Maldives aims to become first carbon-neutral country

The Maldives – the island nation threatened by rising sea level as a result of global warming – is attempting to become the world's first carbon-neutral country.

The Independent has learnt that tomorrow President Mohammed Nasheed will reveal details of a plan to achieve full carbon neutrality within 10 years. In doing so, his country of islands in the Indian Ocean, will join a small group of nations racing to be first in what environmentalists have described as "the Carbon World Cup".

Five other countries – Costa Rica, Iceland, Norway, New Zealand and Monaco – have signed up to a UN-backed plan to become zero net emitters but none intend to achieve carbon neutrality as quickly as the Maldives, a nation of island atolls which is highly vulnerable to rising sea levels.

Earlier this week, Ahmed Shafeeq Ibrahim Moosa was appointed the country's new envoy for science and technology and is investigating ways to make the country carbon neutral. Mr Moosa, a former political activist and journalist, was appointed with a new Agricultural Minister, one of whose tasks is to reduce food imports.

Mr Moosa said: "Ten years – that's the target. We're going to be looking at solar, wind and waves and working out the best system for us. There will have to be a lot of education. People need to know everyone can do their bit. The Maldives is a small country with only 300,000 people. It will be achievable."

Local environmentalists welcomed the plan. Ali Rilwan, founder of Bluepeace, noted individual resorts were aiming at carbon neutrality, using solar panels to generate electricity and sea water for air-conditioning. "This is the sort of thing international donors are very interested in," he said.

The country's first democratically elected president, Mr Nasheed has made the environment a priority. Confronted by rising sea levels that threaten to swamp many of the 1,200 atolls that make up the Maldives, he announced plans for a fund to buy an alternative homeland, perhaps in India or Sri Lanka. The country has spent £30m on a three-metre-high flood defence wall around the capital, Male, but 80 per cent of the islands are just one metre above sea level or less.