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Maldives - Environment

“With an average elevation of about 4 feet, and with literally zero hills or mountains, the Maldives is the world’s lowest-lying country. It will not survive the sea level rise caused by anthropogenic climate change,” remarks environmental writer Stephanie Bernhard in a piece for Slate.

The Maldivian President who dived underwater with his cabinet gave a new light to the association between Maldives and the ‘environment’. The world now knows how dependent the Maldives is on its natural environment. Maldives has extreme vulnerability to low frequency, high consequence disasters as proven by the Tsunami 2004, which caused economic losses of $470 million, which is 62% of the gross domestic product of the Maldives.

The Maldives has an equatorial climate with high humidity and average temperatures between 27º and 29º Celsius all year. The weather in the Maldives is usually picture perfect: sunlit days, breezy nights, balmy mornings, and iridescent sunsets. The temperature hardly ever changes - which makes packing for your holiday an easy task. With the average temperature at about 30 degrees Celsius throughout the year. The sun is a constant most days, shining through treetops. Throughout the day, the sun will make itself known, ensuring that it will be remembered and missed.

Maldives has two distinct seasons; dry season (northeast monsoon) and wet season (southwest monsoon), with the former extending from January to March and the latter from mid-May to November. Because of the Maldives’ proximity to the equator, the monsoon seasons are not as well defined as in other areas. The monsoons are best defined in the northern part of the country. This region has distinct monsoon seasons including the strong southwest monsoon from June through September and a noticeable northeast monsoon from December through February. However, at the southern end of the Maldives on Addu Atoll, there is not as strong a monsoon signal with winds speeds fairly uniform throughout the year. The average annual precipitation ranges increase from north to south with between 1500 mm and 2000 mm in the northern part of the country to around 2500 mm at Gan Island on the Addu Atoll. The rare thunderstorm in the Maldives, especially around the southwest monsoon months) can be a welcome respite from the sun. Cloudy skies and slate grey seas, and crashing thunder makes up for lovely reading weather. The warm temperatures will allow you to go for a walk in the rain, a verdant, wet, thoroughly enjoyable experience. For extra exhilaration, take a swim in the rain - the sea will be extra warm.

The Maldives lies in two rows of atolls in the Indian Ocean, just across the equator. The country is made up of 1,190 coral islands formed around 26 natural ring-like atolls, spread over 90,000 square kilometers. These atoll structures are formed upon a sharp ridge rising from the ocean, thereby creating their secluded uniqueness.

Each atoll in the Maldives is made of a coral reef encircling a lagoon, with deep channels dividing the reef ring. A string of islands take their places among this atoll ring; each island has its own reef encircling the island lagoon. The reefs of the islands, alive with countless underwater creatures and vibrant corals, protect the islands from wind and the ocean waves. This unique structure of reefs and channels makes navigation almost impossible for anybody without sufficient local knowledge of the waters.

Over the longer term Maldivian authorities worry about the impact of erosion and possible global warming on their low-lying country; 80% of the area is 1 meter (about 3.3 feet) or less above sea level.

There is growing concern about coral reef and marine life damage because of coral mining (used for building and jewelry making), sand dredging, solid waste pollution, and climate change. Mining of sand and coral have removed the natural coral reef that protected several important islands, making them highly susceptible to the erosive effects of the sea. The practices have been banned in recent years.

In April 1987, high tides swept over the Maldives, inundating much of Male and nearby islands. The December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami inundated a number of islands, contaminating freshwater sources and damaging houses, soil, and groundwater. These events prompted high-level Maldivian interest in global climatic changes, as the country's highest point is about 8 feet (about 2.4 meters) above sea level.

Maldives recognises that climate change is the biggest threat of our times, threatening not just the existence of Maldives, but the entire planet. The interests of all countries can only be achieved by combatting this threat.

As a prominent voice in the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and the G77, Maldives has taken a lead role in international negotiations on climate change and environmental protection. Maldives seeks genuine progress in climate change politics – binding commitments that will tackle the urgent threat of climate change in practice.

On environmental issues, Maldives leads by example. As one of only three counties to have ever graduated from the United Nations’ ‘Least Developed Countries’ category, Maldives has achieved much while relying on sustainable practices. By establishing the Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, pledging to turn the whole of Maldives into a Biosphere Reserve by 2017, and committing to become the world’s first carbon neutral country by 2020, Maldives hopes to demonstrate that an alternative model of development is possible.

Government leaders from eleven countries participated in the Climate Vulnerable 9-10 Forum November 2009 in the Maldives. The participants and observers heard from experts on special challenges the most vulnerable countries are facing, scientific aspects of global climate goals, and legal facets of international climate protocols. Following two days of discussion, Forum participants developed a final statement calling on developed countries to provide public money amounting to at least 1.5% of their GDP to assist developing countries make their transition to a climate resilient low-carbon economy.

Delegates at the Climate Vulnerable Forum included President Tong of Kiribati, as well as foreign and environment ministers from Bangladesh, Nepal, Vietnam, Ghana, Kenya and Tanzania, and representatives from Barbados and Bhutan. The other countries attending the Forum as observers were China, Denmark, France, Japan, The Netherlands, Norway, Russia, and the UK.

President Nasheed of The Maldives gave an impassioned opening address in which he noted that failure at Copenhagen would mean the elimination of the climate vulnerable countries and their peoples and warned that climate change negotiations cannot be viewed like any other international issue, stating 'we cannot cut deal with Mother Nature.' He urged the developed countries to provide a significant sum of money to the developing world to assist in the transition to low-carbon economies and for adaptation projects. Nasheed likened the current sums on offer to 'arriving at an earthquake zone with a dustpan and brush.' But he also called on those countries present to take action at home as well, pointing to his government's efforts to reach a carbon-neutral economy within ten years by transitioning to wind and solar energy and purchasing offsets to counter carbon emissions from the aviation industry.

Each of the delegates also gave remarks highlighting their problems at home, from desertification, enhanced drought/flood cycles, melting glaciers, rising seas and loss of agricultural land Mark Lynans, President Nasheed's environmental advisor and a partner at Oxford Climate Associates, discussed the need to bring atmospheric carbon concentrations below 350 parts per million (ppm) vice the 387 ppm we are currently at today to avert the 'triple whammy' currently affecting Maldives - rising sea levels, bleaching of the protective coral, and ocean acidification which literally melts the carbonate rocks from which the islands are built. Lynans also argued not just for adaptation financing, in developing countries, but mitigation financing as well, to fund carbon reduction projects.

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