The Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed has become the most visible developing country spokesperson on climate change. Nasheed has continued to press for radical reductions in CO2 levels in the atmosphere, most recently arguing for a 350 parts per million target in a meeting with activist and author Bill McKibben in Copenhagen.
The President has also made a more unusual case – saying that the developing world should not be seduced into thinking that use of fossil fuel energy was the right pathway to economic development. He argues that the rational state should now try to avoid building its energy infrastructure around carbon-based sources. Not only is it likely that the world will eventually put severe restrictions on fossil fuel use, including high levels of carbon taxes, it is also likely that prices will tend to increase as supplies, particularly of oil, tighten. At some stage in the next generation, oil and gas will probably become extremely expensive. So a country like the Maldives would be wrong to try to build an energy infrastructure reliant on plentiful and cheap hydrocarbons. Instead, he argues, the right strategy is to find appropriate renewable resources and exploit them locally. The Maldives has plentiful solar energy and considerable wind. Rather than develop centralised coal power stations, is it not more sensible to attract investment into exploiting local natural resources? It will be necessary eventually to wean countries off fossil energy, so why put billions into infrastructure that may be useless in ten or twenty years?
One question immediately arises. Do most developing countries have access to sufficient renewable energy sources? A quick look demonstrates that most areas of the world have plentiful resources for energy transformation. The attached presentation (available for download in PowerPoint or PDF) looks quickly at where the main resources are of geothermal, wind, solar, biomass, and wave energy. It is not a piece of analysis, it just tries to show that most of the poorer parts of the world have plentiful resources of natural energy sources. There are exceptions: Afghanistan doesn’t have any obvious candidates for much of its landmass. But, generally speaking, the bottom 3 billion are better served for renewable energy than the top half of the world’s population.
Full text of Mohamed Nasheed's speech as given at Klimaforum, 14 December 2009 (copied from Treehugger.com):
Mr McKibben, fellow environmentalists, ladies and gentlemen,
Four years ago myself, and many fellow activists, sat in solitary confinement in Maldivian prison cells. We sat in those jail cells not because we had committed any wrong. We sat in those cells because we had deliberately broken the unjust laws of dictatorship. We had spoken out for a cause in which we believed. That cause was freedom and democracy.
There were times, sitting in that prison, when I felt more alone than you can imagine. There were times when I started to believe the doubters, who said the Maldives would never become free. Sometimes it felt like the doubters were right. The dictatorship had the guns, bombs and tanks. We had no weapons other than the power of our words, and the moral clarity of our cause. Many democracy activists like us had vanished, forgotten by history, their struggle a failure.
But, in spite of the odds, we refused to give up hope. We refused to listen to the voices of doubt and discouragement. We refused to be swayed by those who could not see that change was on the way. And we were right to stand up for what we believed.
We won our battle for democracy in the Maldives. I stand before you today as the first democratically elected President in the history of my country.
The path to democracy in the Maldives was not straight-forward. It was bumpy and full of turns. But we were determined that no matter how difficult the terrain, we would reach the end of the road. And we succeeded in our cause.
Four years later and a continent away, we meet here to confront another seemingly impossible task. We are here to save our planet from the silent, patient and invisible enemy that is climate change.
And just as there were doubters in the Maldives, so there are doubters in Copenhagen. There are those who tell us that solving climate change is impossible. There are those who tell us taking radical action is too difficult. There are those who tell us to give up hope.
Well, I am here to tell you that we refuse to give up hope. We refuse to be quiet. We refuse to believe that a better world isn't possible.
I have three words to say to the doubters and deniers. Three words with which to win this battle. Just three words are all I need. You may already have heard them. Three - Five - Oh. Three - Five - Oh.
Three - Five - Oh, saves the coral reefs. Three - Five - Oh, keeps the Arctic frozen. Three - Five - Oh, ensures my country survives. Three - Five - Oh, makes a better world possible.
I am here to tell you that down the road in the Bella Center the Maldives team is fighting to keep Three - Five - Oh in the negotiating text.
They need all the help they can get from you. Please keep supporting them.
And the good news is that we are now part of a growing bloc of nations, all committed to keeping Three - Five - Oh as the central guiding goal of our global survival plan.
These nations need your help and support too.
I am not a scientist, but I know that one of the laws of physics, is that you cannot negotiate with the laws of physics. Three - Five - Oh is a law of atmospheric physics. You cannot cut a deal with Mother Nature. And we don't intend to try.
This is why, in March, the Maldives announced plans to become the first carbon neutral country in the world. We intend to become carbon neutral in ten years. We will switch from oil to 100% renewable energy. And we will offset aviation pollution, until a way can be found to decarbonise air transport too.
For us, going carbon neutral is not just the right thing to do. We believe it is also in our economic self-interest. Countries that have the foresight to green their economies today, will be the winners of tomorrow. These pioneering countries will free themselves from the unpredictable price of foreign oil. They will capitalize on the new, green economy of the future. And they will enhance their moral standing, giving them greater political influence on the world stage. In the Maldives, we have relinquished our claim to high-carbon growth.
After all, it is not carbon we want, but development. It is not coal we want, but electricity. It is not oil we want, but transport. Low-carbon technologies now exist, to deliver all the goods and services we need. Let us make the goal of using them.
Let us make the goal of reaching that all-important number: three - five - oh.
We believe that if the Maldives can become carbon neutral; richer, larger countries can follow. But if there is one thing I know about politicians, it's that they won't act until their electorates act first. This is where you come in.
History shows us the power of peaceful protest. From the civil rights movement, to Gandhi's Quit India campaign; non-violent protest can create change. Protest worked in the struggle for democracy in the Maldives. And on 24 October, we saw how protests across the world put Three - Five - Oh firmly on the Copenhagen agenda.
My message to you is to continue the protests. Continue after Copenhagen. Continue despite the odds. And eventually, together, we will reach that crucial number: Three - five - oh.
In all political agreements, you have to be prepared to negotiate. You have to be prepared to compromise; to give and take. That is the nature of politics. But physics isn't politics. On climate change, there are things on which we cannot negotiate. There are scientific bottom lines that we have to respect. We know what the laws of physics say. And I think you know too.
The most important number in the world. The most important number you'll ever hear. The most important number you'll ever say. These three words: Three - five - oh. (Three - five - oh) (Three - five - oh).
Full disclosure: Chris Goodall assists Mark Lynas in his work for the Republic of Maldives on climate change issues.