For many years, the Maldives, a group of Islands sinking before our very eyes, was regarded as the poster boy for climate change. Its underwater cabinet meeting captivated the world in 2009, and brought much needed publicity to the climate cause.
Less than 8 years later, the Maldives government has publicly announced a shift in focus from the climate threat to mass tourism. One of the first ways in which the Government plans to do this is through its still very ‘hush hush’ sale of an atoll to the Saudi Government- which would secure the new trade routes Saudi Arabia is developing, mainly for oil, in the region.
At the same time, the press freedom in the Maldives has significantly declined, which has had implications for the way the issue of the Saudi investment has been presented in the local media. Climate Trackers recent research in the Maldives on media reporting environments for climate change found that along with a dearth of people qualified to write about climate change in the Maldives, there is also the fear that climate change is becoming an increasingly political topic in the country, and therefore there is reluctance to report on it.
Protest calling on the government to reveal details of a Saudi-funded project. Photo: Maldives Independent
The recent detainment of protestors, among whom there were a reported 2 journalists, who demanded more information about the proposed project, is testament to the increasingly hostile environment climate journalists may face when reporting about climate change.
And while local media has not yet linked the Saudi investment in the atoll of Faafu directly to climate change as yet, some opinion pieces have emerged in english language media in the Maldives. These articles question the impact the investment would have on the lives of those living in the atoll- not yet linking it to the larger implications of oil investment- more oil for China which is already one of the worlds largest emitters of CO2. This confirms another finding of Climate Trackers research- that the capacity to write about climate change among journalists in the Maldives is still in its fledgling stages.
Some blogs have reported on the impact Saudi developments will have on the environment– but for a country which is threatened by sea level rise everyday, the media has yet to adequately kickstart the discourse on how foreign investments in this fragile ecosystem will have longer term impacts on the climate.
But as long as there is strict media censorship and harassment of journalists in the Maldives, there is a real risk that climate reporting may never progress.
Our pamphlet on Climate Reporting in the Maldives will tell you more.