Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Aug 17, 2022
Opening Address by Hon. Mohamed Nasheed at the Kigali Global Dialogue 2022 The Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Vincent Biruta, the Mauritian Vice President, Honourable Mohammad Anwar Husnoo, my friend Dr. Samir Saran from the Observer Research Foundation, ladies and gentlemen, everyone present here and watching us, good afternoon. It is, of course, a great pleasure to be here. The ORF was nice enough to invite me for their previous iteration also held here in Rwanda. So, I am an old-timer here. It is a beautiful country, that is not only clean but also very rapidly progressing in their development trajectory for a prosperous Rwanda. And I am sure you will achieve that. We are here today to think about new development templates; how we may have a prosperous life; and how we may be happier, live peacefully, and actually enjoy life.   I would like to talk about three specific things. One is debt. Most climate vulnerable countries are extremely debt ridden and are on the brink of default. You would have heard about Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, and the Maldives as well. We are very anxious and very worried that the first victim of climate change is actually default. When we took the loans, the IPCC said that there was no clear relationship between bad weather and carbon emissions. We took the loan believing that we would pay it back in 25 years. But then, the bad weather washed away the road, the bridge, the school, and now we are left with the debt but not the asset.   It is extremely difficult for us to pay this money back. Not only that, a lot of the money that we received from emerging powers was intentionally raised. The cost of the projects was intentionally raised to the extent that if the business plan fails, we will not be able to pay back the debt and instead, we will have to give back equity. With equity, we give sovereignty.  Therefore, I am sorry, but the Hambantota Port is now not Sri Lankan; it is owned by a Chinese company. Recently, a Chinese military ship wanted to berth in that Port and, of course, everyone else in the area would be anxious and worried about their safety and security. So, this is very complicated.   It is very important that we find development trajectories and patterns, without this kind of indebtedness as well as by not rubbishing the planet. This is my second point. The climate has changed. We might have actually lost the old balance that the planet had maintained. We might be at a tipping point now where we are moving into a new balance, a new ecosystem, a new weather pattern. With this weather pattern and new ecosystem, we need more adaptation, we need more transition, and more money. The Maldives—I can tell you and I am sure this is the same in many other countries, including many Indian Ocean Island countries—spend more than 25 percent of the budget on debt repayment and another 30 percent on adaptation. So, there is actually no money left after paying the civil servants, and looking after maintenance, fuel, and medicine. We have no money left and therefore, we cannot actually move out from our own difficulties and find a prosperous life.   How we adapt is very important. Again, if we think that adaptation is hard concrete and still, then we are mad. In the Maldives, it takes US$4000 to have one metre of water breaker to stop the waves, another US$3000 for the revetment inside. So, for each metre of coastline, we have to spend US$7000. The Maldives is 2000 islands and you have 7500 km—this is impossible. But, to grow a reef is US$25 a metre, that is your water breaker; to implant a mangrove is US$10 a metre, that is your revetment. But the problem with our reef and mangrove is that it takes so long to grow. You cannot just go and buy a reef; not yet. But I suppose what I am asking for, today, is a Reef Construction Corporation that would construct reef in large scale. To do that, we just need a little bit more science to find out how it can grow faster.   Genetic modification GMO crops have fed us all in Africa and Asia, and I cannot see why we should not turn to this science and try to see how we may be able to protect our shorelines, and bring in more biological adaptation—adaptation that would grow using nature as infrastructure. We have all done that. You can grow anything in the manner that you want it to grow. We need more science to it and I hope that in the next two and a half days—as we talk about development and new methods—we may be able to achieve that.   We need your science, we need the Indian science, we need the American science. We do not have a DNA map of a coral; it is not there. It has only been two years since scientists tried to find the genetic codes—a map of the coral—and it is still not with us. I am hopeful that you will have this conversation—less extraction and more recycling, how we can find a development strategy that will give you the same economic outcomes of growth, employment, low inflation, and at the same time, environment balance.   I believe that this development strategy is now available. You can find ways of production without carbon emission. There is renewable energy, it is now plenty. We can have a development strategy where the by-product actually saves the environment, where it is economically more viable to do that. I have our friend, the Rwandan Foreign Minister, who also has other calls. It has been wonderful to be here. We will be around for the next two and a half days and I am sure we will have more conversations. Thank you very much.  
This is a slightly modified version of the Opening Address delivered at the Kigali Global Dialogue 2022.
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