Global Warning

Mohamed Nasheed, president of the climate-change-threatened Maldives, speaks via email with Foreign Policy's Charles Homans about the difficulty of diplomacy, the promise of protest, and why moving his whole country might be more difficult than he once thought.

FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

Foreign Policy: You put in a great deal of effort trying to get the world to understand the importance of last year's Copenhagen climate-change summit. A year later, the U.S. government has basically given up on climate legislation, and the U.N. process seems to actually be moving backward. What do we do now?

Mohamed Nasheed: We need to talk a step forward at Cancún. We need to reach an agreement on a few key parts of the climate problem, for instance on protecting forests and ensuring finance is available for adaptation and green growth in the developing world. If we can demonstrate some success at Cancún, this will leave us in good stead to reach a comprehensive, legally binding agreement at COP 17 in South Africa in 2011.

It is heartening to note that there is a growing group of developing countries that are moving away from dirty development. Ethiopia, Costa Rica, and Samoa, as well as the Maldives, have all declared carbon-neutral targets. These countries want their economic development to be powered by renewable energy, rather than fossil fuels, and I think these pioneering countries should be supported.

Foreign Policy: You put in a great deal of effort trying to get the world to understand the importance of last year’s Copenhagen climate-change summit. A year later, the U.S. government has basically given up on climate legislation, and the U.N. process seems to actually be moving backward. What do we do now?

Mohamed Nasheed: We need to talk a step forward at Cancún. We need to reach an agreement on a few key parts of the climate problem, for instance on protecting forests and ensuring finance is available for adaptation and green growth in the developing world. If we can demonstrate some success at Cancún, this will leave us in good stead to reach a comprehensive, legally binding agreement at COP 17 in South Africa in 2011.

It is heartening to note that there is a growing group of developing countries that are moving away from dirty development. Ethiopia, Costa Rica, and Samoa, as well as the Maldives, have all declared carbon-neutral targets. These countries want their economic development to be powered by renewable energy, rather than fossil fuels, and I think these pioneering countries should be supported.

FP: You’ve recently become a vocal proponent of using direct action to push governments to act on climate policy. What can demonstrations accomplish that democratically elected politicians can’t accomplish on their own?

MN: Politicians rarely move on an issue unless the public moves first. It is not good enough for people to sit at home and blame their elected representatives for inaction over climate change — the public must make its voice heard. One of the best ways to do that is to take to the streets and demand change.

FP: How are your plans to relocate the people of the Maldives coming along?

MN: The more I think about relocation, the more I think it is impossible, certainly in the short or medium term. Simply put, Maldivians do not want to leave their homeland. Earlier this year, I visited a severely eroded island. An elderly woman asked me what I could do to save her island. I said that it might not be possible to save it and perhaps people would have to move to a neighboring island. She bit and kicked me! I think it is wise for the government to save for a rainy day and keep some funds in reserve, but we need to invest in sea walls, water breakers, and revetments to ensure people can continue to live on their islands for as long as possible.

FP: It’s been a grim year for climate change policy. What’s the best reason not to lose hope?

MN: In the past 12 months, thanks to huge increases in Chinese production, the price of solar photovoltaic panels has fallen 40 percent.

Charles Homans is a special correspondent for the New Republic and the former features editor of Foreign Policy.

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