The Maldives and CCAC partnership: Tackling air pollution and climate change together

With integrated climate and clean air strategies, the Maldives' climate commitments can also bring a range of clean air benefits.

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Malé the densely populated capital of the Maldives.

As one of the world’s most low-lying countries, the Maldives is highly vulnerable to sea-level rise and extreme weather events caused by climate change. Despite the country itself being a miniscule contributor (0.003%) to global greenhouse gas emissions, the Maldives joined the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) in 2012 to underscore the importance of climate action across the world, and to join the effort the Coalition was advocating for at the time: the phasedown of hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HFCs).

Embracing the CCAC’s approach in tackling climate change and air quality together, the Maldives crunched the data and discovered that the same climate efforts they were committed to in their Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) could bring a range of additional clean air benefits. With the clear benefits to public health identified in their now-adopted national plan on short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), the Maldives was able to set in motion change to address air pollution and enhance their climate ambition. This is how they did it.

2012 - The Maldives partners with the Coalition on HFCs

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Air conditioners for cooling on this tropical island is responsible for the majority of domestic energy demand

60 to 70 per cent of the Maldives’ domestic energy demand comes from cooling, increasingly through air conditioners that use HFCs as a refrigerant. The Maldives first joined the Coalition’s HFC Initiative to explore alternative cooling systems to phase out HFCs and HCFCs entirely. Through the Coalition’s support, a feasibility study was carried out in the Maldives on the effectiveness of district cooling (cooling generated at a central source and distributed throughout a district), a much more efficient and sustainable method compared to traditional building-based cooling systems. The study concluded that substantial reductions of greenhouse gas emissions are achievable by switching to district cooling.

Mr. Mauman Abdul Rasheed from the Maldives’ Ministry of Environment said the study allowed the country to “explore the potential of district cooling which would reduce energy use by 20 percent and promote low Global Warming Potential HFC alternative technology”, which would contribute to the “national goal of low greenhouse gas emissions and ozone-depleting substances phase-out.” On the Coalition side, the project helped showcase district cooling’s potential; environment impacts; and the overall policy, business models, and technical aspects needed to facilitate the adoption of district cooling.

2015 - The partnership expands to national planning

From this partnership on HFC reduction, other opportunities to collaborate were seized. A persistent lack of air pollution data, limited technical capacity, and no national air pollution strategy meant that the Maldives found it difficult to address its growing air pollution problem. Thus, while the Maldives had existing plans to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, there no emissions inventories had been developed for air pollutants like black carbon, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and ammonia. Expanding cooperation to the CCAC’s National Planning Initiative helped the country include air pollution in the national planning process.

2015-2017 - The case for integrated air pollution and climate action

As part of the National Planning process, the CCAC trained the Maldives in the use of the Long-range Energy Alternatives Planning (LEAP) Integrated Benefits Calculator (IBC) software to start compiling air emissions inventories, generate mitigation scenarios, and estimate benefits of action. The objective was to incorporate this process within the Ministry team involved in developing the Biennial Update Report (BUR), so that the air pollutant inventory would be created in harmony with the GHG inventory. This would also make the process of updating and maintaining the air pollutant inventory more sustainable and effective. Ultimately, a Maldives-specific dataset, with a complete emissions inventory for the base year (2010), and baseline scenario to estimate emissions of SLCPs and air pollutants was developed to accommodate the necessary emission projections and mitigation scenarios.  

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Dr. Hussain Rasheed Hassan, Minister of Environment, Maldives

The analysis showed that in general, the largest sources of air pollutants and SLCPs in the Maldives are the transport and waste sectors, with electricity generation as a source for specific pollutants. However, electricity generation is the major source of carbon dioxide in the country and is simultaneously a major source of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. The waste sector is the predominant source of methane and a major source of many other air pollutants. This presented a huge potential for developing integrated strategies to simultaneously improve air quality and reduce the Maldives’ contribution to global warming even further.

It was discovered that each air pollutant could be substantially reduced by 25 to 60 percent in 2030 compared to baseline scenarios. Negative health impacts from air pollution, which causes 48 premature deaths per year in the Maldives along with a wide range of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, could also be reduced through targeted air pollutant emission reductions. The wide-ranging benefits discovered through the national planning process made a strong case for integrating air pollution and climate action into the Maldives’ long-term climate planning.

“The government of Maldives is committed to taking concrete and strategic action to address the issues of air pollution to protect the environment and safeguard human health.” said Dr. Hussain Rasheed Hassan, Minister of Environment of the Maldives. “Until recently, scientific and political conversations around climate change and air pollution had taken place separately. However, it is increasingly recognized that both issues are closely linked.”

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Aminath Maiha Hameed presents the Maldives' National Action Plan on Air Pollutants to H.E. Aishath Nahula (centre), Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation, and H.E. Dr. Hussain Rasheed Hassan (left), Minister of Environment.

2019 - The Maldives’ first action plan on air pollution

For the first time, the Maldives’ Ministry of Environment had developed, compiled, and quantified the reductions in air pollutants for measures originally developed to reduce national greenhouse gas emissions. This led to the launch of the Maldives’ National Action Plan on Air Pollutants on 12 June 2019 by H.E. Aishath Nahula, Minister of Transport and Aviation, at an event celebrating World Environment Day. The Action Plan aligns with existing plans and outlines 28 mitigation measures across the three priority source sectors: waste, electricity generation, and transport. It also describes each air pollutant in detail, including the emission levels of different pollutants in the Maldives, and their likely progression in the future. With 22 out of the 28 mitigation measures integrated in their NDC, many unconditionally – signifying that the Maldives has pledged to achieve them with existing resources - the Maldives has demonstrated a strong commitment to air pollution reduction.

“The development of the National Action Plan on Air Pollutants has helped the Maldives achieve three things,” explained Aminath Maiha Hameed, Ministry of Environment. “By developing this first air pollution emissions inventory, we now know the air pollutants emitted by different sources and will be able to track this as the Action Plan is implemented. We have also shown that efforts to meet our international climate change commitments can provide substantial local benefits to Maldivians through improved air quality. Finally, we have a clear roadmap of the additional actions needed to further improve air quality.”

2020 and beyond

A partnership that began in 2012 focusing on HFC reduction has led to the Maldives’ first National Action Plan on Air Pollution in 2019. Their active engagement lent itself naturally to seizing further opportunities for collaboration. Currently, the Maldives and CCAC are now working together to implement the mitigation measures identified in the Action Plan. Recognizing the huge benefits their partnership has brought, both partners aim to stay engaged to further improve the climate and air.

The achievement of the CCAC’s and the Maldives’ goal to develop an integrated plan to combat local sources of air pollution and greenhouse gases will benefit global climate efforts and local air quality. Ultimately, the Maldives and CCAC partnership working towards the common goals of improving climate and air quality increasingly proves the adage that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  

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