Climate Change in the Maldives

April 6, 2010


A low lying archipelago with more territorial sea than land, the Maldives is exposed to the risks of intensifying weather events. Sea level rise represents an existential threat to the country. With future sea levels projected to increase in the range of 10 to 100 centimeters by the year 2100, the entire country could be submerged.

" The Maldives stands at the frontline of the climate change battle. We are one of the most vulnerable countries on Earth and therefore need to adapt to climate change. "

Dr. Mohammed Waheed Hassan

Honorable Vice President of Maldives


Male, April 6, 2010 - The Government of Maldives, the European Union (EU), and the World Bank Group signed a tripartite Memorandum of Understanding establishing a new Trust Fund designed to build resilience to climate change in the Maldive.

The EU has contributed $8.8 million (approximately EUR 6.5 million) to the multi-donor Maldives Climate Change Trust Fund, which the World Bank will administer over a period of three and a half years. The majority of the Trust Fund resources will be utilized by the Government of Maldives to carry out their priority projects relating to climate change adaptation and mitigation.


The development objectives of the Trust Fund Program are to:

  • Strengthen knowledge and leadership in the Government of Maldives to deal with climate change issues both domestically and internationally;
  • Build adaptive capacity and climate resilience in key sectors through tangible pilot interventions;
  • Promote energy efficiency and increase energy access through renewable energy generation and distribution through low carbon options and public-private partnerships; and
  • Improve policy and institutional capacities in the public and private sectors to deal with adaptation and mitigation interventions that bring both developmental and climate change benefits.


The Republic of Maldives comprises 1,190 islands in 20 atolls spread over 900 km in the Indian Ocean. Of these, just 199 islands are inhabited with a population of slightly over 300,000 people. The highest point of land is 2 meters or about 6 feet above sea level.

Drawn by its pristine beaches, underwater coral reefs, and spectacular marine wildlife, this small island-nation attracts some 500,000 tourists annually. Its atolls are ringed by the seventh largest coral reefs in the world and among the richest in species diversity. The reefs host over 1,900 species of fish, 187 coral species, and 350 crustaceans. In recent years, nature-based tourism has served as the engine of growth for the economy and accounts for about 70% of GDP.

“There are big challenges that come with the advantages of the islands’ tourist assets, however,” said Richard Damania, World Bank Lead Environmental Economist. “The country’s coral reefs, which protect it from storm surges and serve as the main attraction for the tourism-driven economy, are in danger of being damaged or destroyed by poorly handled waste disposal methods.”

Rising sea temperatures also threaten the coral reefs and cause bleaching and death, with the most severe damage in areas that are stressed by pollutants, or damaged by physical disturbance. Vulnerability to climate change hazards has been magnified by damage to coral reefs which has in turn impaired their protective function, thus a negative cycle of impact.


Geography has made the Maldives especially vulnerable to the consequences of climate change. Being land scarce and low lying, the country is exposed to the risks of intensifying weather events such as damage caused by inundation, extreme winds, and flooding from storms.

With the melting of polar ice caps, the Maldives is also exposed to the risks of sea-level rise. Future sea level is projected to rise within the range of 10 to 100 centimeters by the year 2100, which means the entire country could be submerged in the worst-case scenario.

“With the Maldives’ high dependence on a few key environmental assets and as pressure on these assets rises, prudent economic management calls for strengthened environmental stewardship,” said Damania. “We are working with the Government to build capacity and fill critical knowledge gaps on environmental issues. For example, an environmental management degree program at the Maldives College of Higher Education will become a reality in the near future."


President Mohamed Nasheed has been in power for just over a year and has been proactive in raising awareness of the potential disaster facing the Maldives and the world.

In an attempt to bring the world’s attention to the problems faced by this tiny island nation, Nasheed held a cabinet meeting underwater. All cabinet officials had to be certified for scuba diving to attend and on October 17, 2009, Nasheed and his team descended around 20 feet and communicated with white boards and hand signals. After deliberating underwater for about 30 minutes, the cabinet signed a communiqué calling on all nations to cut their global emissions. Stunt or symbol, Nasheed’s iconic meeting attracted world attention.

Nasheed subsequently called for the formation of the Climate Vulnerable Forum and hosted its first meeting in the Maldives in November 2009. It was attended by 11 poor nations including Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Nepal from South Asia, all countries severely threatened by climate change.


Climate change and environment degradation has emerged as an important priority in the Bank’s deepening engagement in promoting responsible stewardship of global public goods.

The coral reefs of Maldives stand as the first line of defense against storms and sea-level rise. Poor solid waste management remains the most visible threat to the reefs. An estimated 248,000 tons of solid waste was generated in the Maldives in 2007 and this figure is predicted to rise by 30% to 324,000 tons over the next five years. In addition, around 510 tons of medical waste is produced in the Maldives each year.

Current arrangements for solid waste management on inhabited islands are inadequate. Most waste is dumped onto the island foreshore and burned at low combustion temperatures. This uncontrolled disposal is a threat to the coastal, marine and coral reef ecosystems and a blemish on the pristine marine landscape expected by tourists.

A World Bank-financed project aims to reverse this alarming trend. A key objective is to enhance stewardship of the assets that protect communities. Through the Maldives Environment Management Project, a $13.5 million IDA credit, the Bank is working with the Government of the Maldives to effectively manage environmental risks to fragile coral reefs and other marine habitats.

The project has three main components that are targeted to the most immediate environmental needs:

  • Solid waste management;
  • Capacity building for environmental management; and
  • Technical assistance for monitoring and management of key natural assets.

"We are helping establish solid waste management facilities on targeted islands,” said Damania. “With its fragile marine environment, there is a need for specifically tailored solutions to develop a sustainable solid waste management system with stringent conditions for site selection, engineering, technology choice, and management."