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"We will not die quietly."

By Mohamed Nasheed | November 13, 2009

CREDIT: Mauroof Khaleel (CC).

President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives delivered the following remarks at the Climate Vulnerable Forum on November 9, where he called upon a bloc of developing countries to attend the Copenhagen climate negotiations with a firm commitment to carbon neutral development.

Your Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, we gather in this hall today as some of the most climate-vulnerable nations on Earth. We are vulnerable because climate change threatens to hit us first; and hit us hardest. And we are vulnerable because we have modest means with which to protect ourselves from the coming disaster.

We are a diverse group of countries. But we share one common enemy. For us, climate change is no distant or abstract threat; but a clear and present danger to our survival.

Climate change is melting the glaciers in Nepal. It is causing flooding in Bangladesh. It threatens to submerge the Maldives and Kiribati. And in recent weeks, it has furthered drought in Tanzania, and typhoons in the Philippines. We are the frontline states in the climate change battle.

Ladies and gentlemen, developing nations did not cause the climate crisis. We are not responsible for the hundreds of years of carbon emissions, which are cooking the planet. But the dangers climate change poses to our countries, means that this crisis can no longer be considered somebody else's problem.

Carbon knows no boundaries. Whether we like it or not, we are all in this fight together. For all of us gathered here today, inaction is not an option. So, what can we do about it? To my mind, whatever course of action we take must be based on the latest advice of climate scientists. Not on the advice of politicians like us.

As Copenhagen looms, and negotiators frantically search for a solution, it is easy to think that climate change is like any other international issue. It is easy to assume that it can be solved by a messy political compromise between powerful states. But the fact of the matter is we cannot negotiate with the laws of physics. We cannot cut a deal with Mother Nature. We have to learn to live within the fixed planetary boundaries that nature has set.

And it is increasingly clear that we are living way beyond those planetary means. Scientists say that global carbon dioxide levels must be brought back down below 350 parts per million. And we can see why. We have already overshot the safe landing space. In consequence the ice caps are melting. The rainforests are threatened. And the world's coral reefs are in imminent danger.

Members of the G8 rich countries have pledged to halt temperature rises to two degrees Celsius. Yet they have refused to commit to the carbon targets, which would deliver even this modest goal. At two degrees we would lose the coral reefs. At two degrees we would melt Greenland. At two degrees my country would not survive.

As a president I cannot accept this. As a person I cannot accept this. I refuse to believe that it is too late, and that we cannot do anything about it. Copenhagen is our date with destiny. Let us go there with a better plan.

Ladies and gentlemen, when we look around the world today, there are few countries showing moral leadership on climate change. There are plenty of politicians willing to point the finger of blame. But there are few prepared to help solve a crisis that, left unchecked, will consume us all.

Few countries are willing to discuss the scale of emissions reductions required to save the planet. And the offers of adaptation support for the most vulnerable nations are lamentable. The sums of money on offer are so low, it is like arriving at a earthquake zone with a dustpan and brush. We don't want to appear ungrateful but the sums hardly address the scale of the challenge.

We are gathered here because we are the most vulnerable group of nations to climate change. The problem is already on us, yet we have precious little with which to fight. Some might prefer us to suffer in silence but today we have decided to speak.

And so I make this pledge today: We will not die quietly.

Ladies and gentlemen, I believe in humanity. I believe in human ingenuity. I believe that with the right frame of mind, we can solve this crisis.

In the Maldives, we want to focus less on our plight; and more on our potential. We want to do what is best for the planet. And what is best for our economic self-interest.

This is why, earlier this year, we announced plans to become carbon neutral in ten years. We will switch from oil to 100 percent renewable energy. And we will offset aviation pollution, until a way can be found to decarbonize air transport too.

To my mind, countries that have the foresight to green their economies today will be the winners of tomorrow. They will be the winners of this century. These pioneering countries will free themselves from the unpredictable price of foreign oil. They will capitalize on the new, green economy of the future. And they will enhance their moral standing, giving them greater political influence on the world stage.

Here in the Maldives we have relinquished our claim to high-carbon growth. After all, it is not carbon we want, but development. It is not coal we want, but electricity. It is not oil we want, but transport. Low-carbon technologies now exist, to deliver all the goods and services we need. Let us make the goal of using them.

Ladies and gentlemen, a group of vulnerable, developing countries committed to carbon neutral development would send a loud message to the outside world. If vulnerable, developing countries make a commitment to carbon neutrality, those opposed to change have nowhere left to hide. If those with the least start doing the most, what excuse can the rich have for continuing inaction?

We know this is not an easy step to take, and that there might be dangers along the way. We want to shine a light, not loudly demand that others go first into the dark. So today, we want to share with you our carbon neutral strategy. And we want to ask you to consider carbon neutrality yourselves. I think a bloc of carbon-neutral, developing nations could change the outcome of Copenhagen.

At the moment every country arrives at the negotiations seeking to keep their own emissions as high as possible. They never make commitments, unless someone else does first. This is the logic of the madhouse, a recipe for collective suicide. We don't want a global suicide pact. And we will not sign a global suicide pact, in Copenhagen or anywhere.

So today, I invite some of the most vulnerable nations in the world to join a global survival pact instead. We are all in this as one. We stand or fall together. I hope you will join me in deciding to stand.

Read More: Communication, Development, Diplomacy, Economy, Energy, Environment, Ethics, Human Rights, Poverty, Science, Technology, Bangladesh, Kiribati, Maldives, Nepal, Philippines, Tanzania, Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe, Global, Middle East, Oceania

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