How would you confront the threat of climate change? Former President of the Maldives tells the story of a vulnerable country (with hints for all of us)

Image removed.If you are the leader of a small island state – like the Maldives – and every day you are faced with the threats posed by global warming what would you do? Well now you can see and hear first-hand what the (former) President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed did in response to such a threat.  And while his story is told through the lens of the leader of a country that is one of the most vulnerable to global warming, his story has hints of the kind of actions we must all take. [NRDC had the pleasure of hosting Mr. Nasheed last week at our New York office where he provided his insights to the NRDC staff via videoconference.]

(Former) President Nasheed has been a leading voice in international efforts to address global warming.  He is currently touring the U.S. continuing to advocate for leadership and raise the visibility.  Tonight he’ll be appearing on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.  You can also get an inside view into international efforts to combat climate change in a new film, The Island President, which followed Nasheed in the lead-in to and during the global warming Summit in Copenhagen. The film is appearing in U.S. locations now (see the trailer).


Global warming isn’t some conceptual idea that might happen to someone else at some point in the future.  The science is clear.  More global warming pollution leads to changes in our  climate system which leads to more droughts, heavier rainfall, increasing temperatures, human health threats, and rising sea levels,  to name a few. 

So former President Nasheed’s story provides some hints for all of us, since we are all faced with the threat of global warming that confronts his island nation. In fact, recent trends provide a glimpse into what we can expect.  Since January 1st, there have been almost 15,000 warm temperature records or ties in the U.S (click here to see where those records have been broken). And scientists have documented with more certainty of late that global warming is loading the dice for more of the extreme weather events that we are currently experiencing (click here to see what extreme weather events hit your community).  Rising sea levels don’t just impact small island states like the Maldives as they are coming to a coast near you (click here to see how sea level will impact your community.) 

So as we are all confronted with this threat, are you….  

Demanding that the biggest polluters act? Former President Nasheed has been a leading voice for international action to address global warming.  He was a leader in efforts to get the world to agree to strong international action at the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit.  With over 80% of the world’s global warming polluters committing to specific actions to reduce their pollution, the effort continues by ensuring that those countries follow through by implementing sufficient actions in their domestic law.  At the same time, attention is focused on how to strengthen those efforts in order to put the world on a more sustainable path. 

The U.S. EPA has just proposed carbon pollution standards for new power plants.  We need to let them know that we want these standards implemented now and we want existing power plants to be subject to similar carbon pollution standards.  

Acting at home?  Nasheed declared that his country would become carbon neutral within a decade.  The Maldives emissions are a tiny shadow of the pollution from countries like the U.S., E.U., Canada, China, and India. But he reasoned that they couldn’t demand that the biggest polluters act if his country wasn’t also committed to reduce their contribution to global warming.

How are you acting at home? 

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Trying everything in your power to raise the visibility of the need for action on global warming?  Nasheed has been a visible leader by trying to raise the alarm bell for quick action to reduce global warming pollution.  The Island President and Nasheed’s tour through the U.S. is just the recent example of his efforts to make the public aware of the threat of global warming.  In the lead-in to Copenhagen, he held the first underwater cabinet meeting to show visually what confronts his country.  Without action on global warming his government would literally have to operate underwater as sea level would engulf his country.

Calling on leaders to act?  He travelled around the world meeting with world leaders to urge them to act on global warming.  I remember seeing him at Copenhagen shuffling from one meeting to the other to try to secure the strongest agreement possible.  We need leaders to act because the fate of their population depends on it, but as the Huffington Post notes:

Both Nasheed and Shenk argue that change ultimately falls on the general public. “Leaders will only act when their people tell them to act. By themselves, they don’t want to do anything, they just want to sit around,” Nasheed said with a grin. “Please believe me, I am a politician.”


Will you try everything in your power to raise the visibility of the need for action? Will you act home, while demanding action by the biggest polluters and your leaders?

Those are the questions that former President Nasheed’s story brings to life.  His country faces the imminent threat of global warming, but so does every country.    


*Photo: Former President Nasheed at the Climate Summit in Copenhagen, Dec. 2010, courtesy of Presidency Maldives.

**Photo: Underwater Cabinet meeting of the Maldives in, courtesy of sindhi.