Environmental sustainability, and climate change and disaster resilience, are the central development challenges for the Maldives today. Intensive rainfall and storm surges are expected to be aggravated through the effects of climate change on weather patterns. Sea level rise is an imminent threat in the Maldives, where 80% of land is less than 1 meter above sea level. This compounds trends of increasing coastal erosion and pressure on scarce land resources, and increases the physical vulnerability of island populations, infrastructure and livelihood assets. 42% of its population and more than 70% of its critical infrastructure are located within 100 metres of the shoreline.
Over 45 islands faced water shortages due to significant changes to weather patterns. The unusually warm temperature due to the El Nino resulted in more than 60% of coral reef bleaching, which adversely impacts underwater life and natural resources vital for the economy and livelihood. Like the past years, an increasing number of storms during the monsoon season caused floods through the country. Maldives may face up to a 2.3 per cent loss of its annual gross domestic product by 2050 due to costs related to adverse climate change effects and adaptation.
The root cause of increasing vulnerability to climate change is the limited systematic adaptation planning and practice, and weak institutional capacities to tackle it. Since almost all the natural disasters facing Maldives are of a hydro-meteorological nature, disaster risk management and climate change adaptation need to be addressed together. Climate change risks and long-term resilience need to be integrated into island land use planning, coastal development and protection policies and practice. To improve energy security, the Government has committed to increasing the use of renewable energies and promoting energy conservation and efficiency.
The government started to introduce significant policy level changes related to commitments under the Paris Agreement and SDGs. These included the rollout of the National Biodiversity Strategy and its Action Plan, as well as the Energy Policy, to improve institutional capacity and regulatory framework. Management of solid waste remains challenging with a direct impact on the ocean`s ecology and wellbeing of local communities.
In its largest programme area – environmental sustainability and climate change – UNDP has a strong track record in designing and implementing pilot initiatives at the atoll/island level, including in biodiversity conservation, water management, coastal adaptation, and climate data. The UNDP-supported atoll ecosystem-based conservation initiative is regarded as the first and most successful large environmental project in Maldives, receiving international recognition in 2011 as the UNESCO-declared Baa Atoll Biosphere Reserve. Evaluation findings note that pressing development issues such as water security and climate change adaptation need to be comprehensively addressed at the national policy level in a more catalytic and strategic manner.
Under the current programme, UNDP will deepen alliances with national partners to continue facilitating the transition to climate-resilient low-carbon development, and improve ecosystem management for environmental protection.