Maldives govt goes underwater for climate change

MALE (Reuters) - To bring attention the risk the Maldives face from rising sea levels and climate change, President Mohamed Nasheed is going to the bottom of the Indian Ocean.

On Saturday, he and 12 cabinet ministers will don scuba gear and dive 3.5 meters (11 feet, 6 inches) under the surface of a turquoise lagoon to hold what is billed as the world’s first underwater cabinet meeting.

It is the latest of Nasheed’s eye-catching moves to bring attention to the Maldives’ plight before a landmark U.N. climate meeting in Copenhagen in December.

“The message is we will do anything, everything, to live in this country,” Environment Minister Mohamed Aslam told Reuters.

The archipelago nation off the tip of India, mostly known for its high-end luxury tropical hideaways and unspoiled white-sand beaches, is among the most threatened by rising seas.

Rising sea levels of up to 58 cm, as predicted by the U.N. Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, threaten to submerge most of the Maldives’ low-lying islands by 2100.

The underwater cabinet meeting is a part of the 350 global campaigns, which call for a reduction of atmospheric carbon dioxide to the safe threshold of 350 parts per million (ppm). Current levels stand at 387 ppm.

Seated around a table and using hand signals and slates, the cabinet will endorse an “SOS” message from the Maldives to be presented at the U.N. climate change summit in Copenhagen.

“We must unite in a world war effort to halt further temperature rises,” an advance copy of the statement made available to Reuters said.

“Climate change is happening and it threatens the rights and security of everyone on Earth. With less than one degree of global warming, the glaciers are melting, the ice sheets collapsing and low lying areas are in danger of being swamped.”

World leaders will meet in Copenhagen to hammer out a successor agreement to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

But while the developing world says rich and industrialized nations should shoulder the lion’s share of the burden, the latter are calling for drastic cuts in emissions from all countries.

Denmark has agreed to pay for Nasheed to attend the talks after the archipelago decided to decline the invitation due to a budget crisis.

Nasheed, barely a month after entering office last year, declared he would establish a sovereign fund to relocate his country’s 350,000 people if sea levels rise, but later admitted it was not feasible given the state of the Maldivian economy.

Earlier this year, he vowed to make the Maldives carbon neutral within a decade by switching to renewable energy and offsetting carbon emissions, primarily from tourists flying to one of the country’s high-end resorts.

Nasheed, who is yet to overcome the country’s economic problems led by global recession, last year unseated Asia’s longest-serving ruler, 30-year incumbent President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, in the islands’ first multi-party presidential election.

Writing by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Bryson Hull