Climate, Democracy and Media

Freedom of expression and democracy are the most important adaptations to the climate crisis.

Mohamed Nasheed during his keyote address at the Himal Media Mela 2024.

The climate crisis is upon us today, whether we like to believe it or not. It is going to destroy much of what humanity has built in the last few hundred years, as well as the biodiversity that nature has bestowed on the planet. It is going to wash away our livelihoods in our lifetime.

Freedom of expression and democracy are the most important adaptation mechanisms to climate breakdown. If we cannot freely express our views and elect leaders, we will continue to build the wrong dam, the wrong roads, the wrong embankments in the wrong place, at the wrong price.

 We already see bridges bridging nothing. Roads to nowhere. Airports not used, and vanity projects of politicians all built through our debt. This is because we are unable to speak out, because we do not have a say in what our governments do.

We take loans to build a bridge, a house, a school and bad weather destroys them. But the debt remains and we have to pay back the money without receiving the benefits from the loans we took.

The amount of money flowing out of our countries will amount to $900 billion in the next two years, mainly for debt servicing and repayments. Many climate vulnerable countries are in debt distress, and more than 15 will go into default this year. These countries have lost 20% of their GDP because of extreme weather events.

The environment, therefore, is no more a dispatch from environment correspondents. It is a major financial story. The impact extreme weather due to climate change has on the economy is tremendous.

I now work for the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), an intergovernmental organisation of 68 countries established in 2009 initially with nine countries including Nepal. I quit as the Speaker of the Maldives Parliament last year to set up the secretariat in Accra in Ghana.

Among other things, the CVF develops what we call Climate Prosperity Plans which are low carbon development strategies that would give the same outcomes of GDP growth of high employment and low inflation, but without damaging the planet.

To become resilient you must be prosperous. Being poor makes you less resilient, reduces your choices. So we are looking at new methods of farming, irrigation, harvesting, fertilisers, transport, and building cities and homes.

I have been attending COPs for nearly 30 years. We have been talking about Loss and Damage by using the ethical human rights argument of climate justice. But I do not think anyone ever listened, and nothing much has come out of the last 28 COPs. They are just talking shops. 

The CVF wants to find solutions to the climate crisis, and one of the things we do is advise member countries on debt.

Sri Lanka is going into the IMF’s ‘Debt Sustainability Analysis’ program for the 17th time and Bangladesh for 24th. Year after year, the IMF bails them out on condition that they increase taxes, fire half the civil servants and reduce spending. These austerity prescriptions are not our way out of the debt, we cannot do so by suppressing growth.

More and more countries now want debt-for-nature swaps wherein those who want to protect the environment are willing to guarantee the new bond which asks the government to do more on specific environmental issues such that there is a conservation agent with, for instance, a forest management plan. The money is paid per usual, but you are also protecting nature while doing it.

We also encourage countries to do carbon exchanges. Most of the forests are in climate vulnerable countries today, capturing most of the carbon the world is emitting. At the same time, if we do not have forests, our very survival will be jeopardised. But we need money to look after our forests and our natural assets. Carbon exchange, therefore, can also be a mechanism to finance development.

Simply because industrialised countries have taken us to the brink, we cannot do the same. If we do, it is going to be the end of us all. We must find sustainable development paths that will also deliver prosperity.

People in the Maldives perhaps feel I have abandoned them. But to save the Maldives, I had to leave it. The Maldives cannot be saved unless the planet is saved. We had to do something else so that island nations and climate vulnerable countries have a better chance. 

This is an excerpt of the keynote address by Mohamed Nasheed, the former president of the Maldives, an ex-journalist and a climate campaigner, at the Himal Media Mela 2024 on World Press Freedom Day on 3 May. He is now the Secretary-General of the Climate Vulnerable Forum. Watch his complete speech on our YouTube channel.

Mohamed Nasheed