Maldives May Consider Tax on Tourists to Cut CO2

The Maldives, a country threatened by climate change, should consider taxing wealthy tourists at its resorts to help pay for measures to make the island-nation carbon-neutral, a report for the government said.

Wind and solar power, energy-efficiency measures and buying international carbon offsets may be needed to cut net emissions for the low-lying country in the Indian Ocean to zero by 2020, BeCitizen, an environmental consultant owned by the risk manager La Compagnie Benjamin de Rothschild, said today in the study.

Maldives emissions may double by 2020 under a business-as-usual scenario, according to the study, a carbon audit funded by the Rothschild family that was the first step in President Mohamed Nasheed’s pledge to make his nation carbon-neutral by 2020. A wider report on how to achieve the goal is due by 2011, with the tourist tax a potential source of funds.

“It’s very important for us to use the resources we have, the sun, the wind and the sea, to harness them,” Nasheed said today from the capital, Male, in a news conference broadcast on the Internet. “In the Maldives, climate change is a real issue. Already we have more than 20 islands that have serious erosion issues and 50 with water contamination due to sea level rise.”

The UN’s World Meteorological Organization said today that concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, the main man-made greenhouse gases blamed for global warming, increased to records in the post-industrial era last year. Higher temperatures cause warmer seas to expand and waters to rise from melting glaciers and ice fields.

Big Emitters

Nasheed plans for his environmental push to prove to big emitters such as the U.S. and China, which account for about 40 percent of the global total, that low-carbon development is possible. He’s also aiming to slash his nation’s dependence on imported fossil fuels, which currently cost the country $200 million a year, or about 15 percent of its economic output.

“Any fluctuation in world fuel prices has a very substantial effect on the people of the Maldives,” Nasheed said.

The Maldives, which at its highest is three meters (10 feet) above sea level, is part of an alliance of island nations pressing envoys at United Nations climate change talks to take measures that ensure global temperatures rise by less than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) since industrialization. Sea levels may rise by 18 to 59 centimeters (7 to 23 inches) by 2100 as a result of warming temperatures, the UN said in 2007.

The UN talks, which resume next week in Cancun, Mexico, have been beset by squabbles between developed and developing nations over the scale and pace of emissions reductions and whether pledges should be legally binding.

International Flights

Emissions in the Maldives totaled 1.3 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2009, or 0.003 percent of the global total, according to today’s report, the first assessment of the country’s greenhouse gases since a 2001 study that used 1994 data. Emissions may rise to 2.5 million tons by 2020, it said. International flights to and from the Maldives are responsible for another 1.3 million tons of carbon dioxide, the study said.

The Maldives receives about 650,000 tourists per year, and the tourism sector accounts for about 36 percent of national emissions, without including international flights, according to the report. The country’s 97 resorts, projected to increase to 158 in 2020, will have to make an “important effort” as part of the national plan for two reasons, according to the study.

“First, they represent a very large part of the country’s emissions,” the report’s authors wrote. “Second, their clients are often rich and could provide international eco-funding through a tax system on the bed-night price.”

International aid and private investment are other possible sources of funds, according to the report’s authors, who said laws and building regulations should be passed to establish clear guidelines for cutting carbon.

Solar Panels, Turbines

Roof-mounted solar panels, small wind turbines and island-based anaerobic digestion plants are among technologies that will be “key” to the plan, according to today’s report. Other measures mentioned include using solar-powered ferries, encouraging cycling in Male and tapping waste for energy from the gases it produces and fertilizer.

“These would be new investments,” Nasheed said. “Why should we depend on yesterday’s obsolete technologies?”

As a developing country, the Maldives currently has no international requirement to slash its carbon emissions. The existing climate-protection treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, binds all developed nations except the U.S., which never ratified it, to cut greenhouse-gas output by about 5 percent from 1990 levels for the average of the five years through 2012.

Nasheed requested a full report by Paris-based BeCitizen and La Compagnie Benjamin de Rothschild to outline the best measures for cutting carbon and to detail how the private sector and international donors can be tapped to fund the transition.

Geneva-based La Compagnie Benjamin de Rothschild, part of the Edmond de Rothschild group, didn’t disclose the cost of today’s carbon audit.

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