Island President: Mohamed Nasheed and a People’s Fight for Survival
On February 7, 2012, Mohamed Nasheed, the democratically elected President of the Maldives and an outspoken climate change activist, was forced to resign his office due to the threat of violence from a coup d’etat lead by military forces loyal to the former dictator. A documentary, The Island President recounts his rise to power and fight to get a fair, ambitious and legally binding agreement that recognized the science of climate change at the UNFCC COP 15 in Copenhagen in December of 2009.
Nasheed endured 30 years of a brutal dictatorship where he was arrested 12 times, tortured twice and spent 18 months in a 5 x 3 corrugated iron cell in solitary confinement. In a considerable victory for human rights, the people took to the streets. And in 2008, Mohamed Nasheed became the democratically elected President of the Maldives.
As President, Nasheed soon found that all of the issues effecting the Maldives, a fragile, low-lying nation made up approximately 2000 islands, had the same source problem–global climate change. Since he was no stranger to fighting for survival, Nasheed turned his efforts to the colossal task of battling this adversary.
“If we can’t stop the seas rising, if you allow for a 2-degree rise in temperature, you are actually agreeing to kill us. I have an objective, which is to save the nation,” Nasheed said.
The film chronicles his efforts leading up to and behind the scenes at the Copenhagen summit. Using all of his political and diplomatic tools, Nasheed forms alliances and tries his best to persuade the world’s political leaders; including India, China and the US, to arrive at an agreement based on what the climate science dictates, a return of atmospheric carbon dioxide to a level of 350ppm. What Nasheed learns is that while he is fighting for his people’s survival, many of the world’s biggest polluters are fighting for the right to conduct business as usual. This leaves you at a good place to ponder whether global climate change itself or the geo-political establishment is the bigger threat to the Maldives survival. Though the conference fell short of getting a legally binding agreement, Nasheed became known as an instant leader in the climate justice movement.
“What happens to the Maldives today, will happen to New York tomorrow,” warns Nasheed.
Because the climate system is one with so much inertia, the climate will continue to warm, even after greenhouse gas emissions are stabilized or reduced. Carbon dioxide has a residence time in our atmosphere of about 100 years. And sea level will also continue to rise for hundreds of years after CO2 emissions are stabilized. Heeding the warning from those on the front lines of climate change may just save us all.