Keynote Speech by His Excellency Abdulla Shahid, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Maldives, at the Berlin Climate Change and Security Conference Addressing “Climate Change and Displacements”

05 June 2019

Ladies and Gentlemen, a very good morning to you.

Madam Moderator,

Let me first, take this opportunity to thank the Government of Germany for hosting this gathering, on this very important and relevant topic.

I would imagine that, without a doubt, every single person in this room, have in the past, heard a speech on climate change. You must have heard about the devastating impacts of human induced climate change, on the world we live in, on countries small and big, and on the people young and old. However, let me ask you this. How many of us in this room have lost the home that they grew up in, to a climate change induced disaster? How many of us have lost property or land as a result of climate change? How many of us have had to rebuild a life from zero, because we lost our only source of livelihood to climate change?

Ladies and gentlemen,

All of these situations have been, and are real to the people of my country, the Maldives. In the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, more than half of our capital city Malé, was flooded within hours, crippling our major services. Several islands were badly affected, leaving homes flooded and infrastructure shattered. Tourist resorts which are our major sources of income, were destroyed, strangling our fragile economy.  Even worse, many low-lying islands were submerged and shattered to the extent that, those islands became no longer inhabitable. Entire island populations were displaced and needed to be relocated.

Today, sitting in the comfort of a room like this, perhaps I cannot truly imagine the suffering of my people on that day; what it must have meant for them to lose everything they have ever worked for, the uncertainty of the future faced by their own children, and the gravity of the unfortunate consequences which awaited them. But I must emphasize here today, that it is important for all of us to try to imagine their tragedy, to try to imagine ourselves in the shoes of the people who endured such tragic loss and suffering.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Unless we are able to imagine ourselves in a situation like that, we will continue to listen to more speeches on the catastrophic impacts of climate change, with no action. We will continue to debate whether, “human displacement” or “human relocation” is the more appropriate term for us to use. We will continue to argue over, the length of the outcome documents of high-level Climate Summits. We will continue to fight over, who has a bigger responsibility to do more, to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change.

Let me just say this. WE DO NOT HAVE TIME. For countries like the Maldives, we simply do not have the luxury of waiting and hoping. The science is clear. The IPCC, in its Special Report released in October 2018, projects that, even if we are able to stabilize global temperature at or below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the global mean sea-level will continue to rise. This is the most optimistic scenario. However, this scenario would still have disastrous impacts on coastal and low-lying countries, such as the Maldives, which is just about a meter above sea-level. Now, can we imagine a scenario, where the temperature rises to 2 degrees Celsius? It could result in a sea-level rise of 30 inches. This could put the very existence of the Maldives under threat. It could mean, the displacement of our entire population. It could mean the death of our nation.

Ladies and Gentleman,

Several years ago, on 17 April 2007, when the United Nations Security Council held its first-ever debate on the impact of climate change on peace and security, I spoke at the Council on the link between climate change and security. I reminded the Council members on that day that, climate change is not only an everyday fact of life for the Maldivians, but an existential threat. I reminded the Council that a mean sea-level rise of two metres would suffice to virtually submerge the entire Maldives under water.

And yet, during last January, twelve years after my initial message, I went back to the same forum, to repeat the same message. And I must say that, today, after several years, the prospects for our future are far worse than we imagined then. While we are busy negotiating how to divide our collective responsibilities, in some parts of the world, lakes are drying up due to climate change, depriving fresh water to tens of millions of people. Unseasonal droughts are leaving millions of people homeless. Hunger and displacement are leading to conflicts, and entire islands are sinking under water. I could in fact, not think of a bigger threat to security than this? 

Ladies and Gentleman,

The Paris Agreement with the aim to combat climate change and to accelerate and intensify the actions and investments needed for its implementation, sent us some encouraging signals. So did the Katowice Rulebook, which we hope will help improve our collective ambition to deliver on the pledges we have made. We hope that our positive action globally, will ensure that global warming stays well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, or even better, at 1.5 degrees Celsius, if possible. However, like I have just said, for the people of the Maldives, waiting and hoping is not enough. We must drastically reverse the current trends in climate change, to ensure that we are able to leave behind a country, for our children and the children after them.

Ladies and Gentleman,

The Maldives will always be at the forefront of global action to stop and reverse the negative effects of climate change. Let me assure you that, we are fully committed to achieve our NDCs, and will be making meaningful contributions to the upcoming High-level Climate Action Summit scheduled to be held in New York later this year.

Before I conclude, I also wish to highlight an important expect of our fight against climate change. In recent global news, you would find that, there are hundreds of environment related protests happening all around the world, including in some major cities. Some of these protests are led by children, young people, and the youth. Most of them are frustrated with the inaction by us, the grownups. The participation of youth in the global discourse on climate change, and in the implementation of climate action, is an integral part of the future of our work on climate change.

If we grownups cannot do the job, perhaps we should let the children do our jobs for us. Either way, decisive and urgent action to reverse the trends of climate change must happen now. Otherwise, we may not have a planet to save.

I thank you.