On the Frontlines of the Climate Fight
Hello again. Now, if scientists are right, the Maldives will cease to exist by the end of the century. And that's because the sea levels are rising.
The last eight years were the hottest in history. And the Maldives is made up of 1200 islands and. It is at risk of sinking. So Fight says it's not waiting for the world to save it. It is adapting. The narrative out there so far has been about how to prevent such issues. Less so an adaptation which is important
for countries like the Maldives. So what are the solutions? The innovation that's needed to counter the impact of climate change. Minister, let's start with you. Put in perspective the situation that the Maldives is in right now. Just how bad is it?
First of all, thank you for having me here as well. But I think you have very well described the science. The science is so clear with 1200 islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Most of our islands are just about one meter above sea level, and we are observing sea level rise of 3 to 4 millimetres per year. We are seeing most of our islands are eroding at an alarming rate. Most of our islands are getting flooded
during the rainy season more than we used to see. And the biggest impact that I have seen, even in my own life, is the slow death of our coral reefs, which is the source of income for us, which is the source of protection for us as well. So impacts of climate change is an everyday reality for us. And here comes Rico, who is trying to change all of that. A marine biologist turned entrepreneur. Give us a sense of why you embarked on the journey.
And I'm from Hong Kong. Born and raised and grew up in the nineties is that I've seen coral disappear in just two months and a urbanized city. And to me, the take away is that even in a in a places like Hong Kong where it is highly urbanized, we still have some corals that are surviving and these are likely to be the super corals that can survive climate change as well. And the problem is that nature recovery is being outpaced by climate change by so many times. And I think that's also where technology and innovation can come in to accelerate a process. Before we lost a chance, before the window close. And Christian, you saw this coming.
The sector saw this coming, but nobody listened. Well, I think you something well, I guess we are at a different frontline. More on the macro side, on the risk side. We ensure all insurers in the world and we see how dramatic the increase was in losses, in natural catastrophes and in which parts.
And in the nineties, we published a whole publication around climate change is real. It's going to come. It's going to be very dangerous. We've talked to a number less bodies over these more than 20 years with very little impact and only I think the last three or four years have we seen a real change, which in my mind is because everybody starts to see it. But before people see it, you could see virtually no reaction. We know the Maldives talked about how it is not waiting for the world to help it, and you shouldn't.
I mean, the talks at COP have been pretty disastrous. Little progress has been made. But what are you doing in terms of adapting? What steps have been taken so far? We have been talking about the impacts of climate change, sea level rise for decades. In fact, it was
at the conference of the small island developing states in Mali in 1989 that first called for. For for action, global action on sea level rise and climate change as well. Since then, we have been we have not been waiting for the world to come and save us. We have been adapting in terms of building seawalls. We have been introducing rainwater harvesting in our islands. Every single island in the Maldives has run out of fresh drinking water.
So that means we will have to invest in rainwater harvesting programs. We will have to invest in desalination to provide fresh water for us. We are looking into ways of how we can incorporate nature based solutions as well. And in this regard, we have protected over 50,000 hectares, 13% of our coral reef area in the Maldives. Investing in conservation as well as hard engineering solutions is how we are looking into adapting to it. But in addition to this, for instance,
we are a fishing country as well. Invest in and looking into how we can sustainably fish from our waters. Every fish in the Maldives is caught one by one by fall in line fishing. So introducing conservation measures in hard engineering solutions such as coastal protection and looking into ways of how we can incorporate sustainable fisheries and also our mitigation efforts is partly adaptation as well, because 10% of our GDP is spent on importing and fossil fuels. So we have a target to reach net zero by
2030 and currently 13% of our peak demand is coming from the most available source of energy, which is sunshine in abundance that we have in the Maldives. So running our economy on the sun is investing in our adaptation as well, because that saves us millions of dollars for us to be able to reinvest in health care, for us to be able to reinvest in education. And that for us is also adaptation. And basically you're using technology to revive coral reefs. Give us a sense of what the technology does and what exactly you do as well to mitigate and to restore the coral reefs that we have lost in the last 30 years. And in fact, we have already lost 50% of the global reefs in the last two decades, and we are already on the track to lose up to 90%.
And to counteract that and that's what we were trying to do here, is to combine technology to accelerate the process. And as a scientist by training, I know that there are so many technologies and solutions that are being tested at a minimal scale, but those are possible, viable, and the solutions that we can bring it from the laboratories and to the we applied it to the real world. And the question is, how do we bridge that gap? And that is where stakeholders will have to come together. Scientists will have to speak the language that everybody can understand, the policymakers and the financial institutions who understand the urgency and the potential impact and benefits that we can have in a celebrating and investing in technologies like this one.
Solutions that I think when it comes to nature tech specifically, it is not just about one solution that fixed coral. It's also about entire change is needed from achieving net zero. How do we cut down carbon emission in the first place to reduce the threat that kills coral in the first place? How do we go beyond net zero and achieve in nature positive future? How do we adopt nature based solutions for active restoration to win this game? And more importantly, how do we keep this model sustainable? And historically, conservation has been quite restricted to economics. Garvin The government and I am a conservationist, and if we need to accelerate the process, we have to be inclusive and that go back to the point that we have to standardise impact and put a common language on that.
And I think in this case carbon credit could be one option and one two, that bring everybody together to make sure that we are on the same track. But talk to us about that 3D technology that you use to revive the corals. So we have 3D printing roof tiles and it's the world's first 3D printed reef tiles that's made from clay. And our solution from there, use the
technology to create this coral centric solution that are able to secure core survivorship up to 95% after three years, and which is at least four times higher than the traditional methods. And the technology doesn't just stop there. We combined idea of 3D printing, biomimicry, materials, science, marine biology and going. Found a route. It's also about how do we adopt
technology to quantify impact in a systematic way. And that is also where others technology like genomics or geospatial data comes together. Christian When it comes to the insurance reinsurance industry, I mean, it's getting really complicated to price climate change. Give us a sense of the challenges you
face. Yeah, so it's hugely challenging. We have a group of 50 scientists on the on the weather model front. And I think looking back, they would say that even though we talked about climate change and we tried to model it, we mostly failed because it's so complicated nonlinear effects happening, one plays that are unexpected, etc.
So we had to mostly retroactively adapt the models. And if you look at what we had to adapt over the last few years is mostly what we call secondary peril. So it's the drought models had to be changed, flood models had to be changed, fires, you know, some of the things we had not expected to have, let's say doubled, the risk has doubled and the models had to be adapted, which leads to higher prices. People complain about it, but to a certain extent these higher prices is the first signal back to society of the cost of climate change. And what we have done is the bill we receive.
And of course, you know, for many countries it's a big shock and you see also some political backlash against it. But it's the bill. What trends are you anticipating now? I mean, the industry was the first to give that that warning. What are you seeing right now that we're not seeing? Well, I think the world has woken up.
That's the good news on the mitigation front. So I think what is still missing is a bit the very few people have an idea of the grant plan. So what's the plan? How do we actually get from the emissions we have now to lower emissions and people to talk about savings? That's obvious. Now. People talk about everything that needs to be fossilized. So steel production, ammonium production
for fertilizers, aluminium, concrete. So there's massive change that needs to happen in every single factory in the world. And there's a lot of projects now, but they have to be brought at scale. But even if you do all of that, you electrify everything you need to a storage facility, you need better networks. I mean, it's daunting. You still will not be at zero.
It still have 10 to 15 gigatons. And this is where carbon capture has to come in at an enormous scale. And I think that's where people are still a bit blind. You know, people don't like that. It's in all that's mitigated through other means, but we can't see any mean how this will be mitigated. And the problem is these these technologies to extract carbon from the atmosphere, if it's at source, that's easier. But if it's direct air capture there, you just have a few startups today. And yet if these startups have to absorb
10 to 15 gigaton according to IPCC by 2050, you need an industry at the scale of today's oil and gas industry from nothing that is just extracting carbon from the atmosphere. And what people don't talk about also is 2050 net zero. But then the scenario is 50 years negative emissions. So it's it's huge.
And I think this last part, there's not enough investments going into this whole technology days now it starts to be, but this is going to be gigantic. So the challenge for humanity is, you know, mind boggling in my mind. Quite a depressing note there, Christine. But I mean, realistically, we talked about adaptation and we talk about how the Maldives is targeting 2030. Are you on track? And when it comes to renewables, it is fund intensive.
And I know that for a country like the Maldives, debt is really high, about 115% of GDP for a small country, that is huge. How are you managing all of that? Well, like I said before as well, we're spending about $450 million a year to import oil to fuel our economy, transforming that economy, an island nation to an economy that is dependent on sunshine, which we have in abundance, is the solution for us to do it. So in 2010, the Maldives announced that we would become a carbon neutral country, and I was a junior staff at the time when we did this. We did not have a clue on how we're going to do it.
We did not have the money. We did not even have the technology at hand at a reasonable price to do it. But today, 2023, I am proud as Minister as well to be able to say that we are currently using 13% of renewable energy to source our peak demand.
And how we did that is by partnering with our development banks, with our development partners to de-risk the private investment that is coming into the Maldives. So as a small island nation, the biggest difficulty that we faced is because we are a very small market. So initially the private sector would say no to doing it because it's so small, it's it's not enough to do it. But by the World Bank providing the de-risking facility, the private investors flowing and today the diesel price of producing electricity is $0.37 per kilowatt hour. But we have three contracts signed with investors and the lowest price that we have received is $0.09 per kilowatt hour.
And that's the kind of kind of blended financing we need for small islands because it's very different scenario for our countries. And I think there is appetite for this from the private sector and what development banks really need to do and the public sector finance need to do is de-risk it. And it's a no brainer because it is not a risk to provide electricity for countries like ours. And that to me is also add up, invest in and now adaptation. Yes, the Maldives contribution to global climate change is 0.003%. But if we can reduce our electricity prices by three times, that's investing in adaptation and helping our public finance and giving us the.
Fiscal space to be able to adapt in time as well. RICO In terms of technology out there, how encouraged are you that technology is going to help us counter the impact from climate? What are you seeing? Yeah, I think technology itself is ready. Again, with these big data, for example, geospatial data. Now we have more precise prediction on what's going to happen and when. And the question is, how do we drive down to action? And I think on that front, technology readiness is there. The question is, how do we come up with the elements as needed to create a nature based solution that's going to be specific to the country, to the area that we want to restore and to habitats that we are targeting to restore. And the other question is how do we
implement the technology? And I think one gap that we are seeing here is that technology itself, we that scalability is untested. It is not what scientists are trained to do. And when it comes to implementing technology at scale, we need people to come together, especially the private sector, even if they have the ambition to test these solutions. They also have to understand that
piloting new solutions come with risk, and that go back to the point earlier is how do we mitigate the risk? But what we're seeing from our experience operating in Hong Kong, Abu Dhabi, is that our partners also understand there is risk that the solution might not work 100%. But the problem is we continue to invest in this space and have the patience and and to measure the impact in a systematic way. And that provides the data to continue the scaling to technology and automotive more innovation, especially in a nature based tech and the cost. Christian I read some reports suggesting that the cost of natural catastrophe or be novel to see it at the range of $100 Billion a year.
Is that the sense you're getting or are we looking at more perhaps? Well, the new norm is 100 billion, but it's going to get higher also because of concentration of values in dangerous places. You know, people generally go towards the coastlines, etc.. So, yeah, that's that has been a trend. It's growing 7 to 9% per annum. This is what worries you the most. I mean, why do you think it's likely to go higher? What are you seeing in Europe, in Asia, and which region are you worried most? I have to say a bit everywhere we see it, really everywhere. It's it's taking different forms is very
hard to predict because it is highly non-linear. So it's actually quite scary. There could be there could be tipping points. We talk about.
I mean, so far everything has been linear, so it still follows the model, but maybe suddenly we have a world that's not in equilibrium any more. I do want to be Mr. Doom here, but I'm just saying it's I think it's really important that we all understand the seriousness of the situation. And I would count it is with some positive energy. Of course, we see this. It brings also the best out of us in some instances, but not enough the good parts of it. But you can you can see from year to year. I've seen in places like here, there's
so much activity now, so much. It struck me this year, so many start up, so many ideas that come to fruition. And that's that's the big unknown because, you know, human ingenuity and some of the scaling up we have seen in solar, for example, were not predicted. It was much more positive than predicted. So we need a few more breakthroughs like
that. And then maybe the picture is, look, it's going to look better. But for now, yes, we're in huge disadvantage as we count down to 28 in Dubai. Are you encouraged? What would you like to see to send the right signals that we could go back on track? Yes. So I think there's always this bit of
big sigh. Yes. Side because because it's slow, it takes time. It's a bit of a circus, I have to say. There's a lot of people and the poor people who negotiate I saw this in Glasgow, they're in a little box and the rest seems to be all the other people around, which I feel really sorry for those who have to do the real work. And I think it's a danger to put too much hope always in this cop, this this, this attention moment.
And then it really let loose. I think somebody said it before. I think Sea of McNair was very accurate. These are just stations. We have to see this as one of the biggest challenge of humanity. Every cop is a station. There has been progress step by step by
step, you know, and I'm actually quite hopeful about this cop. I think some concrete things will be announced. Why? Why is that a sense of urgency, that leadership? I think I'm very much in the business community. So I'm co-chairing a group of under 27 CEOs who have all committed to net zero, 2050 and a dead series about it.
And there's billions and billions and billions of, you know, investments into their value chain, into what they're doing. I think the corporate sector is doing much more than ever before. It actually much more than governments right now.
So I think the private sector will encourage some movement on the government side. And I feel the the hosts of this cop actually are very keen to also have a success in the announcement. So we can count a little bit on that or I count a little bit on that too. Minister, are you as encouraged and optimistic and hopeful realistically? Well, I've been part of the circus.
I I'm guilty of this one. But, you know, I despite how frustrating the cop has been, I was I was in first grade when the first when the Rio summit happened. And still and as a minister, we are negotiating on what should be the outcomes. And I think that is still the way forward. I do believe the process is really important for us to have a global legally binding treaty on climate change, and that's the only way we will be able to monitor and effectively implement our targets on on I'm, I, I there is no choice as a maldivian to say it has to be under 1.5 degrees Celsius.
And for us it is a matter of survival as well. If it goes beyond 1.4, if it overshoots 1.5, we are really talking about serious consequences for people like us. My expectation from COP 28 is I hope that we may we are able to maintain the trust between the developing and the developed countries because that is so crucial for this process to continue. And the legitimacy of this depends on the trust that we have.
And to do that, we absolutely have to reach the 100 billion goal in COP 28 and I, I it is absolutely necessary that we are able to establish the fund, the loss and damage fund. And I, i it is absolutely critical that we are also able to capitalize the fund and at scale and establish the fund that is accessible for developing countries and mostly mostly those in the frontline such as the small island, developing states. GST is an important issue that will be discussed in COP 28 and I know that we all know that we are way behind all the targets and I hope that we agree that our revised and reviewed NDCs will be submitted that will keep. On track and cost, correct, to keep global temperatures below 1.5. Lastly, keeping 1.5 alive is critical and not just for small island states,
but all of us, all the countries. The humanity survival depends on 1.4. We don't know what happens and what will happen when the triple planetary crisis happens. And once the science is out, once the chemistry is out of place, we're talking about serious consequences, not just from an environmental perspective, but from a business, from a financial from from from from humanity's survival point of view as well.
I know it's a mouthful, but I hope we're at COP 28. Despite all the geopolitics that's going on, we are able to understand and hope that the multilateral process is redefined and we can show that climate change is one issue, that we can all come together and save the multilateral process as well. Just to inject some reality, though, I mean, even a report I read this morning saying that there's no consensus on a $100 billion fund, rich nations and developing nations still at odds. And as far as reports suggest, the U.S. walked away from negotiations. You know, against that backdrop. Rico, what would you like to see when we
talk about hoping for progress at this COP 28? I mean, realistically, what kind of progress do you think we can achieve? With my experience attending Covs. I think there was a lot of pessimism. There's a lot of complaining, a lot of frustration and a lot of Trump. What I've been seeing this year is that we know that there's a lot of discussions, forums that is pre COP 28 that we are hoping that this is going to be a course of action. And I am hopeful for that because at least at this point we agree that we have failed.
And it's not just a single country problem, it's a humanity. We are failing to commit to promises to action, the promises that we made four years ago. And I think at this point, at least, we are on the same page that we are failing. And now we need to stop complaining and take action and operating on the ground. I do see a lot of action being taken place.
And at COP 28, I know that there's going to be a lot of inclusive inclusivity in non stakeholder support. Stop and start up solutions are going to present their solutions. There's a lot more this room for discussion where we can integrate and take even just smaller actions at their own space. So in the lead up to COP 28, we are very
lucky that we also have a space. We also have a voice to speak there. And I know that this is going to be the mission is also aiming to go beyond cop and take action that are going to actually last. So on that note, I am hopeful in the lead up to 2010, I also want to reflect on two things as an outgoing minister of environment. I think it's really important that we are able to discuss at COPS and in all development meetings as well, that the world is not just divided into north and south, not global, north and south. When it comes to issues like climate change, we have to find ways to discuss these issues at a more broader level, and we have to redefine development and climate change and how we address it, not in terms of global North and global South. So we have to be able to have a decent conversation and agree on how we contribute to it and how we address it from from a global perspective. That one is that, the other is that the
COP process have to be able to have to able to link with other processes as well, such as the global trade negotiations, global fishing negotiations, all kinds of things, because it does affect what is happening in COP and what's decided in COP, for instance. What is this what the ship in, what the IMO decides is really affecting what we decide, what we want to reach as a global temperature goal as well. So this has to be really linked and we have to be able to bring in other processes in making these decisions as well, such as the reform of the World Bank and the IMF and the IFIs. And the role of the SD has to be linked into the decisions that we make at COP as well.
And Christian, we talk about redefining how is climate redefining your sector? Well, I think. And how is it protecting itself against all these costs that you're likely to face? So, I mean, purely from an insurance or insurance industry, it can react by, you know, adapting models prices. It can choose to write business or not. So a lot of my worries is not so much for the insurance sector, which sort of has choices, but more from what we see early at the frontline of seeing some of these changes. And and that's really what, you know, motivates me, and that's why I'm engaged in that field.
Mm hmm. As a take away final, what call to action. We have 2 minutes. Happy to get your thoughts on. Yeah, I think the first thing is I think it's super important that we all understand how challenging it is. If people say it's just a bit of solar and it's solved, that's not helpful.
It's the biggest challenge humanity's ever done. It's like a human body. Everything we've done is grown on on on fossil fuels. And now we want to replace the blood
system and we want to stay alive at the same time. So it's a hugely challenging thing. We all have to realise that. And then I think to changes, we need to work across value chains and across sectors and the private public sector is really important because lots of things you have to do. At the same time, if you want to have a
hydrogen economy, you need everything at the same time. You cannot just do one thing and then the rest is not ready. So it's it really will demand a different level of cooperation in the world, as we just heard, than what we have today and the realisation that things are, you know, connected and that you have, you know, early movers that need to pay for some of the higher costs for the cost curve to come down and things like that. So the more we educate ourselves about the problem, I think the more effective we'll all be in playing our role in this change. And the one thing that governments need to do right now is like many things, but I think price for carbon, which is very hard to do, I think their own procurement system could be green. It's not right.
It will be very easy. It's a huge amount of money that they procure to give signals to organisation. Creating common standards will be really important because every country comes up with new standards. It's very difficult for the business environments to operate in.
And then I think investing in new technologies like carbon capture, which is very difficult for the private sector initially. So it's a much more investments also in new technologies. Minister, call to action. My biggest ask from all governments, from businesses is keeping 1.5 alive, and that is for me to be able to
continue to live in my islands. I don't want to be a climate refugee. I don't want my daughter to be a climate refugee and for us to be able to continue to live on these islands. Keeping 1.5 alive is absolutely critical. And this can be done because we saw during COVID, trillions of dollars were unlocked to address the health crisis, public health crisis. We saw technology emerge and we developed vaccines in just six months. Finance is there, technology is there.
What we need is the world and international organisations, governments to identify and to say the climate issue is a climate crisis, just like how we did under COVID that will unlock finance, that will unlock technology. So it's not an issue of lack of finance or lack of technology. I think it's a lack of political will for us to be able to effectively address climate change. Physical Calls to action. Achieving net zero is important, but it is also important to go beyond that zero and be proactive in achieving a nature positive future.
Whoever you are. Attendees. I know that there must have been some climate action and tried to find a technology that's going to accelerate the process. It comes with risk, but it is also going to save time and give you more impact so than you can imagine. So that's it. Minister Christian, thank you so much for your insights today.
Ladies and gentlemen, please.