Maldives Islands’ Leaders Hold Global Warming Meeting Underwater -- Literally

Penny Starr | October 19, 2009 | 8:25pm EDT
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Maldivian President Mohammed Nasheed, at an underwater cabinet meeting, signs a document calling on all countries to cut down their carbon dioxide emissions ahead of a major U.N. climate change conference in December in Copenhagen. The publicity stunt took place in the Maldives on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2009. (AP Photo/Mohammed Seeneen)

(CNSNews.com) – A small chain of islands in the Indian Ocean is often cited as a threatened area by some environmentalists who claim that global warming will lead to catastrophic events, including rising sea levels that could put the Republic of Maldives underwater by 2100.
 
The islands were the focus of international attention over the weekend as President Mohamed Nasheed and 13 members of his cabinet donned scuba gear to hold an underwater global warming summit on Saturday.
 
“This is a challenging situation,” Nasheed told reporters as he bobbed up and down in the lagoon following the signing of a document that calls for all countries to cut carbon emissions. “And we want to see that everyone else is also as occupied as we are and would like to see that people actually do something about it.”
 
The president and his cabinet were forced to communicate with hand signals and underwater white-boards while convening about 20 feet below the water’s surface, sitting at desks reminiscent of those once used in grammar schools.
 
But the publicity ploy apparently was not lost on world leaders, some of whom referenced the islands to warn about the alleged effects of global warming.
 
In London on Monday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown (Labor Party) told a meeting of 17 developed and developing nations that the planet faced “catastrophe” if no global warming deal comes at the United Nations summit in Copenhagen in December.
 
“For the planet, there is no Plan B,” Brown said, adding that he shares the concerns of low-lying island states such as the Maldives.
 
The Independent newspaper in the United Kingdom reported on Sunday that Todd Stern, President Barack Obama’s climate change envoy, said at pre-summit negotiations that progress toward reaching an international treaty in Copenhagen was moving “too slow.”
 
“Much is at stake,” the article said. “Unless a deal can be reached, many millions could go short on food and water, or find themselves battered by storms and floods on an unprecedented scale. Rising sea levels would submerge entire islands, such as the Maldives; with the death toll from climate change approaching hundreds of thousands a year.”

Government ministers in scuba gear held an underwater meeting of the Maldives' Cabinet to highlight the threat global warming poses to the lowest-lying nation on earth on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2009. (AP Photo/Mohammed Seeneen)

On Saturday, journalists on “CNN Newsroom” discussed the underwater cabinet meeting.
 
CNN’s weekend anchor T.J. Holmes said, “And, well, what they’re trying to do here. This is Maldives. This is a cabinet meeting they’re holding there. They’re trying to draw attention to global warming. They actually got some business done down here, Betty. They approved a measure that they’re going to present to the U.N.”
 
Fellow CNN anchor Betty Nguyen said, “Guess that’s a vote. That’s a yes.”
 
Holmes: “On climate – yes, about climate change. But the issue here is that this island, not far from Sri Lanka, actually because of global warming they say, and the change in the global climate, the water levels are rising, which means that their island is literally sinking and going under water. So hence the whole idea here.”
 
Maldives is one of five nations competing in the Carbon World Cup, pitting nations against each other to be the first country to be carbon-neutral in 10 years. The other countries hoping to win the status are Costa Rica, Iceland, Norway, New Zealand and Monaco.
 
Nasheed, 41, was elected as president of the Maldives in October 2008, one month before Barack Obama was elected president of the United States.
 
“He is our Obama,” Ismail, a young Australia-educated banker, said in an article in the Thaindian on Nov. 11, 2008.
 
Ameena, who manages a souvenir shop in Male, the largest city in Maldives, is quoted in the article in the Thaindian: “Maldivians are expecting a lot from him,” she said. “He has become a hero for all of us.”
 
Maldives is separated from India by 435 miles of ocean and is accessible only by boat or plane. A flight from Melbourne, Australia to the Maldives is 5,390 miles and takes more than 10 hours.
 
According to the CIA’s World Factbook: “Tourism, Maldives’ largest industry, accounts for 28% of GDP and more than 60% of foreign exchange receipts. Over 90% of government tax revenue comes from import duties and tourism-related taxes.”

The islands are about five feet above sea level and are believed to have been settled by human inhabitants around 300 B.C.
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