Your Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
When you come from a country that is 99% ocean, people are skeptical when you say that you have water scarcity problems.
But this apparent paradox is exactly what the Maldives faces.
Like Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, we have: “water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.”
Most of our country is ocean but we still have acute fresh and drinking water problems.
Many of our problems arise because of poor governance of water supplies over the past few decades.
Each of our islands has a freshwater lens – a small layer of freshwater that is found just beneath the ground.
In many islands, the freshwater lens that used to provide water for drinking, washing and agriculture has become contaminated by sewage.
In other islands, coastal erosion and seawater intrusion has made the freshwater lens salty.
This has forced communities to rely on other sources of water.
In Male’, the capital city, water is mainly provided by desalinating seawater.
But desalinated water is expensive and consumes vast quantities of energy.
In smaller islands, that cannot afford the high cost of desalination, people rely on rainwater harvesting.
Rainwater harvesting also brings problems: during dry months, islands often run out of water and the government has to provide emergency supplies.
For the Maldives, the governance of water resources is therefore particularly important.
How can we best protect the natural water resources that we have?
And how can we generate new supplies of water, without them costing the Earth?
These are important issues for us and so it gives me great pleasure to attend this conference today.
When we talk about water resources in the Maldives, however, we are aware that there is a much bigger problem looming over our azure horizon.
Climate change threatens to make all our water problems more severe and more unpredictable.
Rising sea levels and more intense tropical storms will increase coastal erosion, threatening property and polluting groundwater.
Hotter ocean temperatures place our coral reef eco-systems in danger.
And an erratic monsoon means we can rely less on rainwater harvesting.
Climate change poses the greatest long-term threat to our nation and our water security.
If you think about it, most of the worrying effects of climate change involve water.
More intense rainfall in some areas will mean greater flooding, and loss of life and crops.
In other areas, longer and more intense droughts may cause a different kind of emergency.
Low-lying states are particularly worried about sea-level rise, caused by melting ice caps.
Perhaps Asia’s greatest threat comes from the melting of the Himalayan glaciers - the source of most of our major rivers.
I know there was a controversy over a small mistake in the latest IPCC report.
But we must keep our eye on the bigger picture.
A recent report in the journal Science concluded that snow and glacier meltwater is particularly important for the Indus and Brahmaputra rivers.
As this water declines it will threaten the food security of 60 million people.
Many of the world’s major rivers now fail to reach the sea for much of the year.
The Indus is a nearby example, because all its precious water is siphoned off for irrigation.
Water management and proper governance means we must divide water up fairly between competing human users.
But we must also allow enough to sustain the natural world too.
Of course, there are things we can do to use water more sustainably.
In the Maldives, we are starting new projects to help protect freshwater lakes and wetland areas.
We are also introducing schemes to protect mangroves and beach vegetation, which helps prevent coastal erosion.
And we are piloting hydroponic systems that use limited amounts of water to produce high value crops.
These sorts of measures will help the Maldives stimulate economic growth and enhance water security over the coming decades.
We cannot, however, adapt to climate change forever, while ignoring the root cause.
You can only build the seawalls so high.
Any discussions over security – whether it is water security or national security – must therefore include the climate crisis.
In short, we have to start work on building a zero carbon global economy.
The Maldives has already starting the process of shifting to low-carbon development.
Under the Copenhagen Accord, we have pledged to reduce our net carbon dioxide emissions by 100% by 2020.
For us, going green is not just the right thing to do.
We believe it is also in our economic and security interests.
One of the reasons why the Maldives wants to embrace green growth is because it improves energy security.
The Maldives is considered one of the most energy insecure nations in Asia.
We rely on imported, foreign oil to keep the lights working, the cars moving and the boats sailing.
We are extremely vulnerable to sudden oil price rises, over which we have little control.
Shifting to renewable energy systems means we can rely on natural resources the Maldives has in abundance: the sun, the wind and the waves.
We plan to use cutting edge, environmentally sound technologies to enhance our energy security.
I believe we can use the same technologies to improve our water security as well.
As we shift island communities from fossil fuel to renewable energy, for example, we can also devise ways of generating water cheaply and efficiently.
In a tropical, sunny country like the Maldives, solar power is an affordable source of energy.
During the sunniest part of the day, though, solar panels produce more energy than we can consume.
Storing this energy in batteries is extremely expensive.
However, we can use this surplus energy to power desalination plants and produce water.
This is just one small example of how we can use new technologies to cut carbon and improve water security.
I want the Maldives to become a role model country, where these new technologies can be tested.
I often meet people who are skeptical about climate change.
These skeptics tell me that cutting carbon is too expensive, too difficult or too much bother.
But I try to remind the pessimists that shifting towards a low carbon economy brings huge benefits.
New, green technologies not only protect the environment.
These technologies can also boost economic growth and development.
A carbon-free economy enhances energy security.
And green projects can also help increase water security.
In a country like the Maldives, the links between low carbon growth and water security are particularly pronounced.
And so I look forward to hearing about new technologies and techniques during the course of this conference.
We are, after all, in Singapore – a living example of how good governance and smart technology can enhance our environment and our water security.
Let us work together to jointly achieve a world where freshwater is available to all, without paying the price of sustainability.