Environment & energy, National security | South Asia, The World

8 August 2022

As Maldives pushes to counter climate change with ‘green’ defence strategies, the region can look to the country’s progress for policy inspiration, Athaulla Rasheed writes.

Republic of Maldives Defence Minister Uza Mariya Ahmed Didi, in her remarks on the opening day of the Indo-Pacific Environment Security Forum, held in Malé, Maldives on 1 August 2022, has said that Maldives is in the process of greening its defence sector services to reduce its carbon footprint. She outlined how the country is looking to lower the emissions cost of its defence operations and infrastructure development.

As noted in her early engagement at the Special Session on Climate Security and Green Defence at the 19th IISS Shangri-La Dialogue, held in Singapore from 10 to 12 June 2022, the Minister also reiterated that the government is in the process of finalising a Defence White Paper which reflects their goal of ‘greening’ the defence sector.

Rather than securitising (or militarising) climate change, their objective is to frame the issue in a way that is more closely aligned to the general strategic interests of the state, including combating climate change.

Meeting carbon zero-emission targets and improving energy efficiency are primary targets under the Maldives government’s initiatives, which it launched under the Climate Emergency Act – 2021.

This approach to defence strategy to progress these goals is crucial for national plans to build resilience against the effects of climate change.

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The country is especially vulnerable to sea level rise and ocean-related catastrophic events, but will also face loss of land, marine livestock, and other climate impacts in years to come.

Rising sea levels can potentially destroy military and defence facilities or inundate a low-lying island nation like Maldives and threaten their security and territorial integrity.

Along with many other nations, Maldives is keenly aware that climate change is a national security issue, as well as an environmental issue.

In the Pacific, the Boe Declaration on regional security declared in 2018 that climate change is the ‘single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific.’ Like their fellow islanders in the Indian Ocean, Pacific nations are driving policy change to secure islands constantly challenged by the changing climate, and the rest of the region must do the same.

In both the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the interplay of the climate and the rest of island life multiplies threat factors and affects the capacity of these nations to meet their security and development potential.

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But these countries cannot go it alone. The global community must look to them and take action at the national, regional, and international level to help and emulate their enthusiasm.

If other countries in the region reached out, they would find willing partners. Keeping on the democratic track and committing to climate action, countries like Maldives are eager to promote climate security. Implementing a green defence strategy, as Maldives is doing, is something regional and global partners must consider.

Maldives is a resilient island nation built on its stewardship in the Indian Ocean ambitiously adapting to the changing currents in the regional environment – but it needs continued support from its development partners.

There is much to gain in this space. Better climate security for Maldives matters as it engages with the rest of the Indo-Pacific in search of even closer defence, security, and development partnerships.

Military, defence, and security agencies are the keys to a more secure Maldives, but this cannot come at a cost to the climate. This is why Maldives is taking the step to broaden the scope of its understanding of security to incorporate multifaceted challenges associated with climate change.

The complex nature of these threats and opportunities is a compelling reason to consider a broader meaning of security across the region. If countries of the Indo-Pacific want an approach to security problem solving that incorporates the climate challenge, they need only look to Maldives’ choice to focus on a greener security sector to see the opportunities at hand.

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