I was asked the other day to name a country that I’d want to be a marketing agent for – spice up their image. I answered with some African state – predictable for an Africanist “do-gooder” who wants to “change!” the world.
I was wrong. I should have said the Maldives.
Before I continue, let me summarize all that I know about the Maldives. First, it’s less than 8 feet above sea level at its highest point. Secondly, it once held a Parliamentary Cabinet meeting underwater to highlight the threats of climate change. Translation: Climate change is going to sink their country, and they know it.
So what could make the Maldives an ideal country for a marketing campaign, and how could that possibly be connected to climate change?
The Maldives is thinking out of the box when it comes to addressing climate change. Doing so has not only raised its image on in the climate arena, but also on the broader international stage. While most people still can’t figure out where it is on a map (they’re those tiny little dots down to the left of India), the name “Maldives” appears more frequently in the news today than it did even two years ago.
What, then, is the Maldives doing that is so special?
When in trouble, buy another country. Maldives president Mahamed Nasheed envisions purchasing territory from other countries to serve as a refuge for his soon-to-be displaced population. In essence, he wants to buy a new Maldives.
The craziest part? He might be able to pull it off, given the total Maldives population is under 400,000 people.
But the Maldives has some time before they need to start buying up new lands, or so they hope. They’re at least hoping for it to not occur until after 2015, which marks the completion of the country’s greatest climate change strategy to date…
Imagine you’re on the green of the 18th hole. You just finished pulling off your best Phil Mickelson impression and sank the last putt. You look around you to survey the land in victory – but there isn’t much of it. Your newly conquered territory is a golf course sitting in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
This is the Maldives’s latest plan to tackle climate change: a floating golf course. The course itself sits atop of the water, with a series of elevators and tubes underwater to get from one floating island to the next. This is part of the country’s bigger plan to rev up tourism and generate some additional money flows. This money would go towards helping buffer the country to climate shocks, and would also be put in the country’s “Buy 1 Country, Get 1 Free” fund.
Institutional challenges and capacity issues that have plagued international efforts to address climate change. The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change’s Least Developed Countries Fund, meant to funnel money to the world’s poorest countries to adapt to climate change, has largely failed to distribute the funds to qualifying recipient countries. Bilateral donors and other international climate financing mechanisms are often held up with political obstacles and their own set of capacity issues.
In short: Little money is actually funding to address climate change. As a result, developing countries, like the Maldives, have taken innovative approaches to secure the necessary funds to adapt to climate change. Maldives is not alone in this effort, though their strategies are clearly the coolest to talk about.
In international development and climate change circles, adaptation financing is still too often touted as the “rich” helping the “rest” adapt to the mounting climate crisis. This is not reality, however. The reality is that developing countries have been adapting to climate change for far longer than this has been a hot button international issue, though it may not always have been called “climate change adaptation.
What is needed now is international action to kick start the funding necessary to undertake these adaptive strategies. If the Maldives is any indication, however, developing countries will take matters into their own hands if international organizations and developed countries continue to sit on their hands.