Welcome to Quadrant Online | Login/ Register Cart (0) $0 View Cart
January 30th 2012 print

Tony Thomas

Sinking, sinking, not

Tuvalu and the Maldives would like money from the West as victims of the West's CO2 emissions. However, their purported problems are largely solvable by their own efforts, without the need to lay guilt trips on the developed countries.

Island states and their rising-seas campaigns 

Tuvalu and the Maldives are two tiny low-lying states making a big splash on the global warming scene. Journos love to label them the ‘canaries in the coal mine’ because when (or if) global warming does its thing, these states will be the first to be washed out. Both countries have been poster children for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and their delegates are prized fixtures at any IPCC conference, “as a symbol of all threatened small island environments”, as the fourth IPCC report put it.

Little is as it seems. Take Tuvalu. Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth movie had this to say re ocean rises:

That’s why the citizens of these Pacific nations have all had to evacuate to New Zealand.

He was obviously including Tuvalu. As UK Judge Michael Burton found – stating the bleeding obvious (10/10/07):

There is no evidence of any such evacuation having yet happened.

Next, Tuvalu continually claims rising seas are doing bad things to it. It so happens that someone found 27 aerial photos of Tuvalu and nearby Kiribati from 60 years ago, and these can be compared with modern satellite photos. Big surprise, the Tuvalu island chain has increased in area, with seven islands growing, including one that has grown by 30%. (The most populous Tuvalu island was not included). Overall, 23 of the total 27 islands were stable or growing, and only four, mostly uninhabited, were shrinking. The study’s co-author, Professor Paul Kench of Auckland University, said the physical basis of the island chains looked OK for the next 100 years, because of the way that coral debris piled up on them and grew there.

Segue now to the IPCC’s Copenhagen conference of late 2009. Ian Fry, Tuvalu’s lead negotiator, told delegates:

I woke up this morning crying, and that’s not easy for a grown man to admit, the fate of my country rests in your hands.

As he said this, his eyes again filled with tears, and mortified delegates applauded him wildly. Later, some nark noticed that he was not from Tuvalu at all, in fact he is a lawyer from Queanbeyan, Canberra’s next-door neighbor. He’s an ex-Greenpeace liaison officer and specializes in island nations.

Tuvalu would like money from the West as victim of the West’s CO2 pollution, along with re-settlement rights into prosperous countries, eg NZ and Australia.

However, Tuvalu’s problems are largely solvable by its own efforts, without the need to lay guilt trips on the West.

Concerning atoll erosion, over-fishing of beaked reef fish and mining of sand, gravel and coral for Western-style house construction are primary causes.  Other ‘bads’ are  denuding of beach vegetation for fuel, asphalting of roads, and urban drift to the main island Funafuti. (Funafuti is only two-thirds the size of London’s Hyde Park, but includes a 1500m air-strip). Waste and waste-water disposal are other serious issues. Above all, having lots of children in a seriously limited habitat is bound to create an environmental mess. The fertility rate in Tuvalu is 3.11 children per woman, compared with Australia, 1.78.

One wonders if global warming and inundations are really top of the mind for half of Tuvalu’s population, namely the females.

Tuvalu acceded  in 1999 to CEDAW – The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women – but has not acted on it. There is no law prohibiting discrimination against women, although discrimination on the basis of race, color and origin is banned. In 2007 an official health survey reported that 47% of women surveyed had suffered violence. In such domestic cases, the police avoid prosecuting and instead seek customary forms of reconciliation.

Turning now to the Maldives, they comprise 1200 islands 700km south-west of Sri Lanka. They were governed by a brutal and corrupt dictatorship for nearly 30 years under President Gayoom, who got re-elected six times from 1978 by  banning all other contenders. In a democratic revolution in 2008, Mohammed Nasheed took over, reconciling with his old persecutors despite his personal history of having been gaoled and tortured.

Nasheed is a one-man public relations industry. His big splash (literally) was in the lead-up to the Copenhagen IPCC conference in 2009. He taught his cabinet the rudiments of scuba-diving and ran a ‘cabinet meeting’ around a table six metres undersea. By raising their hands, and using water-proof crayons on a whiteboard, the cabinet passed resolutions for Western curbs on CO2 emissions and other righteous initiatives.

As Nasheed put it:

Well that’s the bottom line isn’t it – under water. That’s where we will end up. In many senses that might be where we will be having our cabinet meetings in the future.

The Maldives even under the villainous President Gayoom was an IPCC darling. In 1997, the IPCC chose Gayoom’s Maldives as venue for its 13th Plenary (involving its 194 member nations). The intent, presumably, was to give delegates a tingle by visiting a doomed-to-drown venue. Today the Maldives’ Mr Amjad Abdulla even has a seat on the 30-member inner IPCC bureau, comprising a mix of nations including Sudan (a vice-chair).

Nasheed has set a goal for the Maldives to become the planet’s first carbon-neutral state by 2020, a symbolic gesture to the world rather in the style of Julia’s carbon tax. Nasheed talks of  solar power and even electric cars, although a stream of  half a million tourists jetting in annually and gadding about by sea-plane, will make his carbon reductions difficult.

He also has plans to buy land to relocate his otherwise-drowning population, with Australia a candidate.   

Even under the Mandela-like Nasheed, Maldivian life and mores are not all that excellent. The Maldives, an Islamic theocracy, is particularly notorious for its public floggings of women who have extra-marital sex. An out-of-wedlock birth is sufficient evidence, hence floggings normally involve the new mothers. The fathers are more or less exempt. Flogging appears to be prevalent, judging by a local comment that for 140 women flogged, there would be only a couple of men.

When the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, criticized the practice during a visit last year, outraged men picketed the local UN building with posters including “Flog Pillay”, and she got some Islamist death threats. Although there are suggestions that the floggings are largely symbolic, a floggee may well differ.

Meanwhile female circumcision is in resurgence, according to a January SMH report, despite President Nasheed’s criticisms of extremists. Girls are also being held back from schooling.

Domestic violence against women is on the rise, while a bill against it has been stalled in Parliament for 14 months. A survey in 2007 found a third of women had been sexually or physically abused.

Currently 30,000 people (more than a tenth of the population, or close to a fifth of the adults) are reportedly heroin addicts; in 2009 a UN team estimated 40% of youths were users. The official response has been gaol terms running into decades, but rehabilitation is now getting some more emphasis. Youth unemployment is nearly 25% (males) and 50% (females).

Rising seas? Well, it’s a good earner. 

Tony Thomas is a retired business and economics journalist  



Pop 10,500; land area 26squ km; maximum height 5m. Ferility rate: 3.11.

To observe the absence of sea-level acceleration at Tuvalu, see THE SOUTH PACIFIC SEA LEVEL & CLIMATE MONITORING PROJECT, AusAid and Bureau of Meteorology. Graphic, p22. Pdf here…


Pop 400,000, land area 300squ km, maximum height 2.4m. Fertility rate, 1.81.

Nils-Axel Mörner, Emeritus Professor of Paleogeophysics & Geodynamics, Stockholm University, was part of an international sea level project team making six expeditions to the Maldives since 2000. He said (15/10/11): “There is no ongoing rise in the sea level at all and since 1970, it fell by about 20 cm and has remained quite stable for the last 30 to 40 years.”