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To fight warming, Maldives plans green tax

In the 1995-movie, Waterworld, sea citizen Dennis Hopper roared to his followers: "dry land is not just our destination, dry land is our destiny."

world Updated: Sep 12, 2009 00:08 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

In the 1995-movie, Waterworld, sea citizen Dennis Hopper roared to his followers: "dry land is not just our destination, dry land is our destiny.’’

Sitting among journalists in his Presidential office in Male this week, President Mohamed Nasheed (42), in his assured voice, said something similar: "the bottom line is dry land."

Nasheed should know. He is the first democratically-elected President of a collection of 1192 islands, among which 16 inhabited islands are facing severe erosion because of rising sea levels. Among the 190-odd inhabited ones, 100 faced severe fresh water shortage earlier this year.

Few months ago, Nasheed wrote about climate refugees and a possible scenario where entire populations have to be plucked and planted on new patches of dry land "when sea level rises above our heads."

Nasheed and his colleagues call it the "doomsday scenario."

"We have to start the debate now, not in 50, 60, 70 years… (save) for a rainy day…it (global warming) is not an environment issue any more. It is a security issue. Maldives is a snapshot. There would be conflict because of lack of resources,’’ Nasheed said.

For a country with a 34 per cent GDP deficit, the realities and repercussions of global warming would certainly hit home in Maldives earlier. Because of cash crunch, Nasheed might not even travel to Copenhagen to participate in the crucial UN summit on environment to chalk out a path to progress from the Kyoto Protocol.

At home, Nasheed has drawn up a plan to generate more money for conservation -- $3 green tax to be charged on every day that a tourist spends in Maldives. "We will bring it to the Parliament in the next session," Nasheed. Maldives hosts about 700000 tourists every year. He is confident that the money could be channeled into conservation work.

On India’s role in tackling climate change, Nasheed said that it would be "silly" if India held on to the past and solely blamed the developed world for emission. "If no agreement is reached in Copenhagen, it would be the silliest. India, China, Brazil and US have to agree. India has to sit down with UK and have a conversation; not a negotiation,’’ he said.

After years in the opposition – and time in jail and getting tortured – Nasheed has been part of the transition of Maldives from a dictatorial regime to a democratic one. Now, along with Nasheed, rest of Maldivians, would be hoping that the country’s destiny does not sink under the azure waters of the Indian Ocean.