Renewable Energy in the Maldives 
In the past five years, the Maldives has produced positive economic and human development outcomes. The poverty rate decreased from 3.9% in 2019 to an estimated 2.1% in 2023. Tourism, which makes up 28% of the Maldivian GDP, can be credited for this decrease in poverty. However, only about half of the Maldivian islands are tourist islands, meaning many rural islands still face developmental struggles.

Due to the size and geography of the Maldives, the islands lack the resources needed to develop new industries. The Maldives relies on importation for resources, such as energy and electricity. In 2021, the Maldives imported $553 million worth of refined petroleum. Energy imports are successful in powering the main Maldivian industries, such as tourism, fishing and sea transportation, but they come at a high cost for the Maldivian government and remain less accessible and affordable for rural islands. To combat this obstacle, the Maldives is implementing renewable energy sources — predominantly solar-powered energy. Renewable energy in the Maldives is now providing more affordable electricity, protection for current industries and potential for economic development. 

Fossil Fuel Availability in the Maldives 

Out of the 199 inhabited Maldivian islands, 197 islands receive electricity. Despite the wide physical reach of electricity, the quality and affordability of electricity differs greatly between more urban areas, like Malé, and the rural outer islands. Unlike Malé, the outer islands do not receive direct access to imported petroleum. While Malé receives power from state-owned electricity, the outer islands must purchase diesel from private resellers who apply a markup to diesel prices. Due to this, only 82 islands have 24-hour access to electricity, while others may have as little as five hours of electricity a day. This discrepancy in accessibility offers outer islands limited methods of income growth and economic development. Instead, rural islands remain reliant on electricity-free industries like small-scale fishing.

Additionally, the predominance of fossil fuel energy depletes the few natural resources that Maldivian islands do have. A previously used form of renewable energy in the Maldives is biomass energy, such as wood and agricultural residue. However, rising sea levels, which are strongly correlated to the use of fossil fuels, are depleting these resources. Rising sea levels and changing weather patterns are also reducing access to fresh water due to longer dry seasons and are raising concerns for tourism and fishery as both industries take place within 100 meters of the coastline. Renewable energy in the Maldives offers the potential for more accessible and affordable energy to all Maldivian islands, without any environmental consequences. 

Implementing Renewable Energy in the Maldives  

In 2022, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) financed the Preparing Outer Islands for Sustainable Energy Development (POISED) Project, which has helped increase renewable energy in the Maldives. The project installed a photovoltaic hybrid energy system, which harnesses both solar and wind power, in more than 70 outer islands in the Maldives. These installations have been aided by private investment, encouraged by the World Bank’s ASPIRE project. The ASPIRE project has mobilized $9.3 million in investment and provided the Maldivian government with technical assistance to install 6.5 megawatts of solar power in the Maldives. 

The ADB plans to continue this approach by installing another 20 megawatts of solar power through private investment. Other private groups are going a step further to determine how renewable energy can best be implemented while taking rising sea levels into consideration. Since 2009, Swimsol has been creating floating solar-powered energy banks to overcome land limitations. Additionally, their solar-powered energy is less expensive than diesel-powered electricity, making it an affordable option for those living in rural islands. 

Looking Ahead

Through collaborative efforts involving the Maldivian government, NGOs and private investors, renewable energy is gaining traction in the Maldives. As these initiatives progress and receive additional support, the islands of Maldives are poised to reduce their dependence on fossil fuel imports and embrace locally generated electricity from solar and wind-powered sources. This transition to renewable energy will not only grant all Maldivian islands improved electricity access but also foster healthier lifestyles while unlocking possibilities for industrial advancement and economic growth. 

– Aliya French
Photo: Flickr

Loss and Damage FundOn November 20, 2022, members of the United Nations Climate Conference (COP27) passed a loss and damage fund. Most plainly, the fund is an agreement by G20 nations to aid developing, climate-vulnerable countries with financial assistance as they adapt to the effects of extreme weather patterns in their territories.

G20, an intergovernmental forum of countries like the United States (U.S.), Argentina and France — nations that are historically responsible for 75% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. However, changing weather patterns impact low-income nations the most and they often carry the burdens related to that even though they are not all as responsible for carbon emissions as other countries. For example, Pakistan emits less than 1% of global admissions yet has $30 billion in damages from severe flooding.

The Need for a Loss and Damage Fund in the Maldives

Climate-vulnerable countries have been demanding a loss and damage fund for more than three decades, with the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) spearheading the movement. G77 nations, a group with developing economies like the Bahamas, believe high-emission countries have a climate debt they need to pay to poor nations whose standards of living are suffering due to changing weather patterns.

As a result of extreme climate disasters, such as severe flooding, bushfires, species extinction, rising sea levels and crop failures, citizens of impoverished nations are losing their land and culture. One prime example of such a nation is the Maldives, as rising sea levels are affecting the country.

Trouble in the Maldives

The Maldives is a nation made up of 1,190 islands facing territorial damage as a result of changing weather patterns. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), heightened ocean temperatures as a result of global warming have led to rising sea levels and 70% of its coral bleaching. As a low-lying country with 99% of its territory consisting of seawater and most islands sitting at less than one meter above sea level, the Maldives sinks further into the ocean every year.

The Maldives’ most pressing issue is beach erosion. As a result of sea levels rising, sand ends up in the ocean and trees’ roots cannot support them, wiping away land from the islands as ocean levels rise 3 to 4 millimeters per year.

While the Maldives is losing its geographic and physical presence to the ocean, its population is also facing cultural erasure. As communities move once their homes and recreational centers become uninhabitable, a culture heavily connected to the sea is unable to properly interact with the water surrounding it. The waning biodiversity and health of coral reefs, beaches and mangrove ecosystems also prevent the traditional fishing industry from flourishing.

The Maldives and the Loss and Damage Fund

Due to the damaging sea level rise in the Maldives, advocates like former president Mohamed Nasheed were major supporters of developed countries providing financial assistance to island nations. Adaptations to help mitigate the effects of changing weather patterns on the population include a sea wall to prevent beach erosion and protect the main island of Malé from wave destruction. However, initiatives for improving urban infrastructure and disaster preparation are expensive, resulting in a World Bank loan of more than $16 million to the Maldives for climate mitigation measures.

The Maldivian government has supported the installment of a loss and damage fund so it could freely take measures to keep its population and land safe from changing weather patterns without owing massive debts to organizations like the World Bank. Now that the Maldives has passed the fund, the Maldives must wait until COP28 for financial planning to get underway. Nonetheless, $140 to $300 billion will likely go toward climate-vulnerable nations.

Looking Ahead

For now, the Maldives is looking to be resilient to climate impacts by exploring alternative measures. The government finished the construction of a man-made island, Hulhumalé, in 2018. Labeled the City of Hope by locals, it is two meters above sea level, which mitigates the impact of flooding, beach erosion and sea level rise on the island. With space for more than 240,000 people, the Maldivian government is hoping to move residents from the capital of Malé, where space is limited due to the island’s sinking, to new homes.

As the construction of Hulhumalé demonstrates, the Maldivian government and its people are tackling the effects of extreme weather patterns on their nation in innovative ways. The loss and damage fund established at COP27 appears to be a promising step in the direction of climate justice and resilience for impoverished nations.

– Meilyn Farina
Photo: Flickr