Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Free Holiday for Two in Maldives..in 2030

Andrew Simms at the New Economics Foundation thinks Governments have a chance to act now to 'take responsibility and protect their people from disaster' . According to the Global Carbon Project, we're on an emissions increase path worse than the worst case scenario outlined by the IPCC, and that can't be good news. Coupled to the collapse of markets and public bailout of private institutions (See Robert Peston's Alarm at the ECB propping up of VW), Andrew thinks it's the right time to make the major shift towards sustainability. Best to read the original post as linked above - he makes a strong case.

It seems he's not alone: The Guardian reports that Mohamed Nasheed, newly elected president of The Maldives (there's a political-cultural story to this too!) has outlined his intention to secure a future for his 300,000 citizens, not in the Maldives but on another land mass - India, Sri Lanka or Australia perhaps. Mr Nasheed sees the buying of land overseas, using revenues from tourism as an insurance policy that might avert the creation of a refugee people in coming years. There is of course a bittersweet irony at play - the reliance of carbon intensive tourism (including 100,000 British a year) has helped contribute to the climatic change now threatening the Maldives, whilst providing its' only means of securing finance for a secure future. The other option, according to The Daily Mail, was to Build walls on all 193 inhabited islands - now that really would ruin the tourist industry (and it was too expensive).

The Maldives is extremely low lying and like many other island states, atolls and archipelagos this small patch of paradise faces an uncertain future as sea level rises threaten ever more. Having spent a fair bit of time in The Philippines a few years ago I'm unsurprised by the approach Mr Nasheed is proposing.

It's hard to stand on a desert island (not that hard) and not consider the vulnerability of the land to a one or two metre sea level rise (I'm not vouching for the science behind that link!), or even to isolated tidal events. The Tsunami that struck so many South and South East Asian (including the Maldives) coastal and island communities will doubtless have added to a sense of urgency for increased resilience - managed retreat/withdrawal being the ultimate, if chilling option.

Climate change brings similar challenges to landlocked communities too - I stayed with a Ladakhi community in Northern India in 2004 and learned of the struggle to irrigate farmland sufficiently due to the increased speed of Himalayan Ice melt during the summer months.

The picture below (my picture, no copyright) shows the villagers of (Saspool?) in the Indus Valley, diverting streams between plots at sunrise - something I was repeatedly told was a recent practice and one that was causing new community tensions. It was apparent that agricultural yields were dangerously low as the already limited growing season in the region was compounded by the increased scarcity of water. Much has been made of the likely impact of Himalayan Glacial decline upon the hundreds of millions on the subcontinent's plains but it is those communities living amongst the High Himalaya who are already shouldering the burden.

The Maldive experience and the Himalayan scenario may seem so overtly exotic as to seem unconnected to Welsh life but as the Natural Trust's 'Shifting Shores, Living with a Changing Coastline' report reminded us in 2006, the UK and espescially Wales, where we all live within 50 miles of the coastline, will not be immune to the impacts of sea level rise and increased dangerous weather events as a result of climate change. We too must plan for an uncertain coastal future.

The Question then, is whether Wales should be buying land somewhere and if so...where?

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