Need ‘carbon cuts’, urges The Maldives

Poor countries as well as rich should look to cut carbon emissions, says Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed.

Continuing to equate the need to develop with the right to emit carbon dioxide is, he says, “quite silly”.

Mr Nasheed was speaking to BBC News at the launch of a report on vulnerability to climate impacts, which the authors say shows no nation will be untouched.

He said The Maldives has not received any of the “fast-start” finance pledged by Western governments last year.

It is highly unusual for the leader of a developing nation to call on his or her fellows to cut carbon.

The position of the powerful G77/China bloc – which includes most of the developing world – is that Western nations should cut emissions while others should only have to reduce the rate at which their emissions grow.

However, The Maldives and some other developing nations are known to be somewhat disenchanted with the fact that they have to sit inside the same negotiating bloc as countries that want to develop on the back of expanding fossil fuel use, and some that do not want a legally-binding global agreement to constrain emissions.

“When I started hearing about this climate change issue, I started hearing developing countries say ‘we have a right to emit carbon because we have to develop’,” he said.

“It is true, we need to develop; but equating development to carbon emissions I thought was quite silly.

“There is new technology – fossil fuel is obsolete, it’s yesterday’s technology; so we [are aiming to] come up with a development strategy that’s low carbon.”

The Maldives is aiming to become carbon neutral by 2020; and Mr Nasheed sees the low-carbon development strategy, when it is fully developed, as something that could be picked up by larger nations such as China and India.

Mr Nasheed said that investment in clean energy technology in countries such as China should mean they can move away from fossil fuels faster than they have currently pledged – which would, in turn, change their stance towards the UN climate process.

“They have to rapidly increase their investments in renewable energy, and I think they are doing that – and once they’e done it, they’re going to say ‘right, we need a legally-binding agreement’,” he said.

Changing trains

During last December’s UN climate summit in Copenhagen, developed nations (headed by Japan, the EU and the US) promised to provide developing countries with $30bn for the period 2010-2 to help them adopt clean technologies and begin to protect themselves against climate impacts.

Much of the money has been pledged to individual countries and projects. But, said Mr Nasheed, none has been delivered.

“None at all; it’s a nightmare,” he said.

“Governments will always drag things, even when it’s pledged, even when it’s cited in the budget – you can always drag the issue to the next year, and the World Bank, European Union, Asian Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank and so on – they all have very difficult procurement procedures and it’s very, very difficult.”

That rich countries must help poorer ones to adapt, with finance, is enshrined in the UN climate convention (UNFCCC) dating back to 1992.

The three-year “fast-start” finance is seen as a key step in turning that concept into reality.

Athena Ballesteros from the World Resources Institute, which tracks progress on climate finance, said that understanding what has been pledged and paid is very complex; but in some places, progress has definitely been slow.

“Many funds are new, and they’re still designing the investment programmes, so it’s really taking a long time to release the money,” she said.

“Where I think money has started to flow is through bilateral channels, because those are open for overseas development aid. But there, the question is whether the money is really new and additional.”