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BW Businessworld

Mohamed Aslam

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What does sustainable development mean in the context of Maldives?
What it really means for us is that we continue to use the resources that we have but we use it in the extent and in a manner that we don't exhaust the stock and that it lasts for the next generation. Whatever resource we have - dead or living - it has limitations. It requires time to regenerate. We've been doing fishing (our 2nd largest industry) for many centuries in a very sustainable manner. We have about 20,000 fishermen who are out every day in the sea. We fish 150000 tonnes a year. And we fish all of that one by one - no nets. And our fishermen believe that it is the only way they can sustain fishing. They would resist very much if someone were to come and use nets or do mass fishing. We've been catching quite substantial amounts fishing like this. Why switch to something else. It may bring short term benefits, but eventually, they will get exhausted.

We do have an issue with water resources because it is very limited. We don't have large aquifers of ground water. We get plenty of rain. How do we catch and store them? How do we recharge our groundwater with the changing realities of climate change?

What the major focus area now in Maldives in this regard?
We are focusing very much on energy production. We're focusing very much on renewable energy. All our communities have constant supply of electricity. All of that is produced by burning fossil fuels. We want to convert that to renewable. One - because it will contribute to global efforts. Two - it has an economic sense for us. We spend about 35-45 cents to 1kwh of power by burning fossil fuel. We can produce electricity for about 25 cents per kwh by using solar power. That's another capital expenditure we have to make. For now we're focusing on converting 30 per cent of the existing system to renewable energy. We need about 260 MW power now. Multiply that by about 1.3 - that will be the power needed for the next 15-20 years.

Should we look at Global Commons or National Commons?
I don't think it's either this or that. We have to talk about both. I think we really need to reach out to the general public - speak the language they speak. Civil society needs to get into this in big size. We have to make people believe - through various means. Some people we can reach out to by science, some people by faith, to some people, it requires constant reminders.

Do you think we went back with the outcome at Durban COP17 summit?
I don't think we went back. I think we took a step forward, a very small, very slow step. When we went to Durban, some major emitters were not ready to talk about emissions. They wanted to postpone even the talk of that to 2015. But we managed to get them to talk about it and get them agree to reach an agreement by 2015 and then start enforcing it by 2020. It's a progressive step - small, not satisfactory. We need to put more effort, work harder, make people believe, make it an election issue. Obama shouldn't be afraid because of the way he negotiates about climate change.

Any natural resources you're worried about?
Water is an immediate concern for a lot us. The way it's being used and the way it's being depleted. That is something we need to focus on both in big countries like India and small countries like Maldives.