Maldives talks climate resilience

Last night, at COP 21 in Paris, the Maldives held a side event focusing on the country’s island resiliency programme. Resiliency has become a larger issue at the climate negotiations in recent years as the impacts of the crisis take an ever large toll on vulnerable communities.

The event featured Maldives environment minister, Thoriq Ibrahim, Lexumbourg’s environment minster, Carole Dieschbourg, St Lucia’s energy minister, Dr. James Fletcher, and Professor Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC.

These experts have experienced the climate resiliency challenge from a variety of perspectives and were able to add valuable insights to the Maldives case study.

Maldives first investigated ways to build resiliency in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed 82 and inundated entire villages. Damages were estimated to be over  60% of Maldives GDP.

But as difficult as the tragedy was, it helped illustrate what worked and what steps still needed to be taken to protect the population from future disasters, particularly in the context of climate change.

Prior to the tsunami, concrete tetrapods were installed to the capital of Malé. The defences work by diminishing the power of crashing waves and proved very effective at repelling the waves.

The Safe Islands Programme, developed by the Maldives Environment Ministry builds on these  lessons and looked into how to apply them across the archipelago. It is not cost-effective to use the coastal defence system that worked so well in Malé everywhere, but important steps were identified to shore up infrastructure and protect communities in other ways:

First, populations on some of the most outlying islands were relocated to places with better natural protections and food and water security contingency plans were created.

Second, it is clear that significant investments in diversifying our economy must be made so people are not so dependent on marine-based industries and tourism in the event of another disaster. We’re not there yet.

Third, jetties, harbours, and sea walls can dramatically bolster resilience in coastal communities, but extensive support is required to build them to the level needed.

Fourth, these new environmental realities have been integrated into our economic development plans for fishing communities and tourist destinations alike.

Strict building requirements have helped restore and protect natural barriers to storms, like mangrove forests and coral reefs. At the same time, innovative designs have put our resorts at the forefront of the sustainable tourism movement. But a lack of resources is preventing  full implementation of the vision.

Climate change is increasingly challenging to places like the Maldives and our safer island programme has many lessons to share with other low-lying states. CoP 21 in Paris provides a perfect venue to share best practices and find new solutions as well.