Climate justice: President Mohamed Nasheed on the plight of the Maldives

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President Nasheed shot to worldwide fame in 2009 when he held the first ever underwater cabinet meeting to raise awareness about climate change. In 2011, he was made the subject of the critically acclaimed documentary, The Island President. He spoke to the IBA’s Senior Reporter at the IBA Annual Conference in Tokyo.


Rebecca Lowe: Perhaps you could explain a little bit, first, about what climate justice is and why it means so much to you.

Mohamed Nasheed: Climate change is having a very profound impact on the people of the Maldives, and a number of other people all over the world. For us, in the Maldives, it’s not something in the future but it is something which is happening now. ‘Climate change’ – what we basically mean by that is ‘climate aberration’. The winds are stronger, the seas are rough, the wet seasons are wetter and the dry seasons are drier. And the sea level is also rising. Now, these changes in climate are having a very profound impact on the people. Now, there are a number of injustices that arise from these issues, especially issues to do with migration, issues to do with having to relocate yourself. And also food security and issues to do with conflict. So we feel that it’s very, very important that we look into these issues now. The Maldives, probably, will not be there in our lifetime, and if that happens, we are asking this question: where will our people go? And, if our people go, […] would we be going into someone else’s nationality. Would we be going in as a nation, as a people? Where would our culture go? Where would our language go? The Maldives has been there, in the middle of the Indian Ocean, for the last 10,000 years, and we have a written history that goes back 2,000. Now, exactly, would that history also go with us? Would everything to do with us go with us?

RL: Is it a frustration for you when you see other, much more powerful countries – where, perhaps, it is still a pressing issue, but not quite so immediate – not really paying due attention to this subject?

‘It’s possible to have a carbon neutral world economy by 2050 and we are unable to get a good grip on this… because of the strength of oil companies and energy companies who are spending so much on anti-earth messaging and environmentally degrading ideas’

Excerpt from IBA interview with Mohamed Nasheed (0:59) President Mohamed Nasheed
Former President of the Maldives (2008–2012) Maldivian Marine Scientist and environmental activist


MN: It is. In some people’s views, carbon emission, which lies at the heart of the climate issue, climate is changing, according to the science, because of increasing carbon emission and carbon pollution in the atmosphere. Now, very often, emission is equated with development, so in one sense, there is this view that developed countries, anyone who is asking anyone to be mindful of the environment, apparently, is asking developing countries not to develop. I don’t think that we should view the issue in that regard. There is a carbon free development projection, trajectory, that I’m sure we can achieve that. The kind of renewable energy available now is very, very different from even the last few years.

So in my view, for India, for China, for Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia, all these developing countries, if you want to be the leaders of tomorrow, you cannot be hooked on to technology, Victorian technology of internal combustion. You must embrace the technology of the future, which is renewable energy. So yes, there is this issue of bigger countries and big emerging countries, developing countries, taking a very short minded view on what we are talking about and proceeding business as usual. I think the consequences of that on themselves would be far greater in the very near future.

RL: It is understandable, though, that developing countries might feel frustrated that they haven’t had their opportunity to develop with cheap energy in the way developed countries have with fossil fuels, coal and gas. So how do you try and change the mind-set?

MN: Well, it was cheaper during Victorian times, but it is no longer cheaper. It’s not cheap in the sense that we are not costing it, the effect it has on other people. What we must all very much focus on right now is to understand that the economics have changed. Carbon or fossil fuel is no longer cheaper than renewable energy. It’s very, very possible to have a carbon neutral world economy by 2050 and we are unable to comprehend this or we are unable to get a good grip on this, not because the economics is not settled, but mainly because of the strength of oil companies and energy companies who are spending so much on anti-earth messaging and environmentally degrading ideas.

This is an excerpt from a longer interview, which is available at