President of Maldives Keeps His Head Above Water


Mohamed Nasheed 

The Republic of Maldives, a popular tourist destination in the Indian Ocean, has drawn attention in recent months because its average altitude is 1.5 meters—alarmingly close to predictions of climate-change-induced sea level rise by the end of this century. As a result of its precarious position, the nation has been extensively involved in preparing for anticipated climate changes. It also has taken a proactive stance toward slowing climate change by reducing its emission of climate-warming greenhouse gases to the global atmosphere. Here, President Mohamed Nasheed, who famously held a cabinet meeting 6 meters underwater in 2009 to pass a resolution calling for action at the Copenhagen climate change talks, discusses the Maldives’ response to the threat of climate change. This interview is being simultaneously published online by Utne Reader and Momentum magazine. 

When and how did you first become aware of the threat of climate change to the Maldives? 

I used to be a journalist when I was in my 20s. In those days, the Maldives was a pretty strict authoritarian regime and you certainly couldn’t talk or write about politics without ending up in jail. So I used to write articles about environmental issues, which were tolerated by the regime. I have visited almost every island in the Maldives and I have snorkeled or dived off most of our coral reefs, so I have seen how the country has changed and understand how it could change very radically in the future because of climate change.  

In what ways do you anticipate climate change will affect the Maldives? 

There is no greater threat to the Maldives than that posed by the climate crisis. The best available science predicts that sea levels will rise 0.5 to 2 meters by the end of the 21st century, assuming global warming increases average temperatures by 4 degrees Celsius. Our islands are on average just 1.5 meters above the ocean, so even a 0.5 meter rise in sea level will be catastrophic. If sea levels rise by 2 meters, we will have to abandon the Maldives and find a new home on higher land abroad.  

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