This morning I spotted a poignant example of the inequalities inherent in tackling climate change. The Maldives have announced they’ll go carbon neutral by 2020. Newly elected President Mohamed Nasheed says his small archipelago nation will hereby spurn fossil fuels – opting instead for wind and solar power – and buy EU carbon credits to offset emissions from tourists. You can understand his concern: his country is the lowest lying on earth; eighty percent of it is only one meter above (a rising) sea level.
On the one hand, the move is a bit like pissing in the wind (the Maldives make up less than 0.01 per cent of global emissions, so their visionary pledge is unlikely to prevent them from drowning). On the other, it’s a gallant display of leadership from a tiny nation bearing the brunt of a warming globe.
Nasheed, in an op-ed in the Observer, says
Going green might cost a lot, but refusing to act now will cost us the Earth.
He also points out that although the Maldives are in the frontline, the bunkers in which other countries are biding time aren’t foolproof.
The level of warming and associated sea-level rise that would inundate the Maldives could also tip climate change beyond man’s control. If the world can’t save the Maldives today, it might be too late to save London, New York or Hong Kong tomorrow.
In other words, by the time the Maldives go under, we’re all screwed, because at that stage we’ll have passed the tipping point and will be battling it out with runaway climate change.
In an ideal world, the industrialised nations spewing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere with the intensity of 21-year olds after a yard glass would lead the charge to cut global emissions and spearhead moves towards low carbon economies. They are, after all, the longest-serving root of the problem, and they have the most ground to make up. But this world isn’t ideal; for one thing its mean temperature is rising too fast. For another, people have jetskis.
The symbolic gesture on the part of the Maldives will set an example for other nations when they convene this December in Copenhagen for the culmination of UN climate talks. Leaders are needed; both on the Obama scale, but frankly anywhere they can be found. Lest we forget the spectacular turnaround of the Bali climate talks in December 2007, thanks to one softly-spoken Papua New Guinean delegate.
Back home in Godzone, our government continues to do its best to ensure that when it comes to carbon we’re as far from neutral as we can get. New roads, new fossil fueled power stations, bad bulbs, an emissions trading scheme on ice and a PM who’s aching for the skeptics to be proved right. If the Maldives get it and believe they can make a difference, why don’t we?