Thursday 19 April 2012

The Island President

The Island President is by turn inspiring and depressing. The film follows President Mohamed Nasheen of the Maldives from his early successful fight to bring democracy to his island nation and then his perhaps less successful fight to bring an end to climate change.

The Republic of Maldives is an island nation so low lying (it lies on average 1.5 m above sea level and has no high ground to speak of) that it stands to disappear from the face of the earth if the sea level rises much above current levels. In fact the coast is eroding already and the nation has to cut back on education and health to pay for sea walls and other preventative measures.

Maldives with its atoll islands, turquoise seas and coral reefs is well known as a tourist paradise for the very wealthy, many of whom describe it as 'paradise crossed with paradise'. It is also home to around 350 000 people who stand to become climate change refugees if nothing is done to save their country.

Understanding all this, their president became a high profile campaigner on the issue of climate change. He addressed international conferences and pushed for an agreement at the 2009 Copenhagen talks on climate change, an agreement that wasn't binding but that could have been seen as better than nothing except that in the following year, carbon emissions increased rather than decreasing. Nasheed also demonstrated an ability to capture media attention by such events as holding a cabinet meeting underwater. He also pledged that his country would become the first carbon neutral state in the world and in this film can be seen fitting solar panels to a roof.

The film gets access to high level meetings within the Maldives and at the international conferences including the UN. Nasheem and his allies made heroic efforts but the viewer is to left with a sense of futility about these meetings. So many people flown on so many long haul flights to talk for so many hours to produce an agreement that isn't even binding.

Nasheem ultimately didn't succeed long term in his campaign for democracy in the Maldives. He was ousted 16 January 2012 and the military have taken over again. Admittedly Nasheem's government wasn't perfect (there have been claims of corruption and the state showed itself to be unable to pull the country out of the economic downturn that followed the 2004 tsunami (which destroyed much of the nation) ) and the government was severely constrained by opposition politicians. Even so, it is sobering that the country that stands to lose everything if climate change continues couldn't hang on to a leader with the imagination and commitment to at least do his best to solve the issue.

Dates of Screenings of The Island President in the UK.

Dates of Screenings of The Island President in other countries (scroll down)

Updates from Democracy Maldives.

As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.


P. M. Doolan said...

I haven't seen this film but there is one thing I have never understood about the Maldives - the contradiction that it will be destroyed by climtate change and the goverment has led the campain to raise awareness of the issue, yet, at the same time the Maldives' mian source of income is from foreign tourism, including numerous flights every day from most European countries, all pumping out CO2. When incoming flights are included, the Maldives must have one of the highest rate of greenhouse gas emmisions per capita in the world.

Ms Sparrow said...

It's so discouraging that the first country whose people face imminent danger from the effects of pollution can't even work together to fight against it. Rarely is a military government more effective in making progressive changes than elected officials. How very sad!

Carol Steel said...

This is a sobering post. It's easy to hope that addressing climate change will save places like this, or any other place on the planet. It's not so easy to believe that humanity will save the earth. Thanks for this balanced view.

Anonymous said...

I will try to see the film - I have seen stuff about the Maldives on tv and it is depressing. Just in response to P. M Doolan, I would say the tourists are responsible for their own carbon footprint as are the airlines; and what would happen if they didn't have any tourists? People can offset carbon when travelling and airlines are already looking into reducing carbon (though it is very difficult) via greener fuels.

RG said...

a modern day cnundrum for sure... (However - if I was young and lived in the Maldives I would be seriously considering and researching re-location options.)