by Eric Roston | September 3, 2021 | Published by Bloomberg Green | READ THE STORY HERE

After surviving an assassination attempt in May, Mohamed Nasheed speaks out for democracy and debt restructuring.

Mohamed Nasheed, speaker of the Maldives parliament and a former president of the island nation, was injured in May when a bomb hidden in a motorbike detonated near his car. Several people have been arrested in connection to the attack, including the head of a local group aligned with the U.S.-designated terrorist organization Islamic State.

Now recovered from the assassination attempt, Nasheed is once again stepping into a role he’s had for longer than a decade, as an advocate for human rights, fair elections, and fighting climate change. He and other island nation leaders drew international attention around 2009 UN climate talks in Copenhagen as early proponents that the global community lower its aspirational warming limit by half a degree, to 1.5° Celsius—a number later that became the center of the 2015 Paris Agreement. 

Nasheed spoke with Bloomberg Green in August about extremism, debt-forgiveness, and climate change. The transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

The first question is simple. How are you doing?

I’m doing much, much, much better. It was very serious, but the doctors did an amazing job. I have recovered well. I can now go about my work. It’s not only climate change I would like to talk about. Human rights, extremism and terrorism have always been central issues for me.

Are there lessons from Maldives for Afghanistan?

The Maldives is a 100% Islamic country. We were able to amend our constitution, have multi-party elections, and bring back democracy. We’ve had our fair share of problems, but we have been able to transfer power through the ballot mostly.

We succeeded because we focused on building political parties and elections in which leaders can pledge promises, then advocate for them, convince the public, win elections and change government. Transparency is very important. Anti-corruption and everything else surrounding free and fair elections must be certain. You build an army primarily to defend elections.

You were behind what may be the most memorable political stunt in climate history, convening a Cabinet meeting in scuba gear, under water. How’d that come about?

We wanted to show the gravity that we are in. In 2009, the IPCC [The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] was saying that the impacts of climate change were something in the future. They were not linking extreme weather events or sea-level rise to carbon emissions. It’s only in this year’s report they actually said that. In the past, it was contested. It wasn’t easy for people like me to argue and advocate, because everyone could point out that, “Look, the science is not there.” Now, the science is very clear.

Climate diplomacy has pivoted for many years on the divide between rich and poor nations. What does that debate look like in 2021?

One of the biggest problems that we have is debt. Why we have to go and beg for adaptation money is because we can’t fund it ourselves.

The CVF [Climate Vulnerable Forum] countries have to come up with a strategy. Prime Minister Hasina [Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh] had appointed me as her ambassador, just a few months before I was blown up. And then, I was at the brink of death, and I kept on thinking there was a reason why God decided for me to give it another shot. And I felt that the work that we have to do with regard to climate is a holy kind of thing. 

What does adaptation look like in Maldives?

One meter of shoreline in the Maldives protected by a water-breaker costs $3,000. An embankment would cost $4,000 a meter. That’s $7,000 to protect a meter of shoreline, and we have hundreds of islands. Bangladesh has 500 kilometers. Tanzania has 1,400. The world’s shoreline is home to a quarter of the world’s population. To protect that with water breakers, embankments, like they have done in Manhattan, this is the kind of adaptation we are talking about. It’s extremely, extremely expensive.

So where can the money come from?

We have to restructure our debt. When we took the debt, the IPCC was telling us that extreme weather is not upon us.

The CVF countries together must argue for debt restructuring. Instead of asking for adaptation, please don’t take from us for a while. That’s my COP strategy. Half the world doesn’t have running water, electricity, sewerage, housing. The other CVF work is to come out with a development strategy that is less extractive, more recycling, but with the same economic outcomes. I can’t ask Bangladesh to remain poor. And I don’t think asking you to become poor is the answer. 

You were one of the few people talking about limiting warming to 1.5°C a dozen years ago. Today, it’s the global goal. Is that a victory?

With 1.5°C we will disappear. Anything above that, the coral reefs are going to die. And when the coral reefs die we lose our biodiversity. We lose our baitfish. When we lose our baitfish, we lose our tuna fish. So, basically we lose an economy. We lose our coastline. It brings everything to total imbalance, a tipping point, a freefall. What we’re seeing now is that freefall. 

It’s obvious. We were having similar pictures and headlines coming out in Germany and Belgium, as they would in Bangladesh. Two hundred people died in the flash floods. Greece has burned. The focus of 1.5°C, and 350 parts per million of carbon—these figures must be embedded in our minds. The trapped poison in the system is going to bring us extreme weather. What we today do today will have an impact 50 years later.

Eric Roston writes the Climate Report newsletter about the impact of global warming.