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What happened to Scotland’s last promise to help the Maldives survive climate change?

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih of the Maldives warns his country risks catastrophe from climate change.

The low-lying tropical islands nation of Maldives is in peril as the world heats up and weather patterns change.

Just over a decade ago, Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, made headlines by promising to help do something about it.

He announced a partnership agreement with the president and claimed Scotland was well placed to make a difference.

Now, the Maldives is still in peril and the new president is back in Scotland, this time pleading for help from world leaders gathered in Glasgow at the COP26 climate summit.

As world leaders line up to demand more help, we can reveal the “statement of cooperation” signed in 2009 by Mr Salmond lasted little over a couple of years and went no further.

The work during that time amounted to one report by Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen.

The total government expenditure for the study was £47,000, our freedom of information requests show.

If we do not reverse this trend, the Maldives will cease to exist by the end of this century.”

President of the Maldives Ibrahim Mohamed Solih

The government sent the report to the Maldives government in August 2011.

The relationship might have gone further, but president Mohamed Nasheed was forced from office during political and civil upheaval, ending that link in February 2012.

The crisis lasted until elections in 2013.

Scottish Government officials confirmed there has been “no contact” with the Maldives on energy since that time.

The government also highlighted that the study was referenced once in a report by the Asian Development bank on the energy sector in November 2020.

Maldives will ‘cease to exist’

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih stood on stage at the opening speeches of the COP26 summit in Glasgow on November 1.

“What will it take for you to listen to us?” he asked.

Greta Thunberg alongside fellow climate activists during a demonstration at Festival Park, Glasgow. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire.

He told the conference in Glasgow he had visited six islands in his nation in a month, all showing “severe erosion”.

He added: “If we do not reverse this trend, the Maldives will cease to exist by the end of this century.”

Sturgeon: We can lead by example

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who took over from Mr Salmond in 2014, used the COP26 summit to announce more funds to help other countries.

On day one of the conference, she said: “We don’t have the resources of other western governments, but we can lead by example.”

She is doubling the climate justice fund to £24 million.

A partnership with the Climate Justice Resilience Fund will be supported by another £1 million investment.

Former US president Barack Obama gives a speech during the Cop26 summit at the Scottish Event Campus in Glasgow. Picture by Jane Barlow/ PA Wire.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is also making promises.

On the same day as President Solih spoke, Mr Johnson told the conference a 2C rise in global temperatures would see crops wither and locusts swarm.

‘Say goodbye to whole cities’

At 3C there would be a five-fold increase in droughts with wildfires and cyclones more common.

At 4C, he said “we say goodbye to whole cities: Miami, Alexandria, Shanghai – all lost beneath the waves”.

I will not sign a suicide note for my nation.”

Mohamed Nasheed

In another development, former president Nasheed – the first democratically elected head of state in the nation – was back in Holyrood just days after the new president made his address.

In office, he had famously staged an underwater meeting in scuba gear to draw attention to fears their homes would soon be sunk beneath the waves.

Maldives president Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, pictured taking to Prince Charles, is in Glasgow for the climate change summit.
The Prince of Wales chats with the president of the Maldives, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire.

Mr Nasheed is now the Speaker of the Maldives parliament.

He told an audience in Edinburgh political leaders must show how they will legislate to meet promises and keep global temperature increases below 1.5 degrees centigrade.

“I will not sign a suicide note for my nation,” he warned.

“None of us will sign a suicide note for the world.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said the administration was the first to have a dedicated “climate justice fund”, in 2012.

“We are proud of our support for people in the international community, including Malawi, Zambia and Rwanda, to build more resilient and equal communities,” the government said.

“In a pivotal year for addressing support for global south countries, we have committed to doubling the CJF over four years, including a £1 million grant to the Climate Justice Resilience Fund to help some of the world’s most vulnerable communities prepare for and adapt to climate change, tackle structural inequalities and recover from climate induced loss and damage.”

The government “invites” other nations to make ambitious commitments during COP26.

“We will target our fund at communities and people most affected by climate change and ensure their views and needs are at the centre of our work,” the spokesman said.

Maldives in numbers

  • The republic of Maldives comprises 1,192 small islands.
  • No part of the land on the islands is more than 8ft above sea level.
  • The state has a population of around 535,000.
  • Tourism accounted for about 25% of the economy before the Covid pandemic.
  • The president said the country would face a “death sentence” if temperatures increase to two degrees.
  • He also claimed the country could achieve “net zero” carbon emissions by 2030, with international aid.

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