My name is Zaheer Allam and I am known to many in different ways. I am someone’s son, someone’s brother and a friend to many. To scholars, I am a colleague and to stranger’s ears, I am an anonymous voice from the shadows who has been fighting to be heard. Today, I come to you, not as any of the above. I come to you as a concerned citizen of our island, hoping to address an issue that is undoubtedly the biggest challenge that we, as a country, will be facing this century. I believe we are face to face with our tipping point. Our actions today will determine the fate of our island.
The history of mankind is fraught with tales celebrating the spirit of human resilience, the power of human dedication and the sublimeness of human devotion to its creator. There are times when a single thought turned conviction or a single action defying convention has changed the course of human history. Nowadays, we cannot help but admire the tenacity of Rosa Parks, who sparked the civil rights movement and the dissolution of racial segregation by merely refusing to give up her seat on a bus. What about Mother Teresa, whose personal convictions, helped give a face and a home to the poor in India ? We, however, need not to look far to find such examples of human feats. Our own Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, who advocated for independence is such a figure. He challenged complacencies and old habits and rose to a challenge that was previously thought to be an impossible win. This is such a moment. Our nation is being called to join the green movement and help save our country.
Our economy is in dire shape and the climate crisis, is worsening- much more quickly than predicted. Not later than earlier this month, the 4th of May 2013, the U. S National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration revealed that the Observatory in Mauna Loa, Hawaii registered a new record of Carbon Dioxide emission in our atmosphere, a record exceeding 400 ppm. While, this number has shown a rate of increase from 0.7 ppm in the 1950s to 2.1 ppm per year during the last decade, it is believed that it will rise up to 700-1100 ppm in 2100. It is not just a mere number on a chart ! Modelling experiments in the United States has shown that a rise of this magnitude can lead to soil drying of 30 – 50% in certain areas. Such prediction of our future is terrifying.
Most of us are distantly familiar with the concept of global warming in this era : such as sea level rise, weather pattern fluctuations & ecosystem disruptions, we, however possess no knowledge of its impact on our immediate surroundings.
Should we look closely at the unfortunate consequences faced by the Indian Ocean, we can see that this phenomenon reaches another level by threatening the food safety of our neighbors. According to the report ‘Ocean-Based Food Security Threatened in a High CO2 World’, produced by global ocean protection NGO Oceana, countries in the Indian Ocean such as the Maldives, Comoros, Madagascar & Mozambique rank among the most vulnerable to climate-change related food security threats, due to their near total reliance on fish for protein. Maldives is being called the ‘Ground Zero’ of global warming, not only due to the threats to its food security but also due to its imminent flooding from the sea water level rise. Alarming fluctuating weather patterns in the area that have been recorded by the Physical Oceanography Division from the National Institute of Oceanography in India, demonstrate that the frequency of tropical storms is directly related to the changes in a couple of atmospheric parameters over the north Indian Ocean during the global warming period.
While we can consider ourselves lucky to be a remote island in the Indian Ocean, implying that on a macrocosmic perspective we live in a low density area, those results are nevertheless alarming as they delineate the drawbacks of global warming in our immediate vicinity in parallel to the rise of global CO2 levels. This is accentuated in the Mauritius Environment Outlook Report of 2011 where it is mentioned that summer temperatures became warmer by 1.0 °C and water scarcity will eventually aggravate. Furthermore, there is an increasing number of consecutive dry days and a decreasing number of rainy days.
Local serious cognizance on this issue has only been emerging a few years ago but this is by no means a new problem for it has been predicted decades ago. In the 90’s two groups were formed to take a stance on fighting on behalf of low-lying coastal countries. They are ; Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Alliance for Small Island States (AOSIS). Those groups form a coalition of small islands and low-lying coastal countries that share similar development challenges and environmental concerns, in particular their vulnerability to the adverse effects of global climatic change.
Following the 2009 Climate Change summit in Copenhagen, the 21st September of the same year, AOSIS made a declaration in New York which embodies their alarming concern that scientific evidence shows that the effects of human-induced climate change are worse than previously projected and poses the most serious threat to our survival. AOSIS called on the international community to take urgent action to reduce their emission of all greenhouse gases, to undertake fast action strategies and underscored that adaptation must be an urgent and of immediate global priority. As Mauritius is seen to form part of such an international coalition, we should show leadership and set an example to follow.
If we take time to ponder on Mauritius to identify where our main Carbon Dioxide emissions originate, we would be surprised that, as per the Energy Observatory Mauritius report of 2011, the energy industry is solely responsible for 60.3% of our national Carbon Dioxide emission. Since there is a growing consensus that our energy demand might be on the increase, it leads to the conclusion that the CO2 emission linked to energy production will show a similarly linear increase. It is therefore imperative to reduce our dependency on fossil fuel such as Petroleum & Coal and shift towards more renewable sources of energy. The decision to go forth with an additional coal power plant of 110MW at Point aux caves therefore comes on a bias that is not only in conflict with our vows towards our international coalition against global warming threats but also blatantly defies our local Maurice Ile Durable (MID) initiative which advocates for sustainable development.
Studying our consumption patterns, the same report later reveals that our energy consumption for sectors such as manufacturing, commercial and household summed up to 419.8 ktoe, which equates to nearly half of our energy consumption pattern and the other half is almost entirely due to fuelling our transportation industry. While half is directly due to our Built Environment and the other is to our urban networks. It is very sensible to assume that an intelligent & sustainable urban planning could be seen as a plausible solution towards reducing not only our energy consumption but, in parallel, our carbon dioxide emissions.