(Article contributed to the blog by H.E. Dr Mohamed Waheed, President of the Republic of Maldives. President Waheed writes on climate governance integrity, green tourism as a driver of the national economy, sustainable fisheries as an investment for a resilient livelihood, tourism adaptation to climate change, Maldives’ carbon neutral goal, efficient economic development and environmental conservation.)
Since I became President, one of my key priorities for securing the future of the Maldives is combating the very real challenge of climate change and its effect on our nation. Climate change threatens our sustainable developmental aspirations, our principal economic sectors – tourism and fisheries, our fragile ecosystems and the very existence of our country itself.
While Maldives contributes to less than 0.01% to the global emission of greenhouse gases, we are at the frontline of the predicted impacts of climate change and sea level rise. Our tourist resorts, which on average are positioned approximately 1.5m above mean sea level, are already experiencing environmental damage, due to climate change-related trends and effects. In addition, initial impacts are already being felt on coastal infrastructure, fisheries, water resources, agriculture and human health.
The Maldivian economy has been impacted by natural disaster before, as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami brought on an estimated direct loss of about US$298 million and total damages amounting to over US$470 million . The largest indirect losses occurred in the tourism sector due to the sharp decline in tourist arrivals following the incident.
Simply put, we cannot sit back and let the Maldives succumb to climate change; we must aggressively work towards solutions. To increase the resilience of our islands to future disasters and climate change impacts, my vision is to build on the historical work we have done in this area to provide implementable and sustainable solutions. I have developed key priorities for how we can make this happen and improve the Maldives in the process. These include:
1. Green Tourism– Driving the National Economy
As a global luxury and dive travel destination, tourism is an important growth driver of the Maldives economy. The industry contributes more than US$750 million to the Maldivian economy, accounting for approximately 76% of GDP, 70% of foreign exchange earnings and contributing public revenue of Rf 2.5 billion. The industry is also an important driver of employment in the country, employing around 58% of the islands’ workforce.
The tourist industry in the Maldives faces two, often contradictory, challenges: to promote growth in the economy through increased tourist revenue and to protect the unique natural assets of the islands, which are threatened by increased traffic from tourists.
In order to protect the natural and cultural legacy of the islands, I am proposing to take the following steps to minimize the impact of tourism on the natural environment, including marine conservation, regulating the planning of resorts, limiting the physical development of inhabited islands, protecting local customs and traditions, restricting bed capacity on islands and imposing strict building regulation. In particular, tourist development is mainly carried out on uninhabited islands to minimize the potentially negative impact on the traditional society and to manage the natural environment of the islands.
We are also making new investments in renewable energy and environment friendly materials and processes to move towards a more green economy.
2. Sustainable Fisheries- an Investment for a Resilient Livelihood
In the Maldives, fishing is our second most important industry and is recognized as world leading, sustainable and “Dolphin friendly” form of fishing. Our fisheries provide the most employment opportunities for dispersed island communities and over 14,500 jobs and produce earnings worth Rf 1.7 billion or 98% of all exports.
It has an indirect link to tourism sector as tourist resorts demand a constant supply of fish for their consumption.
Fish processing and exporting to other countries remain a vital part of the sector where large investment is required. The Maldives government is to open up and seeks new investments for the diversification and continued sustainable development of the sector.
3. Tourism Adaptation to Climate Change
Climate change-related risks to our tourism sector and its associated value chains are projected to materialize both directly (through physical damages and losses from climate-related hazards, stresses and events) and indirectly (through reduced revenues across all levels of tourism-related value chains).
One of the most important assets of Maldives tourist resorts are the beautiful beaches, with 70% of tourists visiting for beach holidays. Increasing beach erosion caused by global warming, threatens the attractiveness of the Maldives and the reputation of our country as a tourist destination. These consequences are expected to be felt not only by the tourism sector, but also by the individuals, communities, enterprises and entire sectors that are catering to the sector and hence dependent on its resilience.
My government and I are acutely aware that urgent action is needed to address these threats, however, like other Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS), we are confronted with high adaptation costs relative to GDP. We are strategizing climate adaptation measures to minimize climatic induced negative impacts on tourism. Implementation of these plans will require climate adaptation financing made accessible to the public and private sector.
4. Carbon Neutral Goal
Energy in the Maldives is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, however, up to 80% of the electricity used on island communities could be derived from renewable energy sources. We have made a ‘renewable energy investment framework’ to develop a carbon neutral energy sector, which includes a mandatory target for the country to generate at least 60% of its electricity from solar power by 2020. The total investment is estimated to be $3bn – $5bn over the next ten years, but the savings on oil imports will be exponential. The Government of Maldives is currently working with development agencies and donors to help put this plan in action.
5. Efficient and Low HCFC Economic Development
Building Maldives economic development on a foundation of low Hydro chloro fluoro carbon (HCFC) is a priority. We continue to work to protect the Ozone layer under the Montreal Protocol and plan to gradually reduce and complete HCFC phase-out by 2020 and an HCFC based equipment import ban by 2013, or 2015 at the latest.
HCFCs is the main refrigerant in the Maldives. The food industry accounts for 63% of refrigerant use, whereas, tourism, the lifeblood of Maldives, accounts for only 4% of HCFC blends use and to 2% of the total refrigerants used. Consumption of HCFCs in fisheries, the second largest industry in the Maldives, amount to 15-20% of the total refrigerants imported to the Maldives . Reduction of HCFCs are achievable whilst maintaining our core industries.
6. Conservation- Contribution to the Green Economy
In the Maldives, the natural environment is our prime asset. I am taking forward plans to protect this asset and sustainably develop our main economic sectors which are based on the marine environment, a world class tourism and traditional pole and line tuna fishing industry.
During my time in Maldivian politics, the Government designated 15 Marine Protected Areas in 1995 and 10 more areas in 1999 to protect the larger marine species, especially sharks and reefs . Other measures that have been introduced include banning export of important bait fish for aquariums, banning fishing from the house reefs of tourist resorts, and the protection of threatened marine resources such as sharks, sea turtles, giant clams, and black coral.
This protection was taken further in 2009 when for the first time we commenced the protection of an entire atoll ecosystem in the Maldives, which later lead to the fruition of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in Baa Atoll in 2011. Baa Atoll is home to world famous dive spot called Hanifaru, where manta rays and giant whale sharks gather.
The six tourist resorts in the area entertain approximately 45,000 tourists a year, selling bed-nights worth around US$ 160 million and run six dive centres, generating income of around US$ 2.3 million. The designation of the Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve signaled the commitment of the Maldives government and local people to manage its world class natural resources and sustainable development for the growth of tourism, fisheries management and sustainably for the future. But we will require support and cooperation from our development partners to ensure this work continues.
Sustaining the naturalness and the prestige of our beloved Maldives as an exemplar tourist destination pursued through green economic policies will build resilient communities and promote sustainable development. The time is right and it is now for building the necessary inroads to facilitate green growth our future. In 2012 Maldives will be developing its fourth tourism master plan aiming at sustainability and green growth.
I am determined to make Maldives a world leader in sustainable tourism.