Is The President of the Maldives Serious About Climate Change?

Plenty of publicity for the new President of the Maldives, Mohamed “Anni” Nasheed, after his proposal to buy land somewhere to resettle the population in case the low-lying islands get submerged. Is that something to take seriously? I don’t think so.

  1. The Economist dedicates one of its Leaders to the topic, but the article rapidly descend into banter: “[…] if the Maldivians are looking for an island, Iceland is said to be going cheap. But they may be spoilt for choice: think of all the tiresome bits of territory that other countries would like to offload. The snooty English, for instance, have long disparaged Wales […]
  2. The issue has monopolized the discussion for a few days in the INT-BOUNDARIES mailing list (you can start reading from here), with no final consensus on all the aspects of something that may very well be legally unprecedented. Couple of interesting links about how to deal with disappearing inhabited islands in this post. All in all it does look like President Anni’s idea has not been thought through in the necessary details as yet…
  3. Finally, is there any indication that the Maldives are actually sinking? I am not sure.

Check in fact the NASA data for “Trend of Sea Level Change (1993-2008)” as measured by the Topex/Poseidon satellite and then Jason-1 (via Accuweather’s Global Warming blog):

from NASA
Trend of Sea Level Change (1993-2008)

Where are the Maldives? South-West of the Indian Subcontinent, of course (map from Wikipedia).

Location of the Maldives
Location of the Maldives

And what is the trend in sea level change there, according to NASA? Something they define as “moderate”, that is between 1 and 3 millimeters per year (right at the limit of resolution, by the way. It may as well be zero: note the light-blue areas peppered around):

Trend in Sea Level Change Near the Maldives
Trend in Sea Level Change Near the Maldives

Going for a 2 mm/year trend, it’s 3 centimeters in the last 15 years.

Using Wikipedia: given the average height of 1.5 meters above sea-level, if trends could be extrapolated the Maldives would be doomed around 150/.2=750 years from now

(in truth, sea levels at the Maldives may have dropped as much as 30 centimeters around 1970).


President Nasheed’s election must surely be celebrated, as he had been arrested several times for his ideas under the Gayoom regime. But his first foray into the climate change debate, won’t do much to help him build credibility as his nation’s leader. Unless his true goal is to extract money from rich countries, no matter how baseless the stated need appears to be.