maldives has witnessed something of an environmental enlightenment. Dozens of foreign technology and energy companies have approached us, keen to set up pilot renewable energy projects in the islands.

Multilateral funders and development agencies have offered to finance green projects. And local Maldivian companies are starting to pioneer environmentally friendly technologies that could make them world leaders in the green economy of the future.

The global publicity around the announcement has also provided free advertising for government policies such as the part-privatisation of our energy, waste and transport sectors (naturally, green investors will be given preference).

Carbon neutrality also boosts our tourism industry, as increasingly eco-conscious tourists seek out climate guilt-free destinations. In time, our economy will also be more stable as it decouples from the unpredictable price of foreign oil and relies instead on cheap, raw materials the Maldives has in abundance: the sun, sea and the wind.

The Maldives should certainly benefit from greening its economy. But it is on the world stage that I hope our environmental efforts will add most value. The Maldives' example provides ammunition to environmentalists and concerned citizens around the world. The common bureaucratic excuse - that drastic emissions cuts are unfeasible - is now a little less credible.

If a small, developing nation can go carbon neutral, what excuse can richer, industrialised countries have for refusing to do the same? By demonstrating that radical climate change action is achievable, the Maldives can act as a beacon of hope in a sea of environmental lethargy.

The Green Room is a series of opinion articles on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website

Do you agree with President Nasheed? Is one small country's effort enough to influence that of major global carbon emitters? Do the economic differences between giant and tiny nations make the Maldives' example irrelevant to larger economies? Can a shift to carbon-neutral be a profitable prospect for the globe?

Replacing polluting devices and practices with cleaner, more efficient ones is applicable to any economy regardless of its size. The Maldives are adopting a very practical approach. It's also good to see that there was no mention of carbon trading - these unethical, money-making schemes are best avoided as they would not improve the environment in and around the Maldives.
David, Cheshire

I don't agree with President Nasheed at all, in fact if you ask a majority of the Maldivians they wouldn't agree with him. Although it is a very noble and good initiative, it is a joke that a small economy such as the Maldives' can afford to shift to the carbon-neutral cause; it is very costly and all the other developed nations are still trying to change because of the huge cost. Another question is who will invest huge amount of money on a population of 300,000 people who cant afford the service, not to mention the 300,000 people are scattered in about 200 islands...sounds quite ridiculous to believe there will be companies who are willing to invest in Maldives on this...I think this talk is just to make headlines in the news as President's Nasheed's political ratings in domestic level is deteriorating...
Mariyam, Male', Maldives

I do agree with the president and I hope to achieve it soon but I don't think a poor country like Maldives depending on tourism only will be able to achieve this within 10 years. It may take more time and need more help from developed countries. Once it is achieved it won't be difficult to make a profitable thing. Good luck president...
Yoosuf, Maldives

President Nasheed makes a good point, in that by setting a challenging task, he would spur an economic resurgence in his island. This will add momentum to climate change efforts elsewhere, if the bigger and dominant countries do not look down upon this effort. The climate change management efforts aim at controlling and managing the change. What is better than by demonstrating that it can be done, by one and all, however small the net contribution may be.

Arun Varma, Mumbai, India

Carbon neutral? Does that mean that he will ban air flights into the Maldives too? After all, that is the largest source of Maldivian CO2 emissions.
Les J, Canada

Excellent to lead by example; of course they feel most at risk of any rise in sea levels. But many areas in UK at flood risk as well, and we need to do far more on renewable energy, energy efficiency (high speed electric trains, etc) and carbon capture. This government is just not up to the job, letting decisions take decades, we need to get on with it.
Larry Young, glasgow

Fantastic, at last, someone DOING something and not spending billions of pounds and countless megatons of CO2 organising conferences which seem to be either achieving nothing or setting goals that everyone ignores! I'm a big fan of people who just go for it! We can all sit around and debate until the, slightly warmer, cows come home but to ACHIEVE things we have to DO things. About time, more power to you Mr Nasheed (if you fancy it there's another island off the north-west coast of Europe that could do with your leadership).
Chris, Bristol

I agree with President Nasheed that it is a step forward to try and develop the Maldives. However even though it might be pioneering carbon-neutral solution we need to take in to account that it the Maldives is relatively small population and land make it possible to implement such a policy. In other major carbon producing countries such as India or China it is not economically or physically viable to switch to carbon-neutral technology. The most profit the globe can get is in terms of ecological gain more than financial. Rather than a comaparatively small country as the Maldives a carbon emission giant such as the USA should implement a carbon neutral plan and then help other countries implement a plan. However due to the current financial mess the world is in carbon-neutral is going to take a while to be implemented.
Jayanth Rao, Guntur, India

I strongly agree with President Nasheed. You lead by example. What an unselfish act. I wish him and his country all the very best.
Patricia Mary Lawrence, Sutton-on-sea, Lincolnshire, U.K.

The note is positive, independently confident, speaks of timely decisiveness, hope and sets an inspirational example for each of us to follow. I hope we all take similar steps to nurture green values and take such decisions, rather than blaming our inept governments, get out of our laziness and do something.
Vinay Hinduja, India

President Nasheed does have a giant will power - now could that be the criteria rather then the size of nations ?
Shah Sazzad, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Bravo Maldives, I wish our leaders would have a similar enlightened thinking.
Haroon Samson, Lahore, Pakistan

The threat being faced by this tiny state is very imminent. But the good thing is that Nasheed is very pragmatic in his approach. Only a proactive strategy aiming at immediate measures can help in bravely facing such challenges. We wish him best of luck!
Hasan, Lahore, Pakistan

I think President Nasheed is very brave and is doing what is necessary. I cannot believe that other countries haven't followed suit, especially the US and the UK, with so many resources at our disposal. It is disgraceful that Brown has let a country as small and with such an insignificant carbon footprint take the lead in tackling climate change.
Hester Berry, Guildford, UK

I agree with President Nasheed. It is an ambitious task; I hope they achieve it and set an example for rest of us to follow. Even if they achieve 80% of their target, it will be a big success for the world community.
Anand Dalvi, Atlanta, GA USA

It is great to hear about such an idea from the Maldivian President. It is completely possible for Maldives to go carbon neutral. Many establishments would probably install facilities for free on a trial basis, and I am sure the Maldivian government would like that. One could also look at sourcing energy from nuclear plants - or even build a reactor. Just look at Japan!
IndianMaldivian, Oxford, UK

An impressive commitment but there is the elephant in the room of the air flights to the country by the tourists the Maldives seeks to attract.
Alan Ramage, Plymouth

No matter how small or feasible the idea is, President Nasheed should be an example for every nation to at least get these sorts of environmentally conscious ideas into action. When it's too late we'll regret not having the bold ambitions like the Maldives.
Sara, Omaha USA

It has been a very grand decision made by our new president. However, to me I foresee lots of challenges in the Maldives to achieve the goal. Maldives, being a small coral island nation with less than a half million of people living on tiny islands, need alternative means of meeting their energy demand which at present is on 100% fossil fuel. Our forefathers of course used wind powered inter island transport, the question is are we really prepared or going to prepare in the coming 10 or more years for wind powered sea transport?. Fisheries being the second largest economy in the country, are we prepared to shift to wind powered transport for fishing? There are many more challenges.
Mohamed Mustafa, Maldives

The difference of carbon emissions between large and small economies does not lessen the example being set by the Republic of the Maldives. This endeavor will prove that developing nations can adopt environmentally friendly policies that will complement their existing industry rather than detract from it. This country marked a turning point in their history when they elected their first truly democratic government this past November. Now they are marking a turning point in the history of the world, as industrialised nations and developing nations alike will start being less dependent on oil and more open to Green Energy. The shift to Carbon Neutral is necessary to avoid a tipping point in the ecological balance of the globe. This is just a step. But it is a first step. And there will be more steps taken in the decades ahead of us.
Salim Waheed, San Francisco, California / Male' - Maldives

I agree with the carbon-neutral initiative in the Maldives. If the current carbon pollution trend is not ceased, the Maldives and most of Florida will be under water. This is about self-preservation, for all of us.
Ken Mueller, Jacksonville, Florida

It's good to see the writer inside President Nasheed is alive and well. With fuel prices rising, more investments in alternative energy, lots of sun, wind and waves in the Maldives, it is not a far-fetched idea that we can go carbon neutral. Way to go Anni.
abdulla, Male', Maldives

I think it is very significant and sets an example to the rest of the world, and shows great leadership and ambition. The simple fact is that a green, low-carbon economy will be more profitable and create more jobs than a polluting one. I hope other small nations follow suit and eventually put pressure on the developed world to do the same: the EU, US, Australia and Canada.
Michael, Brisbane, Australia

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