Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Breaking Island News

Indian Ocean: President of the Maldives Becomes a Climate Change Icon

The premier of a riveting documentary about President Mohamed Nasheed has brought global attention to the real impact of climate change on island nations.

(Poster by Actual Films)

Few images are as dramatic as that of an entire nation being simply washed off the face of the planet. Like a modern-day Atlantis, a country simply sinks beneath the ocean’s waves, leaving thousands of people stateless, bereft of a home or national identity. According to a new documentary, which just took home the top Audience Award in its category at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), this is exactly what Maldivian president Mohamed Nasheed fears his people will become – refugees from a warming planet.

The film, The Island President, follows Nasheed’s long path to from obscurity to the international stage. A true populist, Nasheed fought the Maldives’ notoriously corrupt government system in a long campaign for legitimate democracy, until he was swept into office on a tidal wave of support at the age of 41. His battle was hard-won, however; he suffered years of torture and imprisonment throughout the 1990’s due to his pro-democracy activism, beginning with an article he had published in a magazine at the young age of 23, which accused the then-government of rigging elections.

Once Nasheed attained the presidency, his activism took on a far broader scope – and the stakes became infinitely higher. Upon taking his office, his overwhelming priority became bringing attention to the plight his country’s 1,200 coral islands and cays would suffer, should sea levels rise even a small amount due to climate change. The country, one of the lowest on the planet, is an average of just 1.5 metres above sea level, with sandy soil that is highly vulnerable to erosion.  The situation is seen as urgent by many scientists; the United Nations’ environmental panel has warned that, at the current rates of sea level rise, the country will be completely uninhabitable by 2100.

(Image of Male by Shahee Ilyas)

For years, the president has been public about the Maldives’ efforts to purchase land from other countries in case of a deluge. At one cabinet meeting, Nasheed reportedly said that: “We do not want to leave the Maldives, but we also do not want to be climate refugees living in tents for decades. Sri Lanka and India are our targets because they have similar cultures, cuisines and climates. Australia is also being considered because of the amount of unoccupied land available.” In early 2011, a new tactic was announced to protect the country from rising waters– he was in talks with the government of Bangladesh to acquire millions of tonnes of sand to fortify the islands.

Through the aid of NGOs like Unicef and 350.org, Nasheed also became a strong international voice for stricter carbon emissions rules, and more financial support from world powers for small countries impacted by global warming. Some of his efforts have been extreme; in 2009, he famously held a cabinet meeting underwater, with the participants in scuba gear. If Nasheed has demonstrated one outstanding talent since taking office, it has been getting the attention of the international community – and with warm reception of The Island President at TIFF, his campaign against climate change may have gained a whole new audience.

Read a review of The Island President: http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117946059/

1 comment to Indian Ocean: President of the Maldives Becomes a Climate Change Icon

  • Jennifer

    Excellent article, let me write a couple of words on social & legal context

    So if an island nation is submerged beneath the ocean, does it maintain its membership in the United Nations? Who is responsible for the citizens? Do they travel on its passport? Who claims and enforces offshore mineral and fishing rights in waters around a submerged nation? International law currently has no answers to such questions.

    United Nations Ambassador Phillip Muller of the Marshall Islands said there is no sense of urgency to find not only those answers, but also to address the causes of climate change, which many believe to be responsible for rising ocean levels.

    “Even if we reach a legal agreement sometime soon, which I don’t think we will, the major players are not in the process,” Muller said.

    Those players, the participants said, include industrial nations such as the United States and China that emit the most carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases. Many climate scientists say those gases are responsible for global warming. Mary-Elena Carr of Columbia University’s Earth Institute said what is now an annual sea level rise of a few millimeters will increase dramatically by the year 2100. “The biggest challenge is to preserve their nationality without a territory,” said Bogumil Terminski from Geneva. International legal experts are discovering climate change law, and the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu is a case in point: The Polynesian archipelago is doomed to disappear beneath the ocean. Now lawyers are asking what sort of rights citizens have when their homeland no longer exists.
    t present, however, there appear to be at least three possibilities that could advance the international debate about ‘climate refugee’ protections and fill existing gaps in international law.

    The first option is to revise the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees to include climate (or environmental) refugees and to offer legal protections similar to those for refugees fleeing political persecution. A second, more ambitious option is to negotiate a completely new convention, one that would try to guarantee specific rights and protections to climate or environmental ‘refugees`.

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