We probably all have cause to be alarmed at the world’s changing climate, but in the Maldives they potentially have more reason than most. The over 1,200 atolls and islands of the Maldives are almost totally flat and even at the island nation’s highest point reach a mere 2.4 metres above sea level. The result of this is that the Maldives is easily the planet’s lowest country, making its stunningly beautiful tropical islands particularly vulnerable to sea level rises.

If carbon emissions continue to heat up the earth’s atmosphere, resulting in the melting of polar ice, then sea level rise is a very real possibility that means the glorious island paradise of the Maldives could disappear beneath the waves in the not too distant future. With the International Panel on Climate Change predicting up to an 88cm rise in sea levels during the 21st century, many of the Maldives islands could disappear completely, with the rest facing disastrous consequences.

In 2009 the then Maldives government held a cabinet meeting underwater to highlight the nation’s plight. The Maldivians have been keen to act on climate change and intend to lead by example. The islands’ inhabitants have been looking at innovative ways of achieving energy independence, adapting the transport infrastructure to cope with ambitious emissions targets and aiming ultimately to make the Maldives the world’s first carbon neutral country by 2020.

Despite a relative lack of natural resources in comparison with the islands’ growing energy needs and increasing population, the Maldives appears to have the expertise required to make progress but has been struggling financially to support all such developments owing its lack of clout with international creditors. However, by the target year of 2020 the plan is to generate a full 60% of power from solar, a roll out of heavily discounted electric cars – owing to some ingenious tweaking of import regulations – and a promise to allocate 2% of national income on developing renewables, something that leaves the rest of the world lagging behind.

There is only so much that small island nations like the Maldives can do however, ultimately its up to larger, more industrialised countries such as the US, China and those in Europe to act to drastically cut their emissions. Otherwise it’s not just the Maldivians who’ll be paying the price with the loss of their stunning homeland, but potentially all of us.

How might this affect your holiday in the Maldives? Well the industry that is really booming in the Maldives is of course tourism, not surprising considering the incredible beauty of the place. The almost 1 million visitors that pass through the main airport in Male every year, obviously whilst boosting the Maldives economy and allowing the money to be invested in green technology, also contribute to the very gases such initiatives are trying to cut with the emissions arising from flights. The government has had to take this into account with its carbon neutral target but it has considered future taxes on resort development and potentially new tariffs might be needed in future to help subsidise renewables. In the long term however, unless there are some major changes in the way the world consumes its energy, tourism to the Maldives might not endure beyond this century, and that is a sobering prospect indeed.

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