This article first appeared on the Climate and Clean Air Coalition website.
The Maldives’ Ministry of Environment has developed, compiled and quantified for the first time, the reductions in air pollutants for measures originally developed with the aim of reducing greenhouse gases in the country. The result is the Maldives’ first National Action Plan on Air Pollutants, which was launched by H.E. Aishath Nahula, Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation, on 12 June 2019, at an event to celebrate World Environment Day.
All 28 specific mitigation measures in the National Action Plan align with existing plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the three major air pollution source sectors: electricity generation, transport and waste.
“The government of Maldives is committed to taking concrete and strategic action to address the issues of air pollution to protect the environment and safeguard human health.” said Dr. Hussain Rasheed Hassan, Minister of Environment, speaking at the launch ceremony. “Until recently, scientific and political conversations around climate change and air pollution had taken place separately. However, it is increasingly recognized that both issues are closely linked.”
The Maldives is made up of almost 1,200 islands, with a third of the population living in its capital, Malé. Despite the Maldives being in the middle of the Indian Ocean, air pollution is a growing concern due to congestion and high population density in the greater Malé region, and from transboundary transport of air pollution from other countries.
Based on a small number of studies conducted in the Maldives, in Malé concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) – the pollutant with the largest effect of respiratory and cardiovascular health – exceed the WHO ambient air quality guideline for clean air. Concentrations of other pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides and surface ozone have also increased at more remote islands in the Maldives.
The link to climate change mitigation heavily informed the development of Maldives National Action Plan on Air Pollutants. As a low-lying island nation, the Maldives is particularly vulnerable to climate change and associated increases in sea-levels and extreme weather events. Despite making a negligible contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions, the Maldives is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by up to 24 per cent by 2030 compared to a business as usual scenario in their Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC).
Of the 28 mitigation measures included in the National Action Plan on Air Pollutants, 22 are included in the Maldives’ NDC. The full implementation of the Maldives’ NDC would result in substantial air pollution emission reductions in the Maldives, including a 35 per cent reduction in direct PM2.5 emissions, in addition to the 24 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Emission reduction measures include expanding solar electricity generation, energy efficiency improvements in air conditioners and refrigerators in resorts and households, and reducing the open burning of waste.
Six additional measures in the plan target major air pollution sources not considered in the Maldives’ climate change plans. These include revising and enforcing emission standards for road vehicles and the marine fleet, which is not currently covered by regulations. Full implementation of the plan will lead to a 60 per cent reduction in direct PM2.5 emissions, 40 per cent reduction in black carbon emissions, and 27 per cent reduction in nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions by 2030 compared to a business as usual scenario.
“The development of the National Action Plan on Air Pollutants has helped the Maldives achieve three things” explained Aminath Maiha Hameed, Ministry of Environment. “First, by developing a first air pollution emission inventory, we now know the air pollution emissions coming from different sources, and will be able to track this as the Plan is implemented. Second, we have shown that efforts to meet our international climate change commitments can provide substantial local benefits to Maldivians through improved air quality. Finally, we have a clear roadmap of the additional actions needed to further improve air quality.”
The Maldives’ National Air Pollution Action Plan was developed as part of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition’s Supporting National Action & Planning (SNAP) Initiative. The Maldives is one of 12 countries that is currently developing a National Action Plan on air pollutants and short-lived climate pollutants. The planning process in each country identifies the most effective actions that can be taken to simultaneously reduce air pollution and mitigation climate change.
“The excellent work in the Maldives in developing this plan has clearly demonstrated that country’s achieving, and exceeding, their climate change commitments is not just essential to meet the Paris Agreement temperature goals, but is a key vehicle for improving public health through air pollution reductions”, said Helena Molin Valdés, head of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition Secretariat. “As countries are in the process of revising their NDCs, we encourage them to follow the lead of the Maldives in assessing the air pollution benefits from their climate change plans, and to increase their climate change ambition through actions that achieve multiple benefits for climate change and human health”.