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The Maldives faces existential threat from a climate crisis it did little to create. We need the world’s help now | Mohamed Muizzu
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The Maldives faces existential threat from a climate crisis it did little to create. We need the world’s help now | Mohamed Muizzu

For the Maldives, the existential threat of the climate crisis, particularly sea level rise, has been a reality we have grappled with for decades. In 1989, recognising the urgency of our situation, with our islands standing just one metre above sea level, we brought this issue to the global stage for the first time.

This early recognition of our vulnerability sparked a national transformation as we embarked on proactive climate resilience and adaptation measures. Thirty-five years later, has the rest of the world truly been listening? If you look at how the world’s reaction to the climate crisis is funded, the answer is clearly “no”.

For decades, Small Island Developing States (Sids) like the Maldives have been bearing the brunt of global warming with minimal support. The Maldives is liable for just 0.003% of global emissions, but is one of the first countries to endure the existential consequences of the climate crisis. Wealthier nations have a moral responsibility to communities like ours. Yet Sids are given only about 14% of the finance that the least developed countries receive.

The problem is that the current global financial architecture is outdated and not fit for purpose: its use of legacy metrics such as gross national income (GNI) and gross domestic product (GDP) skews our economic reality, painting Sids as wealthier than we are, barring us from critical funding opportunities. And, thanks to the Maldives’ healthy tourism industry, we are ranked as an emerging economy and therefore shut out from the cheaper financing set aside for the lowest income countries.

These institutions are failing to account for the existential threat that the climate crisis poses to our nation. The islands of the Maldives are spread over 90,000 sq km (35,000 sq miles). We are 99% water and 1% land – no income metric can capture that. Unless we urgently reassess how funding is delivered and interest rates are calculated, and what projects are deemed worthy of climate resiliency funding, millions of people living across Sids risk losing their homes. Behind these statistics are 65 million people living on land on which the impacts of climate change are clearly visible. We are seeing average temperatures in the Maldives rising, while storms are becoming more frequent and fiercer than ever. Recently the “feels-like” temperature, which can be attributed to factors such as reduced cooling winds and heightened humidity, soared to a staggering 46C.

Bridge construction works on the reclaimed island of Hulhumalé in 2022.View image in fullscreen

The other core issue is what can be funded. The world often thinks of Sids as simply small idyllic islands, as if they were built solely for foreign visitors. In fact, Malé, our capital city, is roughly twice the size of New York’s Central Park and is one of the most densely populated capitals in the world. This is why we constructed Hulhumalé, a reclaimed island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, physically raised two metres above sea level, with many inherent features of climate resilience, such as buffer zones placed between the island and the reef, designed to protect the coast from severe waves. It was a lifeline, a blueprint for survival that has since evolved into a thriving urban centre. Similarly, our upcoming project, Ras Malé, aims to be the Indian Ocean’s first eco city, raised three metres above sea level. This is true climate adaptation if ever I saw it.

However, sustainable construction must coexist with environmental stewardship, a responsibility we take seriously. We recently paused work on crucial development projects due to severe coral bleaching brought on by global heating. Yet because projects like Ras Malé are classed as infrastructure work in the eyes of some climate financiers and multilateral banks, climate funding for such projects – running from the millions to billions of dollars – is not forthcoming.

The international community must understand that we rely on external financing to prepare for and recover from the climate crisis that its overconsumption has caused. With adequate international funding, we could advance critical climate initiatives. Projects that connect and raise islands through bridges or causeways, along with expanded urbanisation, will enhance access to essential services like education and health, and help create climate-resilient communities ready for the future. Moreover, investments in renewable energy sources like solar will ensure the Maldives continues along its journey through the energy transition. But only if the world’s financiers will support them.

That is why, at the UN’s upcoming fourth International Conference on Sids for the most climate-vulnerable nations, we will be calling for the global adoption of a multidimensional vulnerability index (MVI), a new measure that reflects Sids’ inherent vulnerabilities. The MVI is a vital tool that can help small islands access the resources we urgently need. It is designed to provide a true reflection of our challenges by considering factors beyond mere economic output and acknowledging our unsustainable structural vulnerabilities. If it is adopted, we can start to rethink the criteria used to decide how projects are funded and spark a wave of sustainable development across our nations. Multilateral institutions, such as the World Bank and sovereign governments alike, must be willing to embrace this challenge. The unwillingness to solve this problem threatens every one of those 65 million Sids inhabitants.

When Sids nations convene in Antigua at the end of May, we will confront a stark reality: though responsible for a minuscule fraction of global emissions, we bear the brunt of their consequences. Yet our demands will not be radical. We simply ask the world to step into our shoes and realise how climate financing can be reformed for the better, to support true resilience. We seek not charity but equity and justice, in addressing a crisis we did little to create.

Mohamed Muizzu is the president of the Maldives. The Maldives is co-chair of the upcoming 4th International Conference on Small Island Developing States (Sids)

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Source: theguardian.com