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Maldives president outlines progress on carbon neutral plan

The Maldives has made significant progress since last year in beginning the move towards becoming the world’s first carbon neutral country, President Mohamed Nasheed announced today at the Six Senses SLOWLIFE Symposium at Soneva Fushi resort.

Speaking to assorted guests and dignitaries including the entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, the actor and environmentalist Edward Norton, government ministers, journalists and representatives of the global tourism industry, President Nasheed outlined several areas in which the Maldives government has made substantial progress.

These include:

- Publishing the new carbon neutral electricity plan online and inviting ‘crowd-sourcing’ comments from experts worldwide

- Committing to a new target to generate 60% of electricity via solar power by 2020, and reducing electricity emissions by 80% without putting up the cost of power to consumers

- The signing of the first contract under the new ‘feed-in-tariff’ between the state electricity company and a Male’ hotel chain to supply solar power onto the grid

- A new import regime by the Transport Ministry to ensure that in future electric cars will be a third of the price of conventional petrol cars

- New policies to encourage the uptake of renewable energy and marine transport

- The pledge to spend 2% of national income on renewable energy deployment in the country

The President said: “We know a low-carbon growth trajectory is possible and we are going forward to do it. While costs of diesel generation in the Maldives can be over 40 cents renewable energy costs can be below 30 cents. It is financially and economically viable.”

President Nasheed added that what the Maldives is doing should be a model for others. “Interest in new technology is a blessing for the Maldives. We won’t save the world by becoming carbon neutral – we emit nothing compared with other countries – but if we can demonstrate a low carbon development strategy that can be copied elsewhere, it will be a step in the right direction.

The President also mentioned how other bigger countries were also beginning to show signs of greener growth. “There are encouraging signs – India and China are listening much more than before. They see the opportunity for renewable energy growth.” However, Nasheed criticised the slow progress at the international talks on climate change. “The UNFCCC is still not able to come out with a clear understanding,” he said, “and I don’t see them being able to do it in the near future either.”

Calling for “new thinking”, the President also criticised the “bickering” which was symptomatic of a “divided” world. “Rich countries are led by the world’s biggest debtor, the United States. Poor countries are led by the biggest investor, the People’s Republic of China. Are they poor or are they rich?” Nasheed emphasised that he hoped to show all countries that cutting carbon emissions did not mean staying in poverty.

The SLOWLIFE Symposium is discussing the future of tourism and how the industry can be made more sustainable in a carbon-constrained world. Sonu Shivdasani, the Chief Executive and Founder of Six Senses, which is hosting the SLOW LIFE Symposium, said: “At Soneva Fushi, we are committed to decarbonise by 2013. We are determined to provide the roadmap for others travel and tourism companies to follow – both here in the Maldives and worldwide.”

Also listening to the President’s speech were 10 Maldivian schoolchildren from the neighbouring local island of Maahlos, who have been designated ‘reef rangers’ in an after-school programme set up by Soneva Fushi’s resident marine biologist Kate Wilson. The young reef rangers then joined marine conservationist Fabien Cousteau in a snorkeling trip over Soneva Fushi’s nearshore coral reef.

The Symposium continues on Sunday with speeches and contributions from Richard Branson, the British environmental leader Jonathon Porritt, and Tim Smit, founder of the Eden Project, the UK’s most-visited tourist attraction.

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