Failing to limit global warming could mean a “death sentence” for small island nations like the Maldives, including the end of their livelihoods and cultures, the country’s environment minister has said.
Almost all countries signed the 2016 Paris climate accord, aimed at limiting global warming to 2C above pre-industrial levels and ideally no more than 1.5C. But the world has already warmed nearly 1.1 C, scientists say.
A report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said earlier this year that the world is likely to exceed the 1.5C increase in the 2030s – earlier than expected.
“The difference between 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees, for us, really is a death sentence,” Aminath Shauna, the Maldives’ minister for environment, climate change and technology, said in an online interview with the Associated Press.
Speaking ahead of the key UN COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, she said she hopes the world will commit to large-scale and rapid actions to limit warming to 1.5C. Failing to do so would leave small island nations struggling to survive, she added.
"Maldivians deserve to live"
The Maldives has nearly 1,200 islands, of which 189 are inhabited by its 540,000 people. The islands in the Indian Ocean average just a metre above sea level and are threatened by rising seas and stronger storms that have left no uncontaminated freshwater anywhere in the nation, Ms Shauna said.
“The question really is: What is not at stake? Our survival, our food, our income."
She urged rich nations to fulfil their Paris promise to spend £72 billion annually to help poorer nations cope with the impact of climate change and switch to cleaner energy.
So far, the Green Climate Fund, a key instrument for climate finance, has approved only one adaptation project in the Maldives and that took three years, Ms Shauna said.
With climate change impacting the islands rapidly, by the time funds are approved the situation on the ground has already changed.
The Maldives spends 50% of its national budget on efforts to adapt to the worst impacts of climate change, such as sea walls to protect coral reefs. But the coronavirus pandemic has decimated its tourism industry and shrunk its economy by a third.
“The finance has not reached the Maldives and small island states,” she said, adding that the process for rich countries to declare that they have released funds needs to be more transparent.
Countries should also be given more time to repay – climate change did not happen in 10 years, so the developed world should not expect the money to be repaid in a short time, she said.
“We really need to unlock the financial system."
Ms Shauna said she could not measure the cost of failure in numbers: “We’re talking about losing a culture, our way of life and livelihoods. And you can’t value these in dollars."
She said the impacts of climate change – heavy rainfall, flooding, coastal erosion, inadequate drinkable water and the need to completely alter lives and livelihoods – have already become part of the norm.
The Maldives has no alternative but to be optimistic and hope the world will come together and take action, Ms Shauna said.
“Maldivians deserve to live."
The UK is chairing the COP26 climate talks, which run from October 31 to November 12.
For more stories from where you live, visit InYourArea.