The Maldives is a group of over 1,000 small islands that are now facing severe environmental issues. These problems are climate change, coastal development, and increased international tourism. This makes the climate in the Maldives vulnerable, and the country must take action to adapt to the challenges of climate change.
The effects of increased sea temperatures and acidification are already evident. Rising sea temperatures have led to coral bleaching and death. The worst impacts of climate change on coral reefs have occurred in regions that have been damaged by physical disturbance and are heavily polluted. Such damage has increased the vulnerability of the country’s reefs and undermined their protective function. Climate change also worsens the effects of tropical storms and rising sea levels.
More than 80% of the land area sits below sea level. The Maldives are fighting back against the threat of rising sea levels by developing community projects and focusing on sustainable tourism. Yet there are plans for 17 more resorts to open in the Maldives by 2021.
The Maldives has introduced several climate change adaptation strategies, including coastal protection tools and community programs to promote resilience. The country wants to lead the world in mitigating climate change and is calling on individuals to step up and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In 2006, the Maldives adopted a National Action Plan for Climate Change Adaptation. This plan aims to make the country carbon neutral by 2020. Climate action is a crucial component of this plan, supported by the United Nations Development Program and the European Union.
The Maldives’ National Adaptation Program of Action (NAPA) identified vulnerabilities to climate change, including land, beach, human settlements, critical infrastructure, fisheries, agriculture, and coral reef biodiversity. It also outlined specific adaptation strategies and indicated external resources to assist with these initiatives. The Maldives’ NAPA outlines particular adaptation strategies to increase the country’s resilience to climate change.
The Maldives have already begun to consider coastal adaptation strategies and have even purchased land in neighboring countries. Additionally, it is trying to strengthen the resilience of existing islands, such as the recently constructed Hulhumale island northeast of Male. Although these adaptation measures are modest compared to what is needed to combat climate change, they represent a significant step towards avoiding a catastrophic situation. In addition to this, the Maldives has also begun to consider the consequences of climate change on islands and communities.
Impacts on tourism
The World Tourism Organization (WTO) has compiled an overview of the indirect societal impacts of climate change on tourism. These impacts are expected to grow over time, affecting economic growth in some regions while slowing in others. As a result, economic growth may be stunted, while political instability may arise in others. Ultimately, these impacts may threaten the long-term security of the tourism industry. However, there is a lot of work to be done.
In addition to increased temperatures, climate change will also affect tourism seasons. For example, summer tourism will be concentrated in the cooler season in warmer regions, while winter tourism will decline. Similarly, insolation may increase in summer, reducing the number of tourists visiting these destinations. The most dramatic reductions in seasons will occur during spring and summer, and the loss of winter tourism may eliminate those seasons. Consequently, the travel and tourism industry will become a refuge for affected communities and be reduced to a standstill during a disaster.
This study provided the Maldives government with evidence-based, policy-relevant information to make informed decisions about the country’s future. It analyzed data on plastic waste and climate change in a country-specific context. It also provided the basis for developing a national strategy for plastic waste reduction, which incorporated education and data collection. This work has already resulted in a new national policy on plastic waste.
Tourism in the country has increased, but the increase in consumption of consumer goods has contributed to a mountain of waste. Plastic bottles produce the highest percentage of plastic waste, now widely used by the Maldivians. The Maldives is committed to reducing the impact of plastic pollution by 2030 and has introduced legislation to limit the amount of plastic waste disposed of.
The Maldives has a land-constrained environment, and adding landfill capacity to address this problem is unlikely to be a practical or sustainable long-term solution. Instead, the Maldives government is exploring establishing waste-to-energy facilities in the country. At the time of writing, one of these facilities is already in development.
In addition to a modern waste-to-energy plant, the Maldives climate change infrastructure program will develop a cost recovery system to transfer residual waste from islands to the mainland. This is essential because Maldives’ garbage problem stems from decades of poor waste management. Household waste in Male is shipped six kilometers to the west to a landfill site known as Thilafushi, a once-submerged reef that is now a 10-hectare mountain of garbage.