'Climate refugees' on Maldives

2009-10-22 14:21

New Delhi -The people of the Maldives face the prospect of life in a "climate refugee camp", President Mohamed Nasheed warned on Thursday as he urged rich countries to clinch an effective global warming treaty.

Calling the South Asian island chain a "frontline state" in the fight against climate change, Nasheed said global warming threatened to submerge his low-lying country and "kill our people" unless action was taken urgently.

"We have a written history of more than 2 000 years and we don't want to trade our paradise for a climate refugee camp," he told a climate change summit in New Delhi.

Last weekend, Nasheed's government staged a cabinet meeting underwater - complete with ministerial scuba gear - to highlight the plight of the archipelago whose atolls stand a mere 1.5 metres above sea level.

The president stunned the world last year when he announced he wanted to buy a new homeland to relocate the population of the Maldives in the event that damage from rising sea levels became too great.

"What happens to the Maldives today happens to the rest of world tomorrow," he warned on Thursday.

'Virtually uninhabitable'

In 2007, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that an increase in sea levels of just 18 to 59cm would make the Maldives virtually uninhabitable by 2100.

The New Delhi conference aims to discuss technology as a tool to help poor nations adapt to climate change ahead of negotiations at a December 7-18 global summit in Copenhagen.

The summit in the Danish capital is aimed at agreeing a successor to the Kyoto Protocol - the only binding global agreement for curbing greenhouse gases.

Nasheed said his country was innocent of "climate crime", and that any deal at Copenhagen should build upon the principles laid out in the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

The developing world "did not contribute to this crisis", said Nasheed, adding that industrialised world should avoid becoming "complacent".

"The dangers climate change poses to our planet means we cannot any longer consider this to be someone else's problem. Whether we like it or not we are all in this together."

Last month the Maldives announced it had no money to pay for Nasheed to attend the Copenhagen summit, but Denmark has said it will fund him as his participation is considered essential.