Government ponders voluntary tourist contributions to fuel US$100 million …

July 8, 2012 by  
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By Neil Merrett |
July 8th, 2012 |
Category: Politics |
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Government ponders voluntary tourist contributions to fuel US$100 million green energy fund thumbnail

A proposed tourist “tax” aimed at raising US$100 million to assist the Maldives’ carbon neutral aims would likely be implemented as a “voluntary contribution” scheme for foreign visitors, Minister of Environment and Energy Dr Mariyam Shakeela said today.

Dr Shakeela, who was recently approved by parliament to head the newly established Ministry of Environment and Energy, said that the scheme was presently being considered in the form of donations collectable from tourists visiting the country.

“We have not agreed anything yet, but the plan would be to set up a voluntary contribution programme to aid environment protection here,” Shakeela said, adding that the fund could be maintained and run in a similar manner to health and wealthfare charities.

While no agreement has yet been finalised on seeking support for the Maldives’ green aims through its lucrative tourism industry, representatives for the President’s Office today said there was reluctance to place further mandatory charges on foreign guests.

The comments were made as President Doctor Mohamed Waheed Hassan today discussed the future of the country’s sustainable initiatives, and played up commitments to become carbon-neutral by 2020.  The carbon neutral pledge was initiated by his predecessor Mohamed Nasheed.

However, following the controversial transfer of power that brought Waheed’s government to office in February – an act Nasheed later alleged was a “coup d’etat” – the key minds behind a risk-mitigated renewable energy investment devised for the previous administration raised concerns about the viability of a large scale national sustainable commitments at the present time.

Mike Mason – a former mining engineer and expert on renewable energy who served as Energy Advisor for Nasheed’s administration on a reportedly unpaid basis, alleged political uncertainty since February had derailed interest in fundng. Mason, who outlined a detailed alternative power strategy and funding plan set to be signed into place on February 7 this year, claimed capital investors who had been “queuing up” to assist the project made their excuses and declined assistance after the transfer of power.

At the same time, former President Nasheed’s Climate Change Advisor – UK-based author, journalist and environmental activist Mark Lynas told Minivan News last month that the loss of democratic legitimacy in the Maldives had destroyed its ability to make a moral stand on climate change-related issues, and be taken seriously.

“I think that the Maldives is basically a has-been in international climate circles now,” said Lynas, who drew a monthly stipend of Rf10,000 (US$648) for expenses whilst serving in his position.  “The country is no longer a key player, and is no longer on the invite list to the meetings that matter. Partly this is a reflection of the political instability – other countries no longer have a negotiating partner that they know and understand,” he said.

Reserve strategy

President Waheed himself used last month’s Rio +20 global summit to commit the Maldives to become the world’s largest marine reserve within the next five years five.

Speaking at the summit, the president also pledged that the Maldives would “cover 60 percent of our electricity needs with solar power, and the rest with a combination of biofuels, other clean technologies and some conventional energy.”

In clarifying details of his government’s sustainable plans, Waheed told Reuters today that as opposed to enforcing a US$3 mandatory tax on tourists to fund his government’s own carbon neutral policies, a voluntary fund targeting a sum of around US$10 per visitor was being considered.

“I believe most of the tourists who come to the Maldives are environmentally conscious and quite happy to make a contribution towards making the Maldives carbon neutral,” he added.

To compliment its desired aims to match the previous government’s carbon neutral objectives, Waheed explained to Reuters that the country required more investment in environmentally friendly buildings, as well as a move away from its heavy dependence on fossil-fuel powered transportation.

“We are a little bit behind schedule (on the renewables plan) but we hope we will be able to catch up over the next 5 years or so,” Waheed said.  ”Male’ is not the most ideal island location right now – it doesn’t have ‘green’ buildings but a lot of companies are interested in developing them.”

The article also drew attention to the country’s resort industry, reporting that seven of the country’s 100 secluded island properties were presently considered “ecofriendly” in regards to efforts to cut down their carbon footprints. One resort is also expected to obtain carbon neutral status as of next year.

Reuters added that the present government was also looking to receive a sum of US$30 million from Climate Investment Funds that would help “leverage” US$120 million in capital to establish renewable developments across the nation.

Tourism “burden”

Addressing Dr Waheed’s comments today, President’s Office spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza said that the voluntary charge for tourists to help fund the country’s green efforts remained at the proposal stage.

Abbas added that the exact mechanics of how the potential funds would be paid and overseen therefore were yet to be developed.

According to the President’s Office, with tourists already facing a US$27 charge for an airport development project and a six percent Tourism-GST (TGST) on goods and services purchased during their stay, there had been reluctance to further “burden” the industry with more charges.

Resorts in the Maldives have previously expressed concern about the potential increase in T-GST to 12 percent, among several measures the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said are urgently needed to offset the Maldives’ spiralling budget deficit.

Abbas had previously stressed that the government was committed to “not completely” reversing the Nasheed administration’s zero carbon strategy: “What we are aiming to do is to elaborate more on individual sustainable issues and subject them to national debate. Previously, these discussions on sustainability were not subjected to a national debate, such as through parliament,” Abbas said.

Election calls

Speaking to the Huffington Post news service earlier this month, former President Nasheed said he believed the controversial nature of the transfer of power in February meant that fresh general elections were presently the most important aspect to any successful climate change adaptation plan.

“Without democracy, you’d be making the wrong decisions at the wrong time,” Nasheed claimed, raising concerns that carbon neutral plans n the Maldives were now “stuck”.

In the months following his controversial resignation, Nasheed visited the US to raise awareness on the current political upheaval in the country, as well the documentary film, “The Island President” in a tour that saw him appearing on prime time TV and at talks across the country.

The documentary film chronicles his government’s ambitious pledge to become a carbon neutral nation by 2020, and has received increased global coverage since Nasheed was removed from office.

Whilst still in office back in November 2010, Nasheed claimed that failure to meet the country’s ambition aims of being an entirely carbon neutral nation would be a “disaster” for the country.

International perspective

Despite Nasheed’s high-profile climate activism, Greenpeace told Minivan News in 2010 that the Maldives acted more “as a symbol than a practical demonstration” of how national development and fighting climate change can be mutually exclusive.

“The Maldives can become a strong proponent of a paradigm shift in the World Bank and in developing countries whereby it is recognised that fighting climate change and promoting development go hand in hand,” said Wendel Trio, Climate Policy and Global Deal Coordinator for Greenpeace International.

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