Democracy is the best adaptation measure against climate change

The former president of the Maldives opens the third Himal Media Mela highlighting a crucial link between media, politics and climate action

The third Himal Media Mela opened on World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, adopting the UNESCO theme to focus on the link between the media, politics and environmental action. Mohamed Nasheed, former president of the Maldives, a climate activist and a writer/journalist was the keynote speaker.

“The danger that the journalists face is immense and it continues. Just this year more than 100 writers were murdered in Gaza simply for telling the truth and sadly it will continue,” said Nasheed who was jailed for 12 years, 18 of those months in solitary confinement where he was tortured for his writings on corruption and the abuse of human rights by the government in the Maldives.

He added: “Therefore it is encouraging to see all of you here making a stand for no media in South Asia has had the resolve, the courage and the consistency to continue in their work relentlessly for so long as Himalmedia.”

Kunda Dixit, co-publisher of Himalmedia started his welcome remarks with a quip about disrupted Internet service on World Press Freedom Day before quickly drawing attention to how journalists reporting on illegal logging or mining have actually been killed in the Philippines, Brazil, Mexico, and India.

Even in Nepal, the press has come under fire for reporting about the Chure deforestation, illegal sand mining, logging, wildlife trade and the crusher industry, especially their interlinkages with politics and corruption.

“Even as human activity globally has endangered nature and threatened all life on the planet, journalists reporting on these issues face threat, intimidation, or are silenced by abusive trolling,” said Dixit.

He added: “It is no coincidence that the threats to environmental journalists come from the same sources that are undermining democracy, pluralism, and freedom of expression.”

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During his keynote address, Nasheed highlighted the clear ties between media, and climate action. “Freedom of expression and democracy is the most important adaptation measure against climate change,” he said.

He explained: “If we don’t have democracy and the ability to express ourselves, we will continue to build the wrong dam, wrong roads, wrong embankments at the wrong place at the wrong price. We already see bridges bridging nothing, roads leading to nowhere, airports not used, and vanity projects of politicians. This is because we are unable to speak out because we do not have a say in what our governments do.”

Nasheed now leads the Climate Vulnerable Forum which is the intergovernmental organisation of 68 countries including Nepal set up in 2009. He said that all 68 countries have lost 20% of their GDP because of bad weather, emphasising that environmental stories are not just human rights and justice stories anymore but rather economic and financial dispatches.

“We take a loan to build a bridge, a house, a school. But bad weather takes the bridge away but the debt remains. Now we have to pay the debt without receiving the benefits from the debt that we took. Many climate-vulnerable countries are in debt distress. It is likely that more than 15 countries will go into default this year,” he said.

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Climate Vulnerable Forum is based in Ghana’s Accra among other things is promoting what he calls Climate Prosperity Plans which are essentially low carbon development strategies that would give the same outcomes of GDP growth of high employment and low inflation but without damaging the planet.

The Forum looks into new technologies and methods for farming, irrigating, harvesting, fertilising, transport, and building cities and infrastructure such that climate-vulnerable countries ensure their prosperity while building climate resilience.

Also discussed during the inaugural was how the international platforms like the COP are limited to talks and not real action required to battle the climate emergency.

“I have been attending COPs for nearly 30 years but nothing much has come out of them, to just see talking shops over and over again is really disturbing when you come home and see another house being washed away or an island being eroded or another reef bleached,” he said.

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Nasheed also spoke about his transition from journalism and advocacy to politics, and how much like him journalists around the world are delving into policymaking and politics for a great impact.

“We can’t save the coral reefs anymore than you can’t save the Himalayas by your activism alone. We have to get the international community to agree on certain things, if not it is going to be almost impossible to save the planet,” he said.

“It is getting more and more obvious that if we look after nature, we are likely to prosper than by destroying nature. We must explore other development paths to prosperity.”

Bringing the focus back to Nepal, Nasheed spoke about Nepal’s tremendous conservation effects, especially that of the forest cover.

He said: “Nepal needs to be paid for the trees under carbon exchange mechanism, others are breathing simply because you have the forests.”

The one-day-long conference features hands-on workshops and panels on AI, data mining, disaster preparedness, investigating climate finance, the economy of ecology and environmental crimes tailor-made for working journalists.

Sonia Awale


Sonia Awale is Executive Editor of Nepali Times where she also serves as the health, science and environment correspondent. She has extensively covered the climate crisis, disaster preparedness, development and public health -- looking at their political and economic interlinkages. Sonia is a graduate of public health, and has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Hong Kong.