Maldives' foreign secretary discusses outlook for island nations ahead of Paris meeting

As an island nation, the Maldives has a unique climate change story. How is the Maldivian government working to mitigate the impacts of climate change, and what requests is it making of the international community as the next climate agreement is crafted? During today's OnPoint, Ali Naseer Mohamed, foreign secretary of the Maldives, discusses the impact of political instability and the threat of sanctions on his country's ability to combat the effects of climate change.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello, and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Ali Naseer Mohamed, foreign secretary of the Maldives. Thank you for joining me.

Ali N. Mohamed: It's a pleasure.

Monica Trauzzi: As an island nation, the Maldives have a unique climate change story. What is your government doing currently to address climate change, and how high of a priority is climate change for the current administration?

Ali N. Mohamed: Thank you very much for having me here. For the government, climate change has always been a top priority since 1987. It was 1987 when the then-president of Maldives, Mr. Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, came to the United States and addressed the United Nations General Assembly and called upon world leaders on the dangers of climate change and the consequences arising from that, including civil uprise. And he went on to say, in very clear words, the dangers that countries like the Maldives -- the Maldives stands just 3 feet above sea level -- and how vulnerable the Maldives would be to a potential sea-level rise. And since then, climate change has captured the top priority, both national and foreign policy issues, for the Maldives.

What are we going to do about it? First of all, we -- our contribution to global emission is 0.0001 percent or somewhere around there, so it's almost nonexistent. So our policy has been to advocate for action, emphasizing that it is common action that can produce results, that individual countries, individual nations can collaborate with other nations and produce globally binding, legally binding understandings or agreements that will steer global actions, that will produce results in cutting emissions, and therefore, conquering climate change.

Monica Trauzzi: The former president of your country, who was overthrown, was well-known for making climate change a hallmark issue. How does the current administration differ in its advocacy and outreach?

Ali N. Mohamed: Well, I will correct you a little bit at that. The former president was not overthrown; he resigned voluntarily back in 2012. The climate change policy, the national climate policy of the Maldives is not confined to one administration. The Maldives has remained -- has made a consistent policy and consistent commitment. We have been consistent in our commitment in fighting both nationally and internationally, bringing up climate change in our foreign policy -- in our dialogue with other countries and taking in -- taking actions nationally to counter the threat and adapting to the climate challenges nationally.

Monica Trauzzi: There have been calls for international sanctions against the Maldives. What impact could sanctions have on your country's ability to mitigate the impacts of climate change?

Ali N. Mohamed: Devastating. International sanctions has not worked in -- under any circumstances. It has always damaged the country's national developments whenever the sanctions were imposed, and when people talk about sanctions in Maldives, that will have devastating consequences on the country's efforts to mitigate climate change.

Sanctions, or the talk of sanctions, is a premature notion that I hope people are not taking too seriously on those calls.

Monica Trauzzi: How does political instability within your country affect the government's ability to work on mitigating the effects of climate change?

Ali N. Mohamed: There is no political instability in the Maldives, but there is a dynamic political situation in the country. There are differences of opinion. Whenever you have a competitive political situation in the country, there will always be differences between the two parties. Here in the United States, you have differences of opinion between the two major political parties, and wherever you have competitive political systems, those differences would exist.

We believe that within the competitive political environment, when you have polity discourses coming out from that, that will be much more healthier in dealing with issues. It is much easier for any government when you have consensus among the political class of the country on issues such as climate change, which we believe we do. Regardless of political persuasion of any individual or any political party, their views on climate change and the things that we need to do to counter that remains consistent.

Monica Trauzzi: What message should island nations be delivering to the international community in December at the U.N. meeting in Paris?

Ali N. Mohamed: The island -- low-lying -- particularly the low-lying island nations will be delivering -- the message that they will be crafting at -- in Paris would be that: No. 1, there has to be a legally binding, inclusive agreement, time-honored agreement, where every country takes part, particularly the emerging countries. No one should be left behind.

And No. 2, mitigation and adaptation should be given priority -- and the unique challenges that low-lying island states have, particularly on the issue of adaptation, that has to be given particular emphasis.

And the third: ... that has to be taken into account in whatever form that there is consensus among them. The island states -- the Alliance of Small Island States, we -- the Maldives is currently the chair of this group. We work in building consensus. We believe that it is by building consensus that you can address issues such as this, which is a common challenge which requires common solution.

Monica Trauzzi: So this list is what you would like to see happen. Several of those items, though, will be difficult to achieve in Paris. So what outcome -- what's the sort of bar for success in Paris? What would you consider a success?

Ali N. Mohamed: Well, we always remain very optimistic. We aim high, and by raising the bar, only you can measure success. We believe that the agreement should produce a result where the global temperature should stabilize at 1.5 and that we believe that there will be consensus. Be it in Paris or be it after Paris, there will be consensus.

As I've told at beginning, when the Maldives raised the issue of climate change in 1980s, not very many people actually took us very seriously. That was in 1987. But we have -- and it was also quite interesting to see world leaders going to the U.N. podium yesterday and speaking about climate refugees. That was a notion that Maldives actually started speaking in early 1990s, and then some journalists, including some economists, started writing whether this is something to be taken seriously.

So we believe that by having a target as high as we wish, that would encourage nations and leaders to actually work for it.

Monica Trauzzi: In August, the Obama administration released its final Clean Power Plan to reduce emissions from the power sector. China has also established commitments to reduce emissions. How did these actions by the world's major emitters affect prospects for your country?

Ali N. Mohamed: Very much so. We are very, very encouraged by the bold decisions and policy announcements by these two countries and we would encourage other emitting countries to follow suit in our ambitious policy plans. But having said that, having ambitious policy plans is one thing; it's quite another to be able to actually implement those policies. For us, for the Alliance of Small Island States and the low-lying island states in the world, for us, it is the actions that counts more. Policies are good, necessary, and need to have that, but actions that can reduce emissions is what counts, and that's what we'd like to see.

Monica Trauzzi: We'll end it right there. I thank you for your time. Thank you for coming in.

Ali N. Mohamed: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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