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From underwater, Maldives sends warning on climate change

  • Story Highlights
  • President, Cabinet don scuba gear to sign carbon emissions declaration
  • "We are all going to die," leader says, if climate change isn't checked
  • Most of archipelago lies less than 5 feet above sea level
  • Experts expect water levels to rise more than 7 inches by end of century
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(CNN) -- With fish as witnesses, the president of Maldives and his Cabinet wore scuba gear and used hand signals Saturday at an underwater meeting to highlight the threat climate change poses to the archipelago nation.

The Maldives declaration will be presented at a U.N. summit on climate change in December.

The Maldives declaration will be presented at a U.N. summit on climate change in December.

The meeting, chaired by President Mohamed Nasheed, took place around a table about 16 feet (5 meters) underwater, according to the president's Web site. Bubbles ascended from the face masks the president and the Cabinet wore, and fish swam around them.

At the meeting, the Cabinet signed a declaration calling for global cuts in carbon emissions that will be presented before a U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December.

"We are trying to send our message to let the world know what is happening and what will happen to the Maldives if climate change isn't checked," Nasheed said, according to his Web site.

Asked what would happen if Copenhagen fails, the president said, "we are all going to die," according to the site.

The ministers signed their wet suits, which are being auctioned, to raise money for coral reef protection in the Maldives, the Web site said.

Maldives is grappling with the very likely possibility that it will go under water if the current pace of climate change keeps raising sea levels. The Maldives is an archipelago of almost 1,200 coral islands south-southwest of India. Most of it lies just 4.9 feet (1.5 meters) above sea level.

The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change has forecast a rise in sea levels of at least 7.1 inches (18 cm) by the end of the century.

The country's capital, Male, is protected by sea walls. But creating a similar barrier around the rest of the country will be cost-prohibitive. Video Watch how the Maldives are fighting to survive »

Soon after his election in November, Nasheed raised the possibility of finding a new homeland for the country's 396,000 residents.

The tourist nation wants to set aside part of its annual billion-dollar revenue into buying a new homeland, he said at the time.

"We will invest in land," he said. "We do not want to end up in refugee tents if the worst happens."

Nasheed's government said it has broached the idea with several countries and found them to be "receptive."

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Lands owned by Sri Lanka and India were possibilities because the countries have similar cultures, cuisine and climate as the Maldives.

Australia is also being considered because of the vast unoccupied land it owns.

CNN's Saeed Ahmed contributed to this report.

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