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Climate Change and Sustainability in Practice - Maldives

Maldives is one of the lowest lying islands and one of the largest coral reef systems worldwide. Keeping in mind the huge financial dependance of Maldivians on tourism and the island’s fragile environmental profile, Maldives is considered one of the most vulnerable areas to Climate Change. Sea level and sea temperature rise, which has been observed in recent years, is undoubtedly an existential threat to the island and its locals. (1)

The purpose of this blog is to emphasize the challenges Maldives is facing due to climate change, to evaluate the measures taken to protect the environment and to estimate the progress of achieving the 17 SDGs, highlighting the life below water and its connection to the social and financial life of Maldivians. Respecting the fact that the financial economy is based on tourism and fishing, there will be an attempt to propose some possible solutions for both social thrive and sea life preservation.

Geographical and Climate Characteristics

Figure 1

The Maldives is an archipelago of 1192 small, low-lying islands in a double chain of coral atolls, stretching over 860 km from north to south and 80-120 km from east to west in the Indian Ocean. The island enjoys a warm and humid tropical climate, separated into two monsoon seasons: the southwest (wet period, May-November) and the northeast (dry period, January-March).

Because of climate change, an overall decreasing trend is observed for annual rainfall, whereas the mean average and highest temperature shows an increase. Also, rising sea level and sea temperature trends face an increase.(1)

Sustainable Development Goals in Maldives

In September 2015, 193 world leaders agreed to follow the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to achieve exciting accomplishments by 2030. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development demands all nations to fight social inequalities, establish equal access to essential goods, vanish all forms of poverty and confront climate change, while ensuring financial growth and that no one is left behind. In general, SDGs mobilize countries to promote prosperity while protecting the planet. The United Nations in Maldives works closely with the Government and Maldivians across the country to support progress.(2)

The overall score measures the total progress towards achieving all 17 SDGs, as a percentage of SDG achievement. A score of 100 shows that all SDGs have been completed. Right now, Maldives carries a 71,03% SDG index score while the SDG index rank belongs to the 67th place out of 163 countries. The spillover score refers to each country's actions which can have a positive or negative impact on other countries' abilities to achieve the SDGs. Nowadays, the Maldivians score 94,8% which indicates that with such a high score the island causes more positive than negative spillover effects.(3)

Figure 2

Figure 3

Having a brief look at the average performance of each individual SDG for Maldives, it’s easy to conclude that many of them flourish. On the other hand, it’s observed that some important SDGs are rather underdeveloped. Assuming that there is a connection between the most successful SDG (SDG 1) and one of the least developed of them (SDG 14), the following paragraphs are about to analyze and underline the factors associated with them and finally find the key for a middle ground solution.

Sustainable Development Goal 1: No Poverty

Figure 4

SDG 1 aims to end poverty in all its forms everywhere. Globally, the number of people living in poverty has faced an impressive decline, from 36% in 1990 to 10% in 2015. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 crisis, this accelerating pace is decreasing, putting decades of progress fighting against destitution at risk!(4)

Contrary to the global situation, Maldives has already achieved SDG 1 in an astonishing way, having all the Maldivians making more than 1.25$ by 2030. Based on UN organization data, just 0,1% of indigenous people are provided with less than 1,90$/day and only 0,3% with less than 3,20$/day.(2)

Figure 5

It’s true that the Maldivian governance focuses heavily on SDG 1, deposing most of funds coming from the UN to it. While the UN’s activities concentrate on direct support of function and service delivery, policy advising and thought leadership(2), the island densely agrees and follows these instructions.

Crystal blue sea and no indigence! Living in Maldives seems like a paradise, doesn’t it?

Sustainable Development Goal 14: Life below Water

Figure 6

SDG 14 is about conserving and sustainably using the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. Oceans cover over 2/3 of the global surface, making them the most prominent feature on our planet. Also, seawater is able to absorb CO2 and waste, while giving oxygen back to the atmosphere. Undeniably, we could say that oceans are the respiratory system of earth. Just imagine a human having to live with a respiratory failure which could be the cause of slow suffocation…(5)

Keeping in mind the necessity of marine wellbeing and that Maldives is an island itself, it would make sense that SDG 14 is one of the main priorities for sustainable development. Unfortunately, SDG 14 is still facing major challenges and although its score is moderately improving, it remains insufficient to attain the desired outcome. Especially, there is no protected mean area in marine sites important to biodiversity, which appears to be strange in parallel with the great ecological value of Maldivian coral reefs. Supplementary, only 58,65% of ocean water is considered clean, making it even harder for marine population to thrive.(3)

Figure 7

Eventually, Maldives being the heaven on earth is a rather utopian thought…

Why is there such an inconsistency in achieving SDG 14?

Before answering this question, bear in mind that there are lots of factors and stakeholders which are linked to SDG 14.

As said before, Maldives is one of the most vulnerable areas to Climate Change, meaning that SST and sea level rise are facts. Moreover, droughts and an overall decreasing trend in annual rainfalls affect the current circumstances negatively. It’s also important to mention that anthropogenic activities have a great impact on this goal, like GHG emissions, the density of seaside construction, overfishing and the need for desalination of water due to the large influx of tourists throughout the year. The results are quite discouraging, such as coral bleaching, ocean acidification and putting biodiversity of the already decreasing population in danger.(1) Furthermore, isn’t it peculiar that there are no available funds for SDG 14 coming from the UN?(2)

Continuing, there are quite a few stakeholders too. Focusing on the financial dependance of Maldives on tourism and fisheries, we could easily say that the national government and the trade union are the center of attention. Certainly, both are obliged to act for the common good urgently and, at the end of the day, they have the power to do so!

SDG 1 & 14: The connection

But how come that these SDGs are actually linked? Considering all facts elaborated previously, it’s easy to prove that indeed we’re talking about two inversely proportional coefficients:

  • If all funds available go to SDG 14, then less support would be given to people in need.

  • Tourism and fisheries are the main income for Maldivians. Setting extreme boundaries and policies for tourist sections and fishing in order to protect marine life and have a quick restoration of the ocean biodiversity would provoke a decreasing trend in earnings.

  • Although groundwater and rainwater are the main sources of freshwater, water desalination is necessary, as due to the huge tourist influx these resources are inadequate. If forbidden, Maldives won’t be able to provide water to tourists, and great tourist gains would be lost.

Coming up with a solution

Okay, so now what?

Taking everything into account, the most suitable scenario seems to be setting extra tourist policies and laws, accompanied with a slight tax increase for tourism. In fact, lots of regions which share great similarities with Maldives have already adopted this strategy, like Mallorca.

Sustainable tourist tax is a charge levied by the Balearic Government for almost all visitors to Mallorca. The tax was introduced to raise funds for preserving the environment and making tourism more sustainable for the island’s ever-increasing population in high-season. This concerns all levels of holiday accommodation.

Although it was believed that the tax would decrease tourist influx, the government decided that it was “absolutely necessary” to protect the island’s natural beauty and improve infrastructure. In reality, a total sum of 120 million euros will be raised each year, supporting the sustainability of natural resources.(6)

Take action!

Hopefully, my blog helped you understand that Maldives is just one case out of thousands of others concerning Climate Change. Sustainability should not only be just a governmental goal, but everyone needs to act thoughtfully. Each one of us has the power to change the world!

Next time you leave rubbish on the beach, remind yourself: how could I survive without lungs?




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