Maldives cabinet meets underwater to stress threat from rising sea levels

The president of the Maldives is desperate for the world to know how seriously his government takes the threat of climate change and rising sea levels to the survival of his country. He wants his ministers to know as well.

To this end, Mohamed Nasheed has organised an underwater cabinet meeting and told all his ministers to get in training for the sub-aqua session. Six metres beneath the surface, the ministers will ratify a treaty calling on other countries to cut greenhouse emissions.

Ahead of the meeting, scheduled for 17 October, cabinet members have been squeezing into wet-suits and practising their underwater skills. The President was not present at the first session, held over the weekend, because he is already a qualified diver.

Mr Nasheed, a former political prisoner who was elected President last year, has made the issue of climate change one of his most pressing priorities. Earlier this year, The Independent revealed his plan to transform the Maldives into the world's first carbon neutral country within 10 years. The leader of a nation made up of 1,200 atolls, 80 per cent of which are no more than a metre above sea level, he has also established a fund to seek an alternative homeland, possibly in Sri Lanka, India or Australia for its 330,000 citizens.

In 2007, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that a rise in sea levels of between 18 and 59 centimetres by 2100 would be enough to make the Maldives virtually uninhabitable. A government spokesman told AFP that Mr Nasheed will chair the underwater meeting ahead of the world climate change summit in Copenhagen in December and that the ministers would use hand signals and whiteboards to communicate.

"The cabinet will don wet suits and scuba equipment and dive to a depth of six metres, where a special meeting of the cabinet will be convened," he said. "They will then ratify a pledge calling on other nations to slash greenhouse gas emissions ahead of the Copenhagen meeting."

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