Maldives Underwater Meeting Catches Media Attention

road-to-copenhagen

Few people appear better positioned for Blog Action Day 2009 than Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed – and it’s been a busy year since he took office. Faced with growing threats of sea level rise, President Nasheed has made some bold claims since his election last November.

From his statement earlier this year that his government would set aside some of the $1 billion a year it earns from the travel and tourism industry to buy land to relocate his people, to his announcment last week that he will hold the first ever cabinet meeting underwater, President Nasheed is proving to be both bold and media savvy.

Obviously the Maldives and other small-island countries have a lot at stake in terms of climate change, and gimmick or not, the underwater meeting has garnered global media attention and it has put this country of less than 400,000 people front and center of the climate change conversation.

Call to Action

Nasheed has been making the rounds and the message is clear: his country is sinking. In fact, the highest point in the country is the “lowest high point” of any other nation on earth. This sobering realization is what has spurred Nasheed’s bold claims over the past year – not the least of which that his will be the first nation to be carbon neutral by 2020.

The President plans to achieve this goal of powering the homes and businesses of the Maldives with clean energy using a mixture of wind, solar and biomass generated electricity – as well as gains in energy efficiency and stronger building codes. It’s because of such plans that last month Time magazine recognized Nasheed’s leadership on climate change by naming him one of their Heroes of the Environment in 2009.

Leading up to the climate talks at the UN, and ultimately climate action day on October 24th, president Nasheed teamed up with 350.org to film a call to action. This, along with his cabinet meeting announcement, also inspired the Divers Association of the Maldives to film their own commercial rallying around climate action day.

For the Maldives, climate change is no vague or distant irritation but a clear and present danger to our survival – President Nasheed

Real Action Or Slick PR

Having your cabinet ministers put on wetsuits and communicate with hand signals certainly grabs people’s attention, but will the message resonate? More and more political leaders are turning to mainstream media and social action campaigns to trumpet a cause. Whether it’s President Obama talking health care with David Letterman, or President Nasheed 20 feet underwater – with the reward of increasing your audience, comes the risk of increased criticism.

Some have hailed President Nasheed as more style than substance. They claim that he is “scaring off” investment in his country with some of his claims, and that his obsession with the media spotlight has distracted him from his duty of running the country. Either way – you can’t deny the fact that this event on October 17th has not only raised awareness for the Maldives, but for the global issue of climate change as a whole.

Brian Thurston is a sustainability consultant working on research, strategy and policy development. Brian is interested in building awareness and unique relationships within and between corporate, government, and NGO partners. He holds a BA in Literature from University of Southern California, and a MS in Environmental Policy from The Johns Hopkins University.