Dunya Maumoon is Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Maldives
Last year, the Paris climate talks rightly drew enormous scrutiny as the world's leaders once again hammered out a deal to try and halt the creeping disaster that is climate change. After the dismal failure of Copenhagen, it was a relief to small island nations like the Maldives that genuine progress was made. We are running out of time: The oceans are rising, and without direct and immediate international action, our nation may not exist in a matter of decades.
But we cannot do anything about this predicament alone, as much as we would wish to try. Fortunately, unlike in Copenhagen, rich industrialized nations and large developing states – once deeply hesitant – have now committed to the global climate cause. They too have realized that argument had become superfluous to the impending climate catastrophe.
So far, so good: But now, post-Paris, the talking must stop and the real work must begin. That starts with signing the commitment itself – a legally binding commitment to act. On Friday, that indeed happened at the United Nations when the community of nations put pen to paper in New York, committing to the targets set out in Paris. The Maldives is proud to have both helped shape this new global climate consensus and ensure concrete targets are in place.
What now is needed is urgency. Last week, our parliament voted to ratify the historic Paris agreement. We are among the first to complete the domestic ratification process for the treaty (including other Alliance of Small Island States members – of which the Maldives is currently chair – such as Fiji, Republic of the Marshall Islands and Palau). We are now urging our international partners, large and small, to do the same.
Our ratification is based on the clear and present danger of losing our nation completely to rising tides. How critical this has become can be seen in a report released only this month that questioned the current stability of polar ice sheets. We now know that March, 2016, was the hottest month in recorded history.
The Paris agreement is only the beginning of an urgent rescue mission that needs to be launched by the community of nations for small states such as the Maldives. The Alliance of Small Island States warned the UN Security Council that their future is under threat as rising sea levels eat away at coastlines.
It is indeed telling that some of the countries most vulnerable to the crisis were the first to approve the agreement's ratification. While domestic endorsement is practical, it is also symbolic, and the rapid agreement of legislatures around the world should truly reflect a momentum carried through from Paris. Parliament buildings in larger nations may feel detached from the imminent threat of global warming. But we hope politicians and legislators understand that this is a truly transnational crisis. Without unified political support, this deal will go nowhere. We simply cannot be forced to be back at square one, either through antipathy or obstructionism by domestic politicians.
Neither can we allow our political classes to make promises and then do nothing. In the Maldives we have witnessed precisely this behaviour before, when a previous president and administration spoke out on climate change, and launched press events – from an underwater cabinet meeting, to a Hollywood film about climate change, to the installation of solar panels on the presidential office – while in reality building a new man-made landfill island and failing to even connect the solar panels to the electricity grid. This is nothing more than hot air, when what we need is real, credible action.
The government in which I serve hopes to be judged not on talk, but on actions. We have launched a series of energy-from-waste plants that use our human waste to power our growing economy, without the need to increase landfill; we have promoted and encouraged the development of ecological and fully eco-powered tourist resorts – a sector on which our economy depends. And we are teaching the importance of environmental protection and sustainability in our schools, for the very first time.
But there is still only so much we can do ourselves as a tiny nation of just over 300,000 people. Fortunately, the rest of the world is clearly waking up to the need for action.
Signatures on the agreement in New York last week were important. But we have already seen the disconnect between statements of intent on global warming and genuine political will. The former is easy, the latter requires leadership and vision. In the Maldives, we are already in fifth gear. Now things are signed and sealed, it really is time to deliver.