Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed is no stranger to using blunt tactics and messages when it comes to climate change. Last fall, he held a cabinet meeting underwater to drive home the threat rising sea levels pose to his low-lying island nation. A team of scientists in 2008 predicted average sea levels would rise between 2’5” and 6’6” by the year 2100 because high temperatures are expanding the oceans and rapidly melting glaciers and ice sheets. This rise in sea level would threaten the very existence of the Maldives, which lie just 4’9” above sea level. In other words, the Maldives is literally in danger of being permanently underwater within some of its current citizens’ lifetimes, so it should come as no surprise that President Nasheed speaks boldly and passionately about the need for action.

Speaking at a COP 16 side event Tuesday in Cancun, he did just that. “I do not believe the clean development path is an option — it is the only thing we can do to save ourselves,” he said. “There is simply no other choice. We have to do this.” He went on to explain the unique situation his nation faces. “The Maldives is a nation of 300 square kilometers of land area and 644 square kilometers of shoreline. It is basically a shoreline, not a land mass.” This fact — in addition to the country’s very low elevation — mean inaction is not an option.

Instead, the Maldives has chosen to lead. “We, being at the very front line of this particular issue, can lead by example. We can show that there is a possibility that this works. For us to do that, we don’t need to wait to see if Sri Lanka, India or China is doing it — we can do it ourselves,” he said. “We are not going to wait for someone to come in and help us, we will do what we can. This is the path we have chosen.”

And indeed, President Nasheed’s commitment to the issue goes far beyond his poignant remarks. Last spring, the Maldives announced an aggressive emissions reduction plan that would make the island nation carbon neutral by 2020. As’s Zeheena Rasheed explained at the time, the plan would “establish 155 wind turbines, half a square kilometer of rooftop solar panels and a biomass plant burning coconut husks to provide clean energy for its population of 385,000.”

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

If other world leaders shared President Nasheed’s sense of urgency, the transition to a clean energy future would happen much more quickly. In the meantime, it’s up to each of us to stop waiting for someone else to take action and do whatever we can, wherever we are. What’s true for the Maldives is ultimately true for all of us: We need to support clean energy development to save ourselves.


Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.