Governance challenges related to climate change in the Maldives:
Integrating adaptation in decision-making and policy development processes
His Excellency Mr. Ahmed Sareer
Permanent Representative of the Republic of Maldives to the United Nations
New York, 21 April 2015
I was asked to speak about the experience of the Maldives regarding the complex governance challenges presented by climate change adaptation.
The Maldives is one of the smallest of six atoll island nations globally, with a landmass of approximately 300 sq. km. The foremost principle of the climate change and environment policy of the Government is that the natural environment is the key to socio-economic development. Furthermore, our overriding objective is to ensure the provision of the fundamental services provided by the environment; the right to access to safe drinking water, food, safe disposal of solid waste, access to electricity.
This objective must be achieved in the context of the unprecedented socio-economic change that the Maldives has experienced in recent years. Rapid economic development in the country has increased the use of the limited natural resources. A rise in consumerism and changes in lifestyle have increased consumption, along with the amount of waste produced.
The Maldives believes that climate change is the 21st Century’s greatest development and security challenge. Climate change threatens the stability of Earth’s climate system and ecosystems. Negative effects are already taking place and these will gravely undermine our efforts towards sustainable development and threaten our survival and the sovereignty of our nation and people. While longer- term impacts such as sea level rise could result in the unavoidable out-migration of some of our people, we have a right to pursue any and all means to ensure our nation survives and our legacy in these islands continues with future generations.
It is evident that the Maldives is among the most vulnerable and least defensible countries to the projected impacts of climate change, such as sea level rise and extreme climatic events. Clearly, climate change adaptation must be a priority.
Our blueprint for action is the Maldives National Adaptation Programme of Action, or NAPA, which was created in 2007. Developed as part of a process under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the NAPA identified our most immediate and urgent adaptation needs. Specifically, it focused on several key sectors requiring attention, which included extensive land loss and beach erosion, impacts on critical infrastructure, tourism, fisheries, human health, water resources, agricultural and food security. Clearly climate change adaptation is a multifaceted challenge and requires attention across the whole of government.
In our system, each administration provides a set of policies to the public before taking office. That is where the policy formulation begins, and is therefore the first point of entry for mainstreaming adaptation. This provides a broad perspective on adaptation priorities and it is complemented by a second point of entry that is much more specific, namely the National planning process, which is when we integrate adaption into development plans. This approach helps ensure that climate change remains a cross-cutting issue rather than a discrete sector of its own. The third point of entry is during the resource allocation process. In Maldives, similar to other countries, the budget must be endorsed by Parliament. This final step really determines our ability to actually implement the adaptation actions.
We have developed a coordination mechanism for the implementation phase, which includes a specific process, methods and tools.
The process begins with stakeholder discussions, which must be conducted before we adopt any plans, programmes or policies. These discussions tend to be quite technical and are the first opportunity for a real exchange of views to take place. Furthermore, as climate change is treated as a cross cutting issue, climate change elements are injected into the sectoral Master Plans, which enable a smooth transfer of those elements to national development planning process.
On tools, we have successfully institutionalized climate change in the Maldives. We started with a single unit, however, given its significance on our environment and economy, it has been elevated to department level at the Ministry of Environment. This gives greater visibility to climate change-related actions both domestically and internationally. It has also led to the more effective coordination of adaptation actions.
The formulation and implementation of adaptation projects begins with the identification of the key project area. This is followed by the establishment of a Project Management Unit within the Climate Change Department. Each project also requires one or more technical teams, and a Project Steering Committee, which includes the relevant stakeholder institutions and NGOs.
The Maldives faces many barriers and challenges in climate change adaptation. First and foremost is the high financial cost of adaptation projects, which rarely create new streams of revenue, unlike many mitigation projects. In addition, our population is scattered across many islands often with very low density, requiring actions in many different places. Not only is this a logistical challenge, but it also adds to the cost. Most materials must be imported, which can be quite expensive as well.
While we have taken great strides in improving our education system, we still often lack the technical capacity to implement new technologies and evaluate their effectiveness. Gaps in our regulatory and institutional capacity can also lead to weak legal enforcement, which slows the uptake of certain policies and measures. Given these capacity constraints, there is always a risk of the ad-hoc planning and implementation of adaptation measures. Of course, the more effective we are at mainstreaming adaptation across sectors, the more we see costs rise across the board, which increases pressure on local budget planning.
These are some of the main challenges we face domestically, and hopefully you can now understand why it is so important that we have effective international institutions to support us. We have made some progress at the climate change negotiations, notably the Cancun Adaptation Framework, the Adaptation Fund, the Green Climate Fund, and the technology mechanism. However, these are all still works in progress and hopefully we can continue strengthening them at the Conference of Parties in Paris this year.
Climate change adaptation is central to government planning in the Maldives and its importance will only increase along with the severity of the impacts. However, we also recognize that there are limits to adaptation. Equally important for the Maldives, global greenhouse gas emissions must start coming down now!