A compact urban landscape veined with crowded, bustling roads is unlikely to be the first image that comes to mind on mention of the Maldives, whose tourism images embody “deserted island paradise”.
But the Maldivian capital of Malé, the latest member of the BreatheLife network, certainly grapples with classic problems of urban growth: a surge in vehicle ownership within a confined area, waste management and sustainable energy supply.
That’s because Malé is one of the most densely-populated cities in the world, home to 153,904 residents (2014 census) — about a third of the population of the Maldives — in an area of just 5.8 square kilometres (or 2.2 square miles).
It stands on the southernmost point of one of the 26 natural atolls that make up the island nation, a geography that poses additional challenges in the context of climate change and marine pollution.
While the Maldives does not conduct routine monitoring of local air quality, it has been active in shepherding international action for climate change, itself committing to and taking action that has positive impacts for both climate mitigation and adaptation and air quality.
One example comes from the priority realm of transport: cars older than five years of age are banned from importation and only brand new motorcycles are allowed into the country, while taxis already on Maldives’ roads have a maximum age of 25 years old. Electric vehicles come into the Maldives tax-free, while petrol and diesel vehicles face a 200 per cent import duty.
As diesel consumption contributes around 80 per cent of Maldives’ total carbon dioxide emissions and the vast majority of diesel emissions in the Maldives come from the transport sector and energy generation, this action has clear co-benefits.
Despite Malé’s limited size, the number of vehicles on its roads increased over 295 per cent from 2007 to 2014, prompting the government to prioritize strategies that promote non-motorized transport in the Second National Environment Plan, focusing on providing public transport, bicycle lanes and footpaths.
“Pollution also has very real impacts on the health and wellbeing of our peoples. In the Maldives alone, an estimated 48 deaths are caused by air pollution related complications each year. This is a significant and an alarming figure given the size of our population,” said Minister of State for Environment and Energy, Mr Abdullahi Majeed, at the third United Nations Environment Assembly.
“The government is working towards addressing this issue and we request support from partners in establishing adequate ambient air quality monitoring mechanisms, as well as assistance to develop the necessary technical and human resources capacity to this regard,” he said.
Another priority area for action against air pollution in the country is greening its energy supply. Malé currently accounts for over 60 per cent of electricity consumption among all inhabited islands of the Maldives, whose annual electricity demand is expected to grow at over 8.5 per cent per year. The Maldives’ short-term goal is to produce a minimum of 30 per cent of daytime peak electricity load in all its habitable islands from renewable sources by 2o20.
To this end, the Ministry of Environment and Energy is investing in measures for low carbon development in the energy sector. Renewable energy systems are being installed and energy efficiency initiatives implemented; solar panels and other renewable energy technologies are already exempt from import duties, while regulations governing feed-in tariffs are approved and regulations governing net-metering are in place.
The government is also developing labeling and standards for selected electrical appliances and incorporating energy efficiency measures into the building code, to be completed in 2018 as well. It is providing incentives to encourage the clean production of energy or the use of energy efficient technology.
Waste-to-energy systems are also planned for key waste management centres, which has co-benefits for yet another of the country’s priorities.
With its limited and widely-dispersed land area, the island has also had to be resourceful in dealing with waste management.
The greater Malé region is responsible for a significant proportion of the waste generated in the country, which is transported to its biggest official landfill on Thilafushi, an island dedicated to waste management and industrial activities.
Here, half the waste is openly burnt, while the other half is disposed as landfill; but the country has introduced measures to establish an integrated waste management system, starting with the greater Malé region.
It is also taking steps to reduce this open burning, including strengthening legislation governing solid waste and establishing regional waste management facilities throughout the country.
Naturally, many of these actions have bearing on the Maldives’ meeting its Nationally Determined Contributions, in which it intends, unconditionally, to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases by 10 per cent below business-as-usual levels by 2030, or, conditionally– in the context of sustainable development, supported and enabled by availability of financial resources, technology transfer and capacity building– by 24 per cent.
The BreatheLife network welcomes the greater Malé region and its commitment to its goals, bringing with it its unique experience of acting on both climate change and air pollution for the health of its people and iconic natural environment.
Follow Malé’s clean air journey here.
Banner photo by Nattu Adnan/CC BY 2.0.