Maldives Hosts Innovative Meeting on Climate Change

While policymakers in the US continue to stall aggressive action on climate change, a coalition of countries is attempting to move forward the dialogue that might lead to a productive global climate change agreement. The Cartagena Group, a coalition of governments that want a strong treaty to prevent the effects of climate change, held its second round of meetings this weekend in the Maldives—a low-lying archipelago nation put in imminent danger by the effects of climate change. Though the largest polluting nations were mostly absent, the meeting was an encouraging indicator that global cooperation to reduce the causes of climate change might indeed be possible.

The office of President Mohammed Nasheed of the Maldives reports countries represented at the Cartagena meetings included France, the UK, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Norway, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Mexico, Colombia, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Peru, Antigua & Barbuda, Samoa, Marshall Islands, and Timor-Leste, in addition to the Maldives. The list is notable for including both highly industrialized nations and some of the least developed countries in the world.

With the exception of Indonesia, whose large carbon footprint is mainly due to deforestation, none of the world’s top-bracket carbon emitters was present at the meetings. This may not be as bad as it sounds; for too long, international climate politics has been dictated by mammoth emitters like the United States and China, with an inherent interest in a treaty that goes light on polluters. Perhaps it’s a good thing countries outside the major emitters’ club now have a venue to develop proposals of their own.

Yet Cartagena members were quick to articulate that reducing the causes of climate change should not be about self-sacrifice. In his press release on the weekend, President Nasheed urged countries throughout the world to embrace the transition to renewable energy as “the greatest economic opportunity since the Industrial Revolution.” A delegate from Samoa pointed out that for countries like his that are highly dependent on imported oil, generating home-grown renewable energy is also a way to increase economic stability and protect consumers from spikes in global oil prices.

Perhaps the most inspiring thing to come out of the Cartagena Group meetings was a series of announcements from several developing nations that have ambitious new targets for slashing their contribution to climate change. The Marshall Islands said it will reduce carbon emissions 40% by 2020, while Antigua & Barbuda intends to cut emissions 25% below 1990 levels within the same time period. Samoa says it will achieve carbon neutrality by 2020, and Ethiopia will do the same by 2025. Costa Rica confirmed it is pursuing a previously-announced goal of carbon neutrality by 2021. And the Maldives, which over a year ago became one of the first countries to set its sights climate neutrality, is working to achieve that goal by 2020. Contrary to the outdated stereotype that poorer nations only care about rapid development and growing their GDP, non-industrialized nations are leading the way in the charge to fight climate change.

The lesson of the Cartagena Group’s meetings would seem to be that countries which are serious about reducing the causes of climate change can make progress even without firm commitments from mega-emitters. As more and more countries follow the examples set by Costa Rica, the Maldives, and other nations with very ambitious climate goals, it will grow harder for US policymakers to justify staying so far outside the fold. The Cartagena Group meetings, with their emphasis on tangible progress and the positive side effects of abandoning fossil fuels, seem set to provide a good example for the rest of the world to follow.

Photo credit: urbansprout