SINGAPORE (Reuters) – The Maldives, worried about rising seas from climate change, wants steeper cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions but is unwilling to curb its tourism industry, which is reliant on polluting international flights.
President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, in Singapore promoting his book “Paradise Drowning” at an environmental business summit, said cutting back on tourism was not the answer even though the country’s survival was more important than development.
“I don’t think it’s a viable option for us to cut down on tourism because it’s the mainstay of our economy,” Gayoom told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday.
Tourist arrivals grew 12 percent last year to a record in the Maldives, a chain of Indian Ocean islands known for luxury resorts, expensive honeymoons and world-class scuba diving.
Tourism contributes about 5 percent to global emissions of greenhouse gases, but this is expected to rise as more people take international flights.
Scientists say emissions from jet engines have a much greater heat-trapping effect when released high in the atmosphere than when released at ground level.
This irony was not lost on Gayoom, facing the same problem as major developing countries that do not want any global agreement on emissions to constrain economic growth. The United Nations is leading talks to try to agree a new pact to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, whose first phase ends in 2012.
With the United Nations forecasting aviation emissions to rise by two to five times by 2050, the European Union aims to make all airlines buy pollution permits whether they fly into or out of the bloc.
By Melanie Lee and Neil Chatterjee