Island Nation of Maldives Holds Cabinet Meeting Underwater to Highlight Danger of Global Warming

By Democracy Now · 21 Oct 2009

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Picture: The Maldives Presidency
Picture: The Maldives Presidency

Editor's Note: To view photographs of this historic meeting, please visit the website of the Maldives Presidency.

Maldives, the lowest-lying nation on earth, could be submerged by rising sea levels due to global warming. As a result, the country's President, Mohamed Nasheed and minister's from his government held an underwater cabinet meeting on Friday (17 October 2009) calling for concerted global action on climate change ahead of the Copenhagen conference. This special cabinet session took place some 20 feet under the Indian Ocean.

Democracy Now aired an excerpt of a recent discussion between President Mohamed Nasheed and Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. A transcript of their discussion can be found below.


AMY GOODMAN: We end with a look at the Indian Ocean archipelago, the Maldives, the lowest-lying nation on earth, which could be submerged by rising sea levels. The government of the Maldives found an innovative way of bringing the world’s attention to the dire consequences of global warming: they held a cabinet meeting underwater. President Mohamed Nasheed and eleven of his government ministers wore scuba gear, plunged nearly twenty feet into the Indian Ocean for a special cabinet session calling for concerted global action on climate change ahead of the Copenhagen conference.

Well, the President of the Maldives was in New York last month, and he spoke at a major event at the Society for Ethical Culture on the eve of the UN General Assembly opening session. President Nasheed was in conversation with the former president of Ireland, the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson.

PRESIDENT MOHAMED NASHEED: If world temperatures rise over 1.5 degrees, we won’t be around.


PRESIDENT MOHAMED NASHEED: That would mean not just the Maldives, it—a number of other low-lying countries. We are talking about hundreds of millions of people. You know, we haven’t done anything to be in this predicament. And we would like to see and try to impress upon other people that they actually consider what is happening to us. And we’ve been saying this: if it was important for countries to defend Poland in the 1930s because it was a frontline state, it’s very important to take care of the Maldives now, because the Maldives and many other small states are in the frontline of what is happening to the world, to climate today. If you can’t defend the Maldives today, you won’t be able to defend yourself tomorrow.

And also, interestingly enough, small island nations just now adopted a resolution very much in line of what has just been said here. We are not just simply talking about capping emissions; we are really actually talking about a huge change in the manner in which we produce things. We’re not talking about stopping production. We are not talking about stopping consumption. We are talking about another industrial revolution where renewable technology and greener technology remains at the heart of the new transformation, the transition of our economies to more greener methods of producing and consuming things.

So, basically, we don’t think that this issue, necessarily, is a negative issue. I mean, I do understand that Kyoto Protocol at times sounds like a list of things that you shouldn’t do. But you can also have a list of things that you can do. You can be producing renewable energy; you can be making things more efficient. So, in our mind, we’re not really asking for an unreasonable offer or unreasonable demands. We’re just simply saying, “We want to live, and please understand that.”

MARY ROBINSON: I must say I was very taken by a step that the Maldives took, as you have tried to get your message across. You went to the Human Rights Council, and as a result of that, we have much more understanding of the link between climate change and human rights, the whole range of basic human rights.

And in a way, you know, given that you to wake up every morning and think of this burden of the prospect for your people and the need to change the world, and—are we listening? I mean, have you found that people in New York are listening? Do you feel that the Alliance of Small Island States is going to get a hearing? Do you think you’re going to get the decisions you want in Copenhagen?

PRESIDENT MOHAMED NASHEED: Ma’am, I personally am an optimist. We’ve achieved a lot of things against odds. The Maldives had a dictatorship for the last thirty years, and we’ve just recently adopted a new constitution. We’ve had our first multi-party—


PRESIDENT MOHAMED NASHEED: —elections. We are a hundred percent Muslim country who has been able to galvanize the public for political activism. And we’ve been able to transfer power fairly smoothly and peacefully. Odds are against us many times. But we feel that, you know, people can’t be that stupid. So, you know, we can’t—I really don’t think that we are suicidal, and I think we have an obligation on ourselves to make the message very clear and let the good people of the United States understand what we’re talking about. And I believe that people are listening. Of course, coming in here, it’s very obvious that everyone is listening. My impression of the United States, I will take it from here.


PRESIDENT MOHAMED NASHEED: So I would have a—I would have a better—

MARY ROBINSON: But as you said, there is much to look very positively about the changes that have taken place in the Maldives. And you have been a great leader in relation to that—the democratic change and the role that you’re now playing—but we were listening to a very clear discussion earlier about the need for the policies to reflect the way forward and, indeed, the way forward to green jobs. What are the policy priorities you want to see leading up to Copenhagen?

PRESIDENT MOHAMED NASHEED: Efficient energy-use policies, regulations, legislation on how we use energy, on how we use electricity, water, and so on and so forth. More investments in renewable energy. Start thinking in another frame where we understand that not all goods are free. You know, we’ve been living, in a sense, with this economic idea that some goods are free, but now we have come to understand that really nothing is free, and we have to take care of this planet. So, basically, more investments in renewable energy, and more energy-efficient usage, and regulations to that effect.

But also, very importantly, more—trying to understand more on what is happening. I’m not sure if all of us understand exactly, for instance, what is happening to the Maldives, how the currents are changing, how sand migrations is becoming—migration is becoming a problem. So, you know, I think we need to learn a lot more, understand a lot more. And also, in the past, we’ve been in the habit of spending a lot of money on very heavy engineering, especially in terms of coastal protection with embankments and revetments. But I think, perhaps, we may be able to explore more light engineering and perhaps more biological engineering.


PRESIDENT MOHAMED NASHEED: Reefs have always been a protection for the islands. And if we could see and understand how we may be able to grow reefs, how we may be able to save them and, you know, very many biological means of adaptation.

Also, recently, at least in our country, we’ve experienced a rapid increase in malaria and other vector-borne diseases. We haven’t been able to combat malaria as it was, and suddenly mosquitoes have adapted—


PRESIDENT MOHAMED NASHEED: —while we haven’t. And so, therefore, if we can also understand other health issues arising from climate change. I think—and also, in my mind, adaptation is not necessarily just simply revetments and heavy engineering, but good governance stands at the heart of better adaptation. If we are to channel vast amounts of funds through dictatorships and single-party apparatus, this is—in my mind, is going to be fairly wasteful. So, we should try and become more democratic. We should be more consultative in methods. We should be speaking to people, collective bargaining, and all the other issues to do with labor. And I believe that try and understanding—trying to understand how governance would assist adaptation is an avenue that we should explore.

MARY ROBINSON: I think that’s an extremely important point, and it doesn’t come out enough: the importance of governance and of the priorities within countries and of ensuring that the more vulnerable within countries are given the priority that they need, and especially if they’re coping with climate change shocks. You know, it’s great to hear you with your own vision and with your leadership of the Alliance of Small Island States. What can a broad movement—because there is a broad movement, really, building around the idea of jobs, justice, climate and the need for all of us to get engaged. We heard from young people. We heard some climate witnesses. We’ve heard from the union movement. We’ve heard from a representative of the United States government, Dr. Pershing. And I think, you know, your message about how this movement could help where you are now and the smaller countries that are vulnerable and that need to have their case highlighted—would you like to give a message to this very receptive audience?

PRESIDENT MOHAMED NASHEED: Well, you know, believe me, politicians would never do anything unless it has some link to votes, and therefore—no, I’m one of them.

MARY ROBINSON: You’re not just an optimist, you’re a realist.

PRESIDENT MOHAMED NASHEED: And, you know, leaders really don’t think at all. No, they have their thinking done by the people. And, therefore, grassroots activism is so important to move leaders.

AMY GOODMAN: Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed in conversation with the former president of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson. President Nasheed and his cabinet held a meeting underwater to dramatize climate change this weekend.

This interview was originally published by Democracy Now. To listen to or watch the interview, please click here

This transcript is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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