The tiny Indian Ocean nation of the Maldives will become carbon-neutral within 10 years. This was the pledge made by Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed on March 15.
The low-lying country will be among the first in the world to be inundated by rising sea levels caused by human-induced climate change. The highest point in the chain of 1200 islands and coral atolls is just 1.8 metres above sea-level.
The latest research indicates that if present rates of carbon emissions continue, global warming will likely cause sea level rises of about one metre by 2100. This is close to double the rise predicted by most scientists just two years ago.
At the request of the Maldives government, a plan for carbon neutrality has been developed for the Republic of Maldives by British climate writers Chris Goodall (author of Ten Technologies to Save the Planet) and Mark Lynas (author of the best-selling book Six Degrees).
The plan focuses on the replacement of fossil fuels with renewable energy for electricity, most land and sea transport, and household cooking by 2020.
About 160 wind turbines will provide the bulk of electricity for the inhabited islands. Wind power will be supplemented with solar power farms built in shallow island lagoons. These two power sources are expected to generate considerably more electricity than the Maldives currently consumes.
To account for the variability of wind and solar power, Goodall and Lynas suggest the country invests in a biomass combustion plant, mainly using coconut husks, for backup energy needs in the capital Male. Outside the capital, backup energy supply can be secured by storing energy in lithium phosphate batteries, they say. Currently, diesel-powered generators are a major source of energy on most of the islands.
About US$100 million will be needed to rework the electricity transmission network to make the most of renewable supply and to improve energy efficiency.
Under the plan, diesel fuel used in larger boats can be switched with power from renewable electricity. Petrol used to power cars and smaller boats can be sharply reduced via the steady replacement of the combustion engine with electric battery-powered vehicles. In the long run, electricity will be a far cheaper option than petrol for land and sea transport, Goodall and Lynas say.
Wood and kerosene are used by most people in the Maldives for cooking fuel. Goodall and Lynas suggest the introduction of “highly efficient closed stoves” for remote islands. For homes and tourist resorts with access to the grid, the replacement of older stoves with electric-powered alternatives will be needed. Solar cookers are another option for household use.
The release of methane gas from organic waste is responsible for a estimated 20% of the nation’s total emissions. This can be mostly eliminated through organic composting techniques. The compost can be used to improve the Maldives’s poor soil fertility and increase local crop yields.
Outside of their small fishing industry, the Maldives economy is almost completely dependent on foreign tourism. After electricity, the next most important source of carbon emissions is from aviation.
Goodall and Lynas propose that the Maldives could offset aviation emissions by buying, and then cancelling, emissions permits from the European Union carbon trading scheme.
This is the most questionable part of the ambitious plan. The EU’s carbon trading scheme is widely discredited for failing to reduce emission while allowing speculators to make windfall profits from buying and selling the “right to pollute”.
Action from industrialised countries in sharply cutting emissions is the only real “offset” the Maldives can rely on.
A larger problem is that the entire plan will cost at least $1.1 billion over a decade — far more than the Maldives can afford.
The plan would only be possible if the country were to receive loans from international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank — bodies notorious for impoverishing, rather than helping, countries in the global South.
Despite the cost of setting up renewable energy infrastructure, Goodall and Lynas predict the switch to renewables would save the Maldives money in the long term. Cutting the country’s dependence on oil would reduce the nation’s energy bill by $50 to $130 million every year.
An outline of Goodall and Lynas’s plan has been posted at : "Republic of Maldives: a plan for carbon neutrality."