Maldives signs historic climate change agreement

Maldives signs historic climate change agreement
April 25 10:00 2016

The Maldives signed the historic Paris climate change agreement on Friday, urging big polluters to commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Environment Minister Thoriq Ibrahim signed the landmark deal on behalf of the Maldives at a ceremony at the UN headquarters in New York.

Speaking at the ceremony after a record 171 nations signed the treaty, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted that the planet is experiencing record high temperatures and called the Paris Agreement “a new covenant for the future.”

Some 55 countries that together account for 55 percent of global emissions must formally join the agreement for it to come into force. Under the agreement, countries will set their own targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

The Maldives formally ratified the agreement earlier this month following approval from the parliament, becoming only the fourth nation to do so after Fiji, Marshall Islands, and Palau.

In a new action plan submitted ahead of the climate change negotiations in December, the Maldives had pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent before 2030 by switching to renewable sources of energy.

The 10 percent target fell far short of ambitious plans announced by former President Mohamed Nasheed in early 2009 for the Maldives to become carbon neutral by 2020, which has since been scrapped by successive administrations.

The current administration is also pursuing seemingly contradictory policies of investing in renewable energy and exploring for oil.

During the climate change talks, the Maldives along with other small islands states lobbied to keep global temperature rises to 1.5 degree celsius.

Local anti-corruption NGO Transparency Maldives has meanwhile highlighted the need for improving climate finance governance in the country.

In November, the Green Climate Fund approved US$23.6 million for a project to ensure the delivery of safe freshwater to 105,000 people in the outer islands of the Maldives.

The utilisation of climate aid funds are not transparent, TM observed, referring to the uncertainty surrounding financial aid provided during the December 2014 “water crisis” in Malé that left one-third of the population without access to clean water for nine days.

The government said at the time that it needed US$20 million in aid and set up mechanisms to accept donations.

“After more than a year to the incident, there has been no clear information on why such a high figure was needed, how much was actually received or for what the funds were needed for,” TM said.

At a time when the Maldives is embroiled in the biggest corruption scandal in its history, TM warned that lack of transparency would further disillusion the public.

The NGO has made a number of recommendations to the government, including the public disclosure of information related to climate change-related projects, the lack of which presents challenges for civil society to monitor the use of climate funds.

“The government needs to take initiative to disclose such information to allow greater public engagement and facilitate an environment for public scrutiny,” TM said.

TM also advised the government to implement a more transparent policy on decision-making as it was unclear whether the cabinet’s economic and youth council complies with the national climate policy.

Civil society organisations are meanwhile unable to play a significant role in influencing climate change policy, TM continued, calling on the government to afford more space for groups working at the grass-roots level to raise their concerns.

Institutional change is also required to investigate and prevent corruption, TM added.

“Oversight bodies like Anti-Corruption Commission lacks the powers needed to fulfil their responsibilities and an environment that allows them to work independently. It is especially important to reform them and facilitate the proper functioning of bodies that provide oversight and ensure accountability.”

In an op-ed published on the Independent last November, Mariyam Shiuna, TM’s executive director, had raised fears of foreign funding not reaching local communities due to corruption.

Corrupt officials in the Maldives had embezzled US$1.6 million from tsunami relief funding, she noted, but have yet to face trial.