One the countries on the front lines of climate change is the Maldives. Eighty percent of the land lies three feet or less above the waves. The predicted sea level rise caused by global warming could wipe the country off the map. We speak with fifteen-year-old Maldives climate ambassador, Mohamed Axam Maumoon. On his message to the world, Maumoon says, “On the basis that you know what you are doing is wrong and you can see that the victim is begging for mercy…would you commit murder?” [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting live from Copenhagen from inside the Bella Center, bringing you our special climate countdown coverage of the COP15 summit.
One the countries on the front lines of climate change is the Maldives. A low-lying island nation in the Indian Ocean, no place in the Maldives is higher than seven feet ten inches above sea level. Eighty percent of the land lies three feet or less above the waves. The predicted sea level rise caused by global warming could wipe the country off the map.
The President of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, has been one of the most outspoken world leaders to call attention to the dire consequences of climate change. In October, he held a special cabinet session underwater to call for concerted global action to tackle climate change. Last month, President Nasheed called on fellow developing countries to embrace a carbon neutral future.
PRESIDENT MOHAMED NASHEED: We want to ask you to consider carbon neutrality yourselves. In my mind, a bloc of carbon neutral developing nations could change the outcome of Copenhagen. At the moment, every country arrives at the negotiations seeking to keep their own emissions as high as possible and never to make commitments unless someone else does first. This is the logic of a madhouse, a recipe for collective suicide.
AMY GOODMAN: One of the participants here at the UN climate summit in Copenhagen is Mohamed Axam Maumoon. He is a fifteen-year-old climate ambassador from the Maldives. He took part in the Children’s Climate Forum organized by UNICEF and the Copenhagen City Council. On Monday, he met with the Danish prime minister.
Mohamed Axam Maumoon, we welcome you to Democracy Now!
MOHAMED AXAM MAUMOON: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: What is your message here at the climate summit?
MOHAMED AXAM MAUMOON: First of all, I would like to tell everybody what’s wrong. I mean, why are we worried? We are worried because, as you said, Maldives isn’t higher than seven meters — seven feet, sorry, and, well, most of the places are just only one meter above sea level, which is only 3.5 feet, I believe. And we are a small island country. Most of the islands average one kilometer in diameter. And we have got 1,197 islands, and only 200 of them are suitable to be inhabited. And we are living at the very edge, as everybody is now talking about, because our country is so — so fragile, in the sense that we are only protected by the natural barriers, such as the coral reefs and the white sandy beaches. But other than that, we haven’t got the necessary need and necessary finance to actually build, let’s say, barriers, artificial barriers around the island. So we are completely subjected to climate change and global warming and the third factor, which is sea level rise.
Climate change also affects the weather, and it brings out weather anomalies such as the frequency of storms are increasing, and the force also increases. So, even though that naturally our country, our people has survived for 2,500 years on that small island state, we are still under threat right now, because our barriers have been destroyed by our mistakes, because of CO2 emissions from everywhere, to be general. Because of that, these coral barriers have been destroyed, and from — because these corals have been destroyed, in a natural way, they get eroded away, and our islands don’t have any barriers.
AMY GOODMAN: How did you learn about this? You’re now going into tenth grade. This is your break between ninth grade and tenth grade that you’re here.
MOHAMED AXAM MAUMOON: Yeah, yeah. How did I know about this? Well, first of all, I just saw with my eyes what’s happening. You could imagine standing on a beach one day, and the next day you can swim there because it became a lagoon. The erosion that happens is so fast and so furious that we could see what I just said we could see. And also, I’m worried because my parents tell me about a beautiful country that we are supposedly living on, but I only see pieces and fragments of it. And I can see very clearly that it’s going away. It will gradually go away completely, if we don’t stop this. And I’m feeling very sad, because I want my children and all the generations to come to see what I have seen and to live the wonderful life that I have lived.
And because I’m feeling so worried about this and because I have experienced this firsthand, I have been researching a lot for the CCFC, which is the Children’s Climate Forum Copenhagen 2009. And after I knew I was — I was given the lucky chance to come to the COP15 to try and influence everybody, I researched more, and I talked to everybody, not only Maldivian people. Not only information about the Maldives did I gather, I gathered small bits and pieces of useful information from other countries, as well. Well, that’s what got me interested in this.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that COP15, this summit, which stands for conference of parties, COP15 — I wasn’t explaining it to you, I don’t doubt you know that, but for everyone else in the world. We live, especially in the United States, in a globalized world, yet we are so insulated when it comes to getting information, so I appreciate your explanation. What is your sense of what will come out of this? Do you think it will save your country, the Maldives?
MOHAMED AXAM MAUMOON: Well, first of all, I went through three phases, as I like to say. First, when I knew I was coming to CCF —-
AMY GOODMAN: The Children Climate Forum.
MOHAMED AXAM MAUMOON: Yeah -— I believed that I could make a change by listening to everybody’s stories and voicing out my own. After I knew was coming to COP15, I tried even more to get as in-depth information as I can, to get as many personal stories as I can, and I have had hopes to change in that phase.
And in the third phase, which is what I’m in now, I’m doing my hard work right now. I’m trying to talk to all the leaders, such as the Danish prime minister. I have tried explaining to everybody there.
And I believe that if we can come to a fab deal — not a fabulous deal, sorry, to a fair, ambitious and binding treaty, we could make a change. We could actually save all the children who are really suffering. And that’s what I expect the leaders to do.
AMY GOODMAN: What gives you the sense that there will be a binding treaty that comes out of this? Already, President Obama, who is going to be coming next week, has said this will not result in a binding treaty.
MOHAMED AXAM MAUMOON: Well, even if it does not result in a binding treaty within two weeks — of course, yeah, it might not, because it took us about five days to make out the declaration that we did. It’s not a treaty or anything; it’s just a general declaration of all the children. Yeah, we might not come to a treaty on this very same day the COP ends, but we could take a first step, because it’s always the first step that counts. And we can go on walking that road to a binding treaty. And I think that even though we don’t get it right now, we might have it before it’s too late, even though it is late right now.
AMY GOODMAN: If you could speak right into that camera, Axam, and tell us — tell people here your final message, as we actually begin the climate change summit here, especially young people, what they can do and what climate change means to you?
MOHAMED AXAM MAUMOON: OK. My final message will go generally out as a question. This is a general question. I would like to ask you: Would you commit murder? On the basis that you know what you’re doing is wrong and you can see that the victim is begging for mercy and for you to stop what you’re doing, yeah, would you commit murder? I mean, yeah, people who are sensitive at heart would take this seriously, but others, I wouldn’t mention right now.
And yeah, it’s like this in the scenario that we are in, because our country, the Maldives — not only Maldives, but other countries such as Bangladesh, Kenya and Zambia — all those countries are suffering to the point that we can’t see the end of it, because the mistakes other countries are making, for the mistakes that you are — that many people don’t try to redeem themselves from. And it’s as good as killing us off. So I ask you again, would you commit murder, even while we are begging for mercy and begging for you to stop what you’re doing, change your ways, and let our children see the future that we want to build for them?
AMY GOODMAN: Mohamed Axam Maumoon, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Axam is fifteen years old. He’s the climate ambassador from the Maldives. And we’ll follow him through this two weeks to see if his demands are being met.