In the three-day Soneva Fushi Six Senses Conference, which includes a key note speech from President Mohamed Nasheed, various prominent members of the environmental movement have come together to start building ideas on how the tourist trade can start playing a more responsible and proactive role within the global response to climate change. The intention is to find innovations that encompass environmental, social and financial incentives to create real, sustainable options for the Maldives, which would then act as a top down influence that other resorts could follow. The opening day, however, has concentrated little on the subject of travel; the issues addressed here today have been far broader and much more fundamental.
Johnathon Porritt’s opening message is clear: We are now at the pivotal point at which serious decisions must be made to ensure a fighting chance of dealing with run-away climate change. In the shadow of what most here feel was a disappointing Copenhagen Climate Summit, it is agreed that the important thing that the summit produced was an agreed limit to just how much warming our planet can endure. Two degrees Celsius is the boundary of that constraint, which equates to a value of 890 billion tons of carbon dioxide we can release into the atmosphere before we really enter a point of no return.
With a business as usual approach, these limits will be met in only 14 years, a figure unpopular with many projected carbon mitigating projects, and an implication that 75% of global energy assets can not realistically be developed. Mr Porritt voiced his fears:
“If Government fails to act, but eventually recognises that it needs to, it may do so by investing in panic driven initiatives. Once reality hits them in the eyes the risk is they intervene in all kinds of disruptive and dis-functional ways”.
I spoke to Mr Porritt, and we discussed the possible failures the environmental movement has had over the last 35-40 years in really getting its message out. He said:
“I find the possibility that after all this time, after all the campaigning and hard work, that the environmental issue is still not being taken to the heart of the people worrying. I think that in our quest for advocacy the message has been lost, the metaphors are not resonating. A more spiritual view toward the environment is desperately needed. Made fore-mostly by the leaders of faith and religion whose influence is so great. Disfunctional geo-politics means that a meeting of such leaders would be far more relevant at the Cancun Climate Change Conference in a few weeks time.”
The opening day of the eco symposium has seen a very familiar set of points and arguments put forward. Sustainability, overconsumption and overpopulation (although the latter only briefly) have been heard. Solar and wind energy remain on their relative peddle-stools as far as viable renewable options are concerned.
Jeremy Leggett is founder and chairman of Soarcentury, the UK’s fastest growing private energy company, as well as Solar Aid, one of Africa’s fastest growing poverty alleviation charities, which was set up with Solarcentury profits. His advocacy of solar energy is convincing and one of the most hopeful messages I’ve heard within the climate change debate, which has become so synonymous with depressing images of future realities. It is even more credible when you consider the market growth the technology has had, well over its projection and suggestive of use, reaching a tipping point after which solar energy provision becomes epidemic. Says Legget: “There are no magic bullets, but the technology can go at the speed of mobile phones. During 2009, 60 % of the new power installation within the EU were renewable, 56% being made up of solar and wind.”
The most poignant comments of the day came from President Mohamed Nasheed. It is, after all, his country that has invested so much in a global, organised response to climate change. Here’s what he said:
“Our planet is under stress; climate change is here and happening. We have serious issues with coastal erosion, water contamination, food security and dwindling fish stocks. Sceptics still argue, but if they came to the Maldives and told us face-to-face that climate change is not happening then perhaps they would have more credibility. We don’t have that luxury…. we don’t have time to waste.”
“We believe it is possible for an environmental solution which is economically viable, and financially feasible. We don’t think we should be waiting any more. We must start moving forward with what technology is available. The Maldives going carbon neutral will not save the world, but we will be able to say we have done our part and that others haven’t.”
The general consensus of everyone I have spoken to, which I will endeavor to re-account over the next few days, is that “those others” can be predominantly identified as the USA. The feeling here is that the country that presents itself as a world leader has been a massive failure in terms of climate change. The agreed perspective is that a corrupt, self-serving governmental system, still in existence from the last administration, is acting to prevent the most important and imperative pressure on global change being realised. This is something I have heard consistently from every person at this conference; President Nasheed’s take on the issue is inspirational:
“The battle must be fought on the streets. Politicians only do what their people ask them to do, our concerns are being re-elected. It must be possible to galvanise the people (of the USA) into political action. I believe this mass revolt is going to happen, but I don’t know when. We should be concentrating on how we get the people out on the streets. Their media, so heavily subsidised and paid for by powerful energy companies, will not invoke this action. But we have the people, and I believe we have the American people. We must find some Gandhi type people, some Martin Luther King type people, and take it on the road!”