Described as a paradise on Earth, the Maldives remain one of the world most vulnerable places to climate change. As the topic dominates the public debate, minister of environment Dr. Hussain Rasheed Hassan speaks of his vision and strategy to build on renewable energy, waste management and sustainable progress.
How worrying is the climate threat for the Maldives? What are the consequences if the current climate change trend is not reversed?
We are very concerned about the current pathway the world is taking regarding CO2 emissions. We remain at the forefront of the battle, since we experience consequences associated with climate change on a daily basis. The IPCC’s Special Report on “Global Warming of 1.5 Degrees” has clearly outlined that, with temperatures between 1 and 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, 60 to 90% of coral reefs in tropical regions will face degradation. We are witnessing stronger storms, rainfall and natural disasters, and without the coral reefs to dissipate the energy of waves, our shores will soon erode. As a small island nation, we are more exposed to the dangers, while having little means to combat them on our own. The risks are very real. If climate change is not addressed, we will face loss of culture, country and identity. We don’t want to be climate refugees.
With many new resorts coming in 2019, and with it extensive land reclamation, ecosystems and reefs will be endangered. How is the country’s economic development balancing with environmental sustainability?
Humans have never existed without impacting the environment, the only thing we can do is to minimize the damage. We cannot undo what has been done, but this government has halted any new attribution of licenses for new resort developments, and to reduce the need for land reclamation and dredging, which is damaging to our delicate ecosystem. Our people need space to live in, and our economy needs resorts to grow too. So, where it is absolutely necessary to reclaim land, we are ensuring that the most environmentally friendly solutions are used. Our Environmental Protection Agency is in charge of monitoring the strict application of the mandated environmental impact assessments to make sure our most precious resource, the ocean, is safeguarded.
What is your vision for the energy sector regarding renewable power generation capacity?
The Maldives relies heavily on fossil fuels. 10 percent of our GDP is spent on fuel imports. We have very ambitious goals to reduce that dependency. Currently the country has a power generation capacity of 400 MW, however, our total energy demand is approximately 180 MW and only 6 percent (16 MW ) of this demand is met with solar power. We are in the process of installing more solar capacity, through STELCO and Fenaka. We have made a Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) commitment under the Paris Agreement to have 24 percent of our energy produced through renewables by 2030. However, now we are targeting 70 percent of clean power production within that period. I believe that this can be achieved.
How do you plan to tackle the growing problem of waste management?
Waste is also a major problem in our country. To manage it, we are deploying a an overarching approach. Whatever biodegradable waste is produced, we want to manage it at a local level. Waste that cannot be disposed off locally will be transported to different recycling centers across the country. What cannot be recycled, however, will have to be incinerated and we want to take advantage of that process to produce electricity as well.
In Thilafushi island, where we process all the waste from the Greater Malé Region, we will install co-incineration equipment that will produce 8.5 MW from burning waste. It should be fully operational in 3-5 years and contribute over 10 percent of Malé’s growing power consumption.
We have already started building a facility in Addu City that will process the waste of the main urban centers in the South using the same method to generate up to 1.5 MW of electricity. This $16 million investment, coming from green taxes, will be operational in mid-2020. In total, we have earmarked an investment of $39 million in waste treatment projects to be used between 2019 and 2021, funds that will be recovered in four to five years just from savings in diesel. We are turning waste to money and making the lives of the people better.