بســم اللّـه الرّحمـن الرّحيــم
I would like to welcome all the participants to this international investor conference on renewable energy. I am very pleased that this event is taking place in the Maldives today. It is an important milestone and a culmination of very hard work over the past couple of years.
We are here today because a lot of people worked very hard, most importantly our staff of the Ministry of Environment and Energy, but also our partners in the international community, particularly the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the United Nations and many other colleagues who have worked very closely with the Maldives to make this happen.
We began discussions on this a few years ago. But there was a lot of talk and very little action. So I’m really happy that within the last year and a half or so, the project has really accelerated and today we are able to hold this very historical conference in the Maldives.
You are all aware that Maldives is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. The scenarios for climate change are not looking good. Every time we get new research, it indicates to the country our hopes that the international community will be able to pull its act together and prevent further deterioration of climate change. But this is not the case. What we know today is not encouraging. The international community’s attention to climate change has not been consistently encouraging to us. The UNFCC process has not really led to results that will make us particularly happy. Nevertheless, Maldives continues to be very strong advocate and at every international conference that we attend we stand up, along with other small island countries, to impress the world community the importance of quick action in preventing global warming.
The energy sector clearly contributes to the major part of greenhouse gas emissions. Last year alone, we are told that CO2 emissions grew by 1.4% to reach 31.6 Gt in 2012 alone. This trend points to a long term temperature increase of about 5.3°C. This is clearly way above the limits where Maldives can continue to exist. So we hope that such negative trends will not continue and that we will be able to do something to avert it. As a result, the focus has to be put on the energy sector globally and the international community must find ways to cut CO2 emissions from the energy sector.
Of course, it is not that we don’t know what needs to be done. Often that’s because there is little political will and weak cooperation among public and private sector to find solutions.
We are told that government actions sometimes aggravate the problem such as heavy subsidies paid for fossil fuel with little attention to energy efficiency. And so in Maldives we are determined to address these two issues particularly.
We are currently spending far too much on the energy sector. In 2012 alone, we spent about 417 million dollars on importation of fossil fuels. This is 35% of our GDP. I don’t think there is any other country that is spending this kind of money on energy. For everything that we do here, for the food we eat, for the shower that we take, and for the trip we take from the airport, all consume fossil fuel.
The development of this country is now at a crossroad where we cannot make further rapid progress until we address the issue of energy. That is why my government has setup a separate ministry for environment and energy.
The environmental imperative is obviously there but for us a developmental imperative is more urgent. Today, we are spending enormous amounts of our resources not only for the purchase of this but also for providing subsidies. Majority of people in this country can no longer afford energy at the current prices. Every time there is a change of oil prices, it gives shock waves to our economy and our livelihoods. Today, we are spending about USD 12million a year on fuel subsidies. So, we decided that we needed to take this very seriously and do something about it.
Electricity is the most severely affected area. We use electricity for literally all the things that I mentioned. Because of our geography, our small population that is scattered over so many islands, it is difficult for us to have a nationwide grid. Male’ region with a total population of about 120,000 now is the largest population concentration. The second largest is about 20,000. Third is about 10,000. And the rest are less than that.
So we a have a situation where we have to find a solutions to a large number of small communities. And because of that, currently per hour unit cost of electricity ranges from 30 cents to all the way up to 70 cents. And I don’t think any country in the world spends 70 US cents for a KWh of electricity. Because of low efficiency, old equipment, wastage and the high per capita Investment costs, our electricity prices are currently unaffordable in many islands. As a result the government has to provide subsidies sometime to the entire island.
So this situation obviously cannot continue for long, that’s why we have decided that we must invest in renewable energy in order for us to be able to make the next leap forward in our country’s development.
True, when you come to Maldives you will see beautiful resorts like this. Everybody complains that Maldives is so expensive. And one of the reasons why Maldives is so expensive is because energy cost is so expensive. We can provide a tourism product that is of high quality even at a higher scale at lower cost, if we can tackle the issue of energy cost.
I am pleased that so many of you are here for this very important conference. This is an event that will make or break this country. That’s why for us it is so important. I’m really happy that so many of you have come – from the private sector, international corporations, also from local companies, representatives of so many multilateral banks government and intergovernmental agencies – for this conference.
We started by attracting investors for some time now, but on this scale we are able to go ahead because of the support we have received from the World Bank through CIF, for the development of the -- scaling up of the renewable energy project.
Now we have an action plan. We know what we need to do. Of course it took us sometime for us to figure this out. With such large investments, of course there are also various forces that come in and sometimes you don’t move as fast as you would like to. But I am happy to know that Maldives is one of the first countries that has actually developed an action plan and is able to move forward now. We work with many other developing countries particularly small island developing countries. I believe we are the first to hold such a conference.
And therefore, I’m really happy this is happening. We have already in this country set a feed-in-tariff. The climate for investment is ready. I believe that during the two days that you are here, you will be able to identify projects that you can relate to so that you can find ways of contributing to the development of the Maldives but also that makes commercially good sense.
The solutions that we need to find here are not just the energy sector. The energy sector solutions have to be also linked to other sectors. So we need to look into integrated solutions that will solve in addition to the electricity problems, problems of waste management and water.
Already I could think about half of this country’s population who already live on desalinated water. All the resorts – over 100 of them – the entire greater male region and many other islands now depend on desalinated water.
Climate change is affecting us more severely than most people like to believe. Storm surges, rough weather, beach erosion, all these things are affecting ground water level in many of the islands. So fresh water lens in most of the islands are getting contaminated. As a result ground water is no longer fit to be used even for cleaning purposes. It didn’t used to be the case in Maldives. Most of the people in this country consumed ground water even in Male’. But that situation has changed over the last 25 to 30 yrs. It has changed rapidly. We used to be self-sufficient in water. Water didn’t used to be a problem in this country. Those who had the means even in poor communities tried to harvest rain water as far back to 50-60 years ago. And today also, we use a lot of rain water for drinking purposes. But most of the washing and other needs were through ground water. Ground water used to be fresh and sweet. But we have lost that now and I believe to a large extent climate change is responsible for that. Also of course, man-made causes are there. We don’t deny that.
So we need to address the issue of water. Already for several years now in Male’ we have been using an integrated approach to electricity production and water desalination. Our local companies like the Male’ Water and Sewerage Company (MWSC) have already started to introduce this in selected islands. Re4cently I was at the inauguration of such a plant in Raa Atoll Dhuvaafaru. That’s the kind of solution we need to find for electricity, water and waste management in our islands.
I am really happy that some of the tourism sector participants are here. In this country our development has been spearheaded by the tourism sector. Most of the investment has gone into that sector. Most of the innovation is in the tourism sector. And therefore, it is important that tourism sector takes the lead. I believe it is consistent with the philosophy and the vision for a clean, progressive Maldives to have its primary sector to take this kind of leadership. I believe it is possible for resorts to become carbon neutral. I already see that there are several local entrepreneurs who have the ambition of creating carbon neutral resorts. It is possible. And even those like Bandos have been here for the last 40 years are already engaged in this kind of projects. I hope that there will be discussion between the resort owners and the investors who are here in the Maldives to find some solutions to that effect.
I wish you a very productive two-day meeting. I am really happy you are here. I welcome you all to the Maldives. I hope you will have a few hours of sun because it’s the rainy season already. But please enjoy your stay in the Maldives. And please consider this as a challenge to each one of you. We have a beautiful nation. We are prepared to work with you. We have the possibility for the first time to create one country that is carbon neutral – this one country that leads the way in renewable energy and energy efficiency and to lend ourselves as an example to other countries. So please become part of this project. Be our partners. And together let’s find a solution for the Maldives first – but I believe that will create the way for a world that is a better place.
So thank you for being here. I wish you all the best.