Profile: Mohammed Nasheed

Profile: Mohammed Nasheed

His campaign to enlist world powers to fight global warming is the focus of the new documentary “The Island President,” which just premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. The Maldives is one of the lowest-lying nations in the world – the average elevation above sea level is 1.5 metres – and Mohammed Nasheed has become a leader in the fight to lower the carbon emissions that warm the air that’s raising the ocean waters.

Reports from the Vancouver Post and AFP:

By Anne Chaon  for AFP (12 September 2011):

TORONTO — Elected president of the Maldives after spending 20 years leading a pro-democracy movement against a cruel dictatorship, Mohammed Nasheed believes it will have all been for naught if his nation of 1,200 islands is swallowed up by the ocean.

His campaign to enlist world powers to fight global warming is the focus of Briton Jon Shenk’s new documentary “The Island President,” which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this weekend.

The two men came to Canada’s largest metropolis together to present the film, seeing an opportunity to bring much-needed attention to the plight of Nasheed’s tiny island nation off the coast of India.

“Given the gravity of the situation and how important it is for us to bring the message across,” as well as due to his government’s modest means, the documentary seemed like a good idea, Nasheed said Sunday, three months before the next UN climate change conference in Durban.

For Shenk, who won acclaim for his 2003 documentary “The Lost Boys of Sudan,” the film is as much about the arrival of democracy in an entirely Muslim country as it is about climate change.

But for Nasheed it is a fight for survival.

Imprisoned and tortured before becoming president at age 41, Nasheed suddenly found himself facing a new crisis in 2008: the extinction of his country by 2050 — a modern Atlantis — and the apathy of the world’s largest polluters.

The film gains access to Nasheed’s first year in office as he sets out to influence the world’s superpowers, culminating at the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit.

He must not only convince the United States and Europe to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions linked to global warming, but also emerging economies China, India and Brazil.

Shenk’s camera follows him everywhere, all the way to the UN headquarters in New York where he tries to convince his peers to seize a historic opportunity to act when they meet in the Danish capital.

He even holds a cabinet meeting under water to make his point, becoming a poster boy for environmentalists.

In Copenhagen, 120 heads of state meet but their negotiations stall amid a showdown between the Americans and the Chinese over emissions reduction targets.

At the end of a long night, after 48 hours without sleep, Nasheed, with the support of other island nations anxious they might be going home empty-handed, capitulates and agrees to a lesser accord.

Still it is something.

The film exposes the selling out, weariness, false hopes and bad faith that marked Nasheed’s journey, the meetings and strategies involved in negotiations, a struggle of David versus the Goliaths of the world.

Two years after Copenhagen, Nasheed has no regrets. “If we hadn’t gotten an agreement, I think that the whole UN system would have been questioned.”

“We don’t have high expectations for Durban,” he added.

“But I think there are some possibilities if we can change the negotiating tracks and ask countries to invest in renewable energy instead of asking countries to cut emitting carbon.”

“It’s difficult to ask them to stop opening power plants but it’s possible to ask that they spend more on renewable energies, and that will lead to the same effect: the level of carbon (emissions) will be reduced.”

Nasheed notes that the global economic crisis has sidelined the climate change discussions. But ever hopeful, he adds: “Even in a crisis, you have to understand that there is a bigger picture.”





By Jay Stone, Postmedia News

September 16, 2011

It’s a late-night party at the Toronto International Film Festival, and Mohamed Nasheed is trying to stifle a yawn. It’s been a long week. Nasheed flew in from the Maldives, the island nation in the Indian Ocean of which he is the leader, and attended the premiere of the documentary The Island President. (“I thought it was excellent,” he says.) Fighting jet lag, he is now moving among the guests at the after-party, talking about the problems of global warming that threaten to flood the entire nation in 40 or 50 years.

“It’s getting worse and worse, and we are having to spend more money on it, on water breakers and embankments and so on,” says Nasheed. When he returns to the Maldives this week, his first job is to build an embankment on one of the 1,200 islands – 200 of them inhabited – that comprise the tiny country. The Maldives is a tourist mecca, a place of luxury resorts, but even there, the effects of erosion are becoming visible: a disappearing shoreline and fallen palm trees.

The Maldives is one of the lowest-lying nations in the world – the average elevation above sea level is 1.5 metres – and Nasheed has become a leader in the fight to lower the carbon emissions that warm the air that’s raising the ocean waters.

If things unfold the way scientists say it might, what will happen to its 400,000 people? Where will they go? “They won’t go anywhere,” says Nasheed. “They’ll die. That’s what’s going to happen.”

The Island President was directed by Jon Shenk (Lost Boys of Sudan), an American documentarian who followed Nasheed through his first year of office, ending at the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference. There, the diminutive leader of the small nation became a driving force for a compromise agreement, the first ever signed by the U.S., China and India. His stirring speech to other world leaders salvaged the summit.

Nasheed – who came to the filmfestival party with an entourage that included plainclothes security guards – said it was helpful to watch the movie, because he gained perspective on the compromises that were necessary.

“It is only through compromise that we will actually be able to move forward on climate-change negotiations,” he said, sitting at a small bistro table at a hip downtown restaurant. The Island President notes that carbon emissions have actually risen since the Copenhagen meetings, but Nasheed maintains his hope: “It perhaps would have gone up much higher, if not for Copenhagen. People could have been very mindless about opening new power stations. Lots has changed, even in developing countries. They’re mindful of what they’re doing, even if they’re doing it.”

The Island President also provides a kind of tour of the Maldives – its impossibly blue waters and pristine, if disappearing, beaches – and of its history. The country was a dictatorship under Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and Nasheed was a pro-democracy advocate who was once held for 18 months in solitary confinement in a small metal shack. He was arrested 12 times over 20 years and tortured twice. He went into exile and returned in 2005 to the cheers of crowds yelling his nickname, Anni.

“It won’t do any good to have democracy if we don’t have a country,” he says in the film. At one stage, in order to draw world attention to the impending disaster, Nasheed holds an underwater cabinet meeting, with ministers wearing scuba gear.

The country has raised taxes so it can afford to build the embankments and seawalls that are protecting it from the rising waters.

“There’s no other way,” he said. “We have to fend for ourselves. Our means are very modest, but we have to fend for ourselves.”


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