Mr President, Mr Secretary-General, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen;
I would like to thank President Dilma Rousseff and the friendly people of Brazil for the warm hospitality and for the excellent arrangements made for this conference.
I’m from one of the smallest countries on this planet. I’m here because the survival and development of our children are inextricably linked to what happens in your countries.
Twenty years ago, world leaders here adopted one of the most historic documents of all time, the Agenda 21. It was the first time that human beings were placed at the center of development. It also set out principles that would govern humankind’s aspirations for a better life in a way that would not deplete the planet’s finite resources.
Twenty years since, the world has a better appreciation of the magnitude of the challenges we face. But in terms of actions, we have very little to show. Millions of children are denied the right to development. Millions of youth are deprived of the opportunity to show their creativity and ability to shape their own future. And it appears that millions of people would be denied the right to a livable environment. For these millions of people, the future looks gloomy.
The Maldives’ international advocacy on matters of environmental sustainability, especially relating to climate change, is well-known. We have stood resolutely in forums and conferences around the world and asserted our right to survival. I am here today to reassert that right.
But I also stand here to say that the Maldives wants more than that. We want not only to survive, but also to thrive.
Our commitment, as a country, to sustainable development is evident across our economy and across our society. By relying on sustainable practices, the Maldives has achieved remarkable success. Maldives is one of only three countries to have ever graduated from the United Nations’ Least Developed Country category. And we are also on course to meet most of the Millennium Development Goals.
Our economy, built primarily on tourism and fisheries, has grown significantly. Our tourism sector is a sustainable one, relying on the preservation of our magnificent coral reefs, beautiful beaches and our rich and diverse marine life.
Maldives remains wedded to sustainable pole-and-line fishing, while others continue unsustainable fishing practices. Such practices are destroying our regional and global fish stocks, with dire consequences on the livelihood of many Maldivians.
This year we have established the first UNESCO Biosphere reserve in the Baa Atoll, one of the 20 atolls that make up the Maldives. I would like to announce today that Maldives will become the first country to be a marine reserve. We can do it in a short time. I hope we can do it in 5 years. It will become the single largest marine reserve in the world.
This policy will allow only sustainable and eco-friendly fishing. It will exclude destructive techniques. Already Maldives is a sanctuary for sharks, turtles and many species of fish in the Indian Ocean. Trade in these products is now illegal in the Maldives.
The Maldives is undergoing the most dramatic and difficult challenges in the country’s history. The country is in a critical phase of a demographic transition. We are struggling to cope with the rapid growth of the adolescent and youth population in recent years. Significant and growing numbers of youth have fallen prey to the scourges of substance abuse and crime. The Government has set in policies and strategies to reverse this trend and create a more economically and socially productive youth population in the country. Yet, the challenges are daunting requiring innovative solutions. We seek to forge new partnerships to overcome such challenges.
Maldives is also in a difficult transition to democracy. Our newly acquired freedoms have enabled us to participate in the country’s political life with passion. That passion, while encouraging, has also led to an extreme polarization of our close-knit society. Yet, I will assure you of our commitment to cultivate democratic values and to strengthen the institutions of democracy. In this endeavour, we continue to work with our international partners.
Maldives has one of the world’s most ambitious carbon neutrality targets. We also support the targets in the Secretary General’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative.
We will cover 60% of our electricity needs with solar power, and the rest with a combination of biofuels, other clean technologies and some conventional energy.
Progress towards achieving these goals is slow because of the huge financial and technological investments involved. If we are, as a global community, committed to the concept of transitioning to a green economy, then developing countries will need significant financial and technical support. It is critically important that we forge partnerships in this conference and beyond that will deliver real solutions. We reiterate our call for a third global sustainable development conference for small island developing states in 2014.
A small island state like the Maldives cannot, on its own, secure the future we want. We rely on our international partners to ensure that their development paths are sustainable and don’t negatively impact on vulnerable countries like the Maldives.
Just when I was about to leave for Rio, representatives of children from all parts of my country came to see me and to voice their concerns about their future. They are worried that their islands are severely eroding; their aquifers getting saline, their fish stocks getting depleted and their farmers getting fewer yields. I am conveying their concerns to you and to the world. Today, out of the 194 inhabited islands in the Maldives, 113 suffer serious beach erosion and over 90 islands require fresh water. The total cost of addressing coastal erosion, fresh water and sewerage will cost more than 500 million dollars. The children of my country, like many other children around the world, have high hopes that this summit will produce some concrete results. The Maldives has made this point in Rio twenty years ago and every subsequent world summit since then.
Our children need answers. Their future, and the future of generations to come, is in our hands. It is time that we as leaders, should make bold decisions for the future of our children and for the future of our common home.
For the sake of our children, our future generations, we must protect and nurture the earth. To do that we must use the best of science and technology but remain grounded in the collective wisdom of our people, both ancient and modern. Development policy must address the need for peaceful co-existence among all species while we address the need for economic development. It is my hope that world governments will seize the moment to create a new paradigm for sustainable development.