Category: Tourism

Climate threat to tourism threatens economic stability of island nations

Climate threat to tourism threatens economic stability of island nations

By Will Bugler

The threat that climate change poses to the tourism industry threatens to collapse the economies of several island nations around the world. Those countries that are most dependent on tourist dollars to sustain their economies also have tourist industries that are highly vulnerable to climate change and its impacts. In 2017 there were 20 countries for which tourism contributed more than 25 percent of GDP, the overwhelming majority of which are small island developing states. Climate impacts such as extreme heat, sea level rise, extreme storms and ecosystem destruction, pose a severe risk to the sustainability of these industries.

For island nations such as the Maldives, Seychelles, Antigua and Barbuda and the Bahamas, the tourist industry contributed 76.6%, 65.3%, 51.8% and 47.8% of GDP respectively. The level of dependence on tourism for such countries makes them highly vulnerable to climate risks that threaten the industry. However, they are also highly exposed to just those risks.

The most significant driver of tourism for small island states are their coastlines. Tourists are drawn to the magnificent sandy beaches and marine ecosystems. However, sea level rise, ocean warming, and coastal erosion is likely to damage or destroy these assets entirely. Recent studies indicate that the world’s coral reef ecosystems could be gone by 2050 and a sea level rise of 1 m would submerge almost all of the world’s beaches. This is far from unlikely, a 2017 NOAA report offered the scenarios shown below, with sea level rise ranging from 0.3 m to 2.5 m by 2100.

The coloured bars on the right represent IPCC 90% probability. The dashed lines represent the projections of a more recent study by DeConto and Pollard. Source: Modified from Sweet, et al. 2017.

Such a rise would be devastating for coastal economies. The map below shows coastal areas in blue that would be submerged should sea levels rise by 1m.  

Areas in blue show land that would be submerged should sea levels rise by 1m (40 in). Source: http://globalfloodmap.org/

The extent to which it is possible for vulnerable nations to diversify their economies will determine, to some extent, how resilient they are able to become in the face of climate change. However, climate change poses an existential threat for many island nations. For instance, at current rates, sea levels could be high enough to make many island atolls uninhabitable by the end of the century.


Cover photo by Alessandro Caproni/Flickr (CC BY 2.0): Shipyard in the Maldives.
EO data helping Alpine tourism adapt to climate change

EO data helping Alpine tourism adapt to climate change

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

Temperatures in the Alps have risen almost twice the global average. This trend has profound implications for the whole Alpine environment and the industries that depend on it. One of the most prominent ones is tourism, especially winter tourism. However, with climate change, the Alps are gaining popularity as a warm but not too hot summer destination. The European Earth observation (EO) programme Copernicus aims to support the sector with new tools that can improve the understanding of climate change impacts on tourism.

As climate change alters the patterns of suitable and non-suitable weather conditions, the competitiveness and seasonality of holiday destinations can be heavily affected. Seasonal forecasting and climate projections can therefore play an important role in strategic business planning. The Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) is developing a user-driven climate information system for intermediaries, tourism companies, policy makers and other users, based on information from the C3S Climate Data Store. Part of the system is a series of indicators and indices that will help tourism providers shape their marketing strategies, future investments and plan events while considering a changing climate.

One of these indices is the Holiday Climate Index (HCI); it combines temperature, relative humidity, precipitation, cloud cover and wind helping illustrate the climatic suitability for tourism activities. The HCI can help businesses make informed decisions about the start and finish of the season, promotional campaigns, event scheduling, and staffing levels. Additionally, the Mountain Tourism Meteorological and Snow Indicators (MTMSI) will provide information about past and future temperature, and natural and managed (including effects of grooming and snowmaking) snow season duration. These data are of particular interest to ski resorts. The service, which is meant to become available later in 2019, will also offer an interactive web-interface with data not just for the Alps but all of Europe.

These new tools will be particularly interesting for the Alpine tourism sector as its seasonality and offering is already starting to look different due to climate change. Tourism providers are entering unfamiliar territory, with EO-based information tailored to their needs they will be able to make better informed business decisions and adapt to new circumstances.


Cover photo by Patrick Schneider on Unsplash.
Japanese cherry blossoms make early appearance: Extreme weather to blame

Japanese cherry blossoms make early appearance: Extreme weather to blame

By Georgina Wade

The annual cherry blossom bloom in Japan signals the arrival of spring. Typically occurring in early April, the event brings flocks of tourist to the region looking to experience the floral embodiment of Japan’s most deep-rooted cultural and philosophical beliefs. But never has there been a widespread cherry blossom show put on in the fall – until now. Weathernews received more than 350 reports of early blossoms.

But, what is causing this premature fall bloom? According to the Hiroyuki Wada, an arborist with the Flower Association of Japan, cherry blossom buds develop during summer but usually don’t bloom until because of a plant hormone the leaves release to slow plant growth in preparation for the winter. However, Japan was hit by both Typhoon Jebi and Typhoon Trami in September, which carried powerful winds and salty seawater, forcing trees to shed leaves before the hormone could be released, and with the additional warm air from the South, the trees were ‘tricked’ to blossom.

Category 5 Typhoon Jebi was the strongest storm to hit Japan since 1993, killing 17 people with insured losses estimated at between 2.3 and 4.5 billion USD. A few weeks later, Typhoon Trami followed suit leaving dozens injured and hundreds of thousands of homes without power. Warm air brought about by the typhoons was quickly masked by cooler conditions during the storms’ aftermath, prompting a combination of changeable weather that mimicked spring.

Although it’s clear that this year’s storm season is to blame, the premature cherry blossoming trend has been ongoing for some time. For over 1,000 years, the flowering of Japan’s cherry trees has been chronicled in the city of Kyoto. But bloom dates have shifted radically earlier in recent decades, signalling that the region is warming.

Yasuyuki Ano, a professor of environmental sciences at Osaka Prefecture University, assembled a data set that compiles blossom-flowering dates in Kyoto starting from 800 A.D. Prior to 1850, flowering dates were fairly stable.

But from 1850 to present day, the flowering period has only surged forward at the rate of about one week per century. With warmer March temperatures typically signifying an earlier bloom, scientists believe the earlier bloom dates are directly linked with rising regional temperatures. Both Kyoto’s cherry tree flowering and temperature data suggest that its climate is the warmest it has been in at least a millennium.

The buds that opened now will not be blossoming again in coming spring. Despite this early blooming, experts do not believe this event will disrupt the timing or magnificence of the bloom next spring.


Cover photo by Sora Sagano on Unsplash.
Historic sites face risk from rising seas

Historic sites face risk from rising seas

By Tim Radford

Venice has been at hazard from rising seas for years. But so now are almost all historic sites near Mediterranean coasts, a survey finds.

Some of the planet’s most historic sites could by 2100 face damage or outright destruction in a warming world. Scientists who surveyed 49 World Heritage Sites in the Mediterranean report that 47 of them are at some degree of risk from future sea level rise.

As ever-higher levels of carbon dioxide enter the atmosphere to warm the planet, so global sea levels creep ever higher. And this constant threat of attrition by ever-higher tides and storm surges poses an ever-higher risk to a suite of cities, sites and ruins declared by UNESCO, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, to be of global importance, and in need of careful preservation.

The locations most at risk include the city of Venice, the medieval city of Rhodes, the old city of Dubrovnik, and the ruins of Carthage in Tunisia.

The researchers considered the hazard of what is now a once-in-a-century storm surge occurring, as the seas rise by almost 1.5 metres by 2100. By then, they found, storm surges that now occur once a century could be happening several times every year.

“Many of these heritage sites will slowly disappear with sea level rise, even though these sites are important parts of human history”

Increasingly, coastal flooding and erosion could damage, deface or completely obliterate landmarks that played a pivotal role in world history. All the sites have important intangible value as icons of civilisation; many of them are popular tourist destinations, and their disappearance could only mean huge economic losses as well.

Such studies are launched to alert governments, civic authorities and communities to the need for action. Venice, in particular, has been a subject of national and international concern for decades. The surprise in the latest research, in the journal Nature Communications, is that of the 49 sites investigated, 37 are vulnerable to storm surge, 42 to coastal erosion − and many of them to both.

“In the Mediterranean, the risk posed by storm surges, which are 100-year storm surges under today’s conditions, may increase by up to 50% on average, and that from coastal erosions by up to 13% − and all this by the end of the 21st century under high sea level rise,” said Lena Reimann of Kiel University in Germany, who led the study.

“Individual World Heritage Sites could even be affected much more, due to their exposed location.”

Low-lying coastal sites

The researchers started with a database of all the low-lying UNESCO coastal sites: they noted the distance of each site from the coast, whether the terrain was rocky or sandy, and the chance that a build-up of silts from the Nile, the Rhone or the Po rivers might offer protection. They took as their danger baseline a predicted 1.46 metre rise in the level of the Mediterranean by the century’s end.

A rise as high as this has a low probability, but cannot be ruled out. And since the stakes are high − a city like Venice cannot be relocated, and the engineering challenge of protecting its lagoon from flooding is huge − even a one-in-20 hazard is taken seriously.

Other research studies have warned that just a 50 centimetre rise in sea levels places vast tracts of European coastline at risk from storm surge − the dangerous combination of very high tide and very strong winds − and could impose colossal costs on cities from Rotterdam to Istanbul.

Already at risk

The latest study warns that by the end of the century, only two of the 49 sites would be at risk from neither erosion nor flooding. And more than 90% of the sites identified are, the researchers say, already at risk under current conditions, “which stresses the urgency of adaptation in these locations.”

And, they say, action and adaptation should start now. There are plenty of other historic sites to think about.

“Cultural heritage not inscribed in the World Heritage list will receive much less attention and many of these heritage sites will slowly disappear with sea level rise, even though these sites are important parts of human history as well,” they conclude.


Tim Radford, a founding editor of Climate News Network, worked for The Guardian for 32 years, for most of that time as science editor. He has been covering climate change since 1988.

This article was originally published on Climate News Network.

Cover photo by Morgan on Unsplash: Dubrovnik, Croatia, one of the many historic sites at risk from sea level rise.
‘Eternal’ Swiss snow is melting faster

‘Eternal’ Swiss snow is melting faster

By Paul Brown

Scientists say stretches of “eternal” Swiss snow are melting faster than 20 years ago, with serious impacts for water supply and tourism.

Parts of Europe’s alpine mountain chain are undergoing accelerating melting, as the “eternal” Swiss snow thaws ever faster, threatening both the skiing industry and the nation’s water supply.

Over a period of only 22 years, thousands of satellite images have provided irrefutable evidence that an extra 5,200 square kilometres of the country are now snow-free, compared with the decade 1995-2005.

Researchers from the University of Geneva and the United Nations Environment Programme have used data from four satellites which have been constantly photographing the Earth from space, compiling a record published by the Swiss Data Cube, which uses Earth observations to give a comprehensive  picture of the country’s snow cover and much else besides, including crops grown and forest cover.

It is the loss of snow cover that most disturbs the scientists. What they call “the eternal snow zone” still covered 27% of Swiss territory in the years from 1995 to 2005. Ten years later it had fallen to 23% – a loss of 2,100 sq km.

The eternal snow line marks the part of Switzerland above which the snow never used to melt in summer or winter. It is also defined as the area where any precipitation year-round has an 80-100% chance of being snow.

“We have stored the equivalent of 6,500 images covering 34 years, a feat that only an open data policy has made possible”

Other parts of the country, including the Swiss Plateau (about 30% of Switzerland’s area), the Rhone Valley, the Alps and the Jura mountains are also losing snow cover, adding up to the 5,200 sq km total. These areas, below the eternal snow line, have until now usually had lying snow in the winter.

The study was launched in 2016 on behalf of Switzerland’s Federal Office for the Environment. Knowing the extent of snow cover and its retreat is essential for developing public policies, the researchers say.

Beyond the economic issues linked to the threat to ski resorts – a familiar area of concern, heightened by this latest research, as many of them now face shortened seasons or outright abandonment – other problems such as flood risk and water supply are coming to the fore. Snow stores water in the winter for release in spring and summer, for both agriculture and drinking water.

Currently the increasing loss of ice from glaciers in the summer is making up for the missing snow, but previous work by scientists has shown that in the future, when glaciers disappear altogether, Switzerland could face a crisis.

The researchers have relied on the information available from the Data Cube to establish what is happening on the peaks. By superimposing repeated pictures of the same place over one another they have been able to observe small changes over time.

Wealth of data

The data was made freely available to researchers. One of them, Grégory Giuliani, said: “We have stored the equivalent of 6,500 images covering 34 years, a feat that only an open data policy has made possible. If we had had to acquire these images at market value, more than 6 million Swiss francs would have been invested.

“Knowing that each pixel of each image corresponds to the observation of a square of 10 by 10 meters, we have 110 billion observations today. It is inestimable wealth for the scientific community.”

Apart from snow cover scientists are worried about many other changes taking place in Switzerland because of climate change. They already know that glaciers are melting at record speeds and plants, birds and insects are heading further up the mountains, but there is much else to be gleaned from the new data base.

The Data Cube offers the possibility of studying vegetation, the evolution and rotation of agricultural areas, urbanisation and even water quality, as satellite images can be used to monitor three essential indicators in lakes and rivers: suspended particles, whether organic or mineral; chlorophyll content; and surface temperature.

The data are freely accessible, not only to scientists worldwide but also to the public, making it easy to compare data for specific areas of the territory at different times. “Our ambition is that everyone should be able to navigate freely in Swiss territory to understand its evolution”, said Grégory Giuliani.


Paul Brown, a founding editor of Climate News Network, is a former environment correspondent of The Guardian newspaper, and still writes columns for the paper.

This article was originally published on Climate News Network.

Cover photo by Steve Evans/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Podcast with Samantha Bray from the Center for Responsible Travel: Tourism in the Caribbean

Podcast with Samantha Bray from the Center for Responsible Travel: Tourism in the Caribbean

By Will Bugler

The relationship between climate change, environmental degradation and tourism is a complicated one. On the one hand, tourism can be an environmental stressor, with tourists flocking to sometimes fragile environments and the sector accounting, by some estimates, for as much as 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, tourism is often one of the most important economic drivers of climate-vulnerable nations, bringing investment to regions that has helped them to increase their overall climate resilience.

Nowhere are these tensions more apparent than in the Caribbean. With 50 million visitors per year, it is the most tourism-dependent region on earth. At the same time, the island nations that make up the Caribbean archipelago are some of the most climate-vulnerable countries on Earth.

In this episode of the Adaptation Conversation, we speak with Samantha Bray, Managing Director of the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST), which recently published a book series exploring the relationship between coastal and marine tourism and climate change in the Caribbean.


Find the books on the CREST website by clicking here.

Cover photo by Juan Rojas on Unsplash.
Pack your waders, we’re going… golfing! How climate change is threatening UK sports

Pack your waders, we’re going… golfing! How climate change is threatening UK sports

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

A new report by the UK-based Climate Coalition finds that Open Championship venues like the St Andrews Old Course could be under water by the end of the 21st century even with a small increase in sea level rise. The report, called Game Changer: How climate change is impacting sports in the UK, finds that golf, football and cricket will face the most severe consequences. The Scottish skiing industry gets a very dark prediction as well, with the Climate Coalition saying it could collapse within the next 50 years.

“Climate change is already impacting our ability to play and watch the sports we love,” the Climate Coalition writes, and adds that extreme weather leads to declining participation and lost revenue.

The Open Championship, the UK’s only major professional golf tournament, is hosted on links courses including St Andrews, Royal Troon, Royal Birkdale, Hoylake, Royal Lytham & St Annes, Muirfield, Sandwich, Turnberry, Portrush, and 2018 venue Carnoustie. A links is the oldest form of golf courses and originated in Scotland. The name comes from the Scots language, meaning rising ground or ridge, and refers to an area of coastal sand dunes. As such, all links are at grave risk.

In Montrose, one of the world’s oldest golf courses with over 450 years, the third tee had to be sacrificed in 2017 due to reinforcement measures to protect the first and second tees from coastal erosion. In 2016, research done by the University of Dundee showed that in the past 30 years the North Sea has crept 70 metres towards Montrose.

“In a perfect storm we could lose 5-10 metres over just a couple of days and that could happen at pretty much any point.”

Director of the Montrose Golf Links explains in the report “As the sea rises and the coast falls away, we’re left with nowhere to go. Climate change is often seen as tomorrow’s problem – but it’s already eating away at our course. In a perfect storm we could lose 5-10 metres over just a couple of days and that could happen at pretty much any point.”

Other sports suffer too. In football, grassroots clubs are feeling the most severe impacts with bad weather reducing their playing seasons and flooding pitches. Cricket is also struggling, Cardiff-based club Glamorgan alone has lost 1,300 hours of cricket due to extreme weather and rainfall since 2000. The risk to the sport is so great it is already struggling to be commercially viable as less and less people get involved in the sport.

Interestingly enough, the solutions showcased in the report focus mostly on renewable energy and sustainability. While those are undoubtedly extremely important, it is clear sports need to adapt to changing climate conditions and build resilience to slow onset and sudden extreme weather events. Otherwise, economic losses could become an existential threat to the UK sports industry.


Download the Climate Coalition report Game Changer: How climate change is impacting sports in the UK by clicking here.

Visit the Climate Coalition website.

Cover photo by Andrew Rice on Unsplash
Climate change threatens Scotland’s historic sites

Climate change threatens Scotland’s historic sites

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

A report released by Historic Environment Scotland (HES) identifies nearly a fifth of the almost 340 sites it oversees as being at very high risk of being badly damaged due to climate change. Another 70% of its sites are said to be at high risk in this first-of-its-kind study.

Climate and geological data from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and British Geological Survey were combined with HES’s own site surveys to create detailed climate risk assessments of each site. These show that historic site, often already fragile and exposed, are at risk from increased flooding, coastal erosion, heavier winter precipitation and drier summers. The report states:

“Water is the most destructive agent of decay. On a large scale, heavy and intense rainfall can directly lead to flooding in a short time frame, which has the potential to cause catastrophic damage to all elements of the historic environment within reach of these potential flood zones.”

The 28 sites with the highest risk, which include Fort George near Inverness and the 800-year-old Incholm Abbey on Incholm Island, are at an “unacceptable level of risk exposure” which would require immediate adaptation measures. Other sites which received a red warning, like Edinburgh Castle which is at very high risk of landslides and groundwater flooding, received an amber rating because they are under constant supervision by HES.

The study is part of ongoing efforts “to develop best practice and integrate climate change actions into [HES’s] operations.” The HES was tasked by The Scottish Climate Change Adaptation Programme with quantifying heritage assets affected by climate change using GIS in order to create a climate change risk register for their properties.

The report could led to increased pressure on other conservation organisations like the National Trust to step up their research efforts and identify climate risks to their sites in order to protect them appropriately.

Download and read the full report on HES’s website: https://www.historicenvironment.scot/


Cover photo by Timo Newton-Syms: Incholm island and former Augustine abbey in the Firth of Forth, Scotland (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Climate change in the Alps: Threatening winter tourism and boosting summer tourism

Climate change in the Alps: Threatening winter tourism and boosting summer tourism

By Gracie Pearsall

The Alps are famous for their pristine slopes, which facilitate many popular winter sports, such as skiing. In fact, one third of every Euro that a tourist spends in Austria, can be traced back to tourism. However, climate change threatens the vitality of the mountainous terrain and the snow conditions that allow the snow sports to thrive. Yet, climate change also presents an economic opportunity because warmer conditions will make the Alps an appealing summer tourist destination.

Changing Conditions

Climate change will affect the Alps in two major ways: Temperature rise and altered precipitation patterns. Projections show the Alp’s mean temperature will increase at a rate much faster than the rest of Europe. The temperature in areas with elevation above 1500 meters will rise even more rapidly – likely increasing by 4.2° Celsius by the year 2100.

Warmer temperatures will reduce snow and glacier cover, increase run-off, and cause erosion. With warmer temperatures, the Alpine permafrost will melt, thus reducing slope stability and causing massive movements of rock and debris. Glacial lake outburst floods are severe flash floods that occur when a glacier, that is damming a lake, melts away. These floods will become more frequent as temperatures rise in the Alps.

Summer precipitation in the Alps will decrease, while winter precipitation increases. The increased winter precipitation will fall as rain rather than snow, and the number of snow-days/periods will significantly decrease. The increased winter rain will reduce snow cover and greatly increase the risk of run-off, erosion, and flooding. Conversely, the summers will become drier and warmer, exposing the Alps to risk from forest fires and drought.

Scientists expect extreme weather events, with heavy precipitation to become more frequent. These changes in precipitation, along with warmer temperatures, will completely alter the hydrometeorological conditions on which the tourism industry relies.

Effect on the industry

These climatic changes will have a particularly adverse effect on winter sports. The number of snow-reliable Alpine ski areas will likely decrease from 666 to 209 because of reduced snow cover and snowfall. Less snow and shorter seasons, along with the increased risk of natural disasters, such as landslides and avalanches, will detract from the Alp’s historic tourist appeal. Climate change will force ski areas to rely on artificial snowmaking, which will also contribute to climate change through the emission of greenhouse gasses.

The Mediterranean has long been the go-to summer getaway in Europe, but as the Mediterranean gets uncomfortably warm, many tourists will rush to the Alps. Projections show that summer tourism will increase in the high Alpine regions, lake regions, and low-lying city regions. Alpine summer sports, such as mountain biking, paragliding, hiking, and summer tobogganing, will become more popular under the improved climatic conditions. Although climate change will cause more frequent natural disasters and increase soil instability, the favorable conditions will counter these risks and actually draw summer tourists to the Alps.

Adaptation Plans

Currently, the main method for adapting the alpine tourism industry to climate change is a technological, short- term approach. The winter tourism sector is the one that mostly uses these technological adaptations. The adaptations include measures such as increasing the use of artificial snowmaking, moving facilities to higher altitudes, and slope development. While these measures will prolong the ski-areas’ profitability in the short term, these methods are unsustainable, and won’t compensate for the degradation of the Alpine slopes. These measures only increase the areas’ economic dependence on winter tourism, which will soon no longer be viable.

Instead, the Alps would be better off employing behavioral methods of adaptation with business and policy-based mechanisms, to encourage sustainable tourism. For example, businesses could form ski-conglomerates, diversify tourism products throughout the year, and market summer tourism over winter tourism. Low-lying ski resorts could begin planning to withdraw from ski-tourism, and move to less intensive winter activities such as snow shoeing. These low-lying resorts will be in the perfect area for summer tourism, therefore the resorts could pre-emptively create products and activities that will attract summer guests.

Increased summer tourism will put a strain on the infrastructure and buildings built for winter tourism, so the government could support sustainable development. For example, rather than building new accommodations for tourists, businesses could retrofit old buildings. This would prevent further environmental degradation and maintain the perception of the Alps as a historic, authentic destination. Resorts could also modify their ski-lifts and cable cars so that summer tourists can ride them to see the Alps’ picturesque landscapes.

Finally, the state could also support sustainable adaption by enacting climate-change mitigation legislation and offering relief in the case of climate-based economic losses. The state could also implement measures to incentivize sustainable behavior from tourists. For example, investing in cleaner, more efficient, and accessible transportation networks will give the Alps a competitive advantage over other popular summer destinations.


Cover photo by Brian Christner on Unsplash: Stechelberg in Switzerland.
The Maldives: Tensions between climate action and tourism

The Maldives: Tensions between climate action and tourism

By Gracie Pearsall

The Maldives are at the front lines of climate change. The nation is comprised of 1,200 coral islands grouped in archipelagos and atolls, and only sits about 2.5 meters above sea level. According to former president Mohamed Nasheed the Maldives are the third most at risk country to sea level rise. Facing a grave future from climate change, Nasheed created plans to make the Maldives carbon neutral by 2020 and urged other nations to follow suit. Nasheed’s successor, current president Abdulla Yameen, has taken a drastically different approach to addressing climate change. Yameen has traded in renewable energy and carbon neutrality, in favor of mass tourism. Yameen and his administration claim that growing the tourism industry would give their country the funds necessary to adapt to the changing climate.

A New Strategy

Unlike Nasheed, who famously sought to purchase Indian land so Maldivian people could relocate when the sea levels start to swallow the island, Yameen is determined for his people to remain in the Maldives. Now, the island nation is preparing for rising sea levels with geo-engineering projects to reclaim islands or even construct new islands. These projects are very expensive, so to fund them the government essentially lease out islands, which are then developed into mega-resorts to attract tourists. The money from these leases will also be used to relocate the residents of the leased island.

The islands are usually rented out to foreign investors, which could be companies or governments. In March of 2017, Saudi Arabia leased the Fafuu atoll for 10 billion USD – more than triple the Maldives’s GDP. For many people in the Maldives and around the globe, this deal raised eyebrows and many accused Yameen of selling the atoll. In response, the president issued a statement refuting claims he sold the atoll. Yameen emphasized that foreign-backed development is not out of the ordinary and is focused on delivering positive outcomes for Maldivians.

Tourism

The Maldives are known for their natural beauty. Luxurious resorts, blue water, white sand, and vibrant reefs make the Maldives a popular destination for tourists looking to relax on the beach and “eco-tourists” hoping to see the pristine marine ecosystems. Yameen’s administration recognizes tourism’s lucrative potential and views it as a means to bring better living conditions to Maldivians as quickly as possible. Since the population is so dispersed throughout the archipelago, it is difficult for the government to provide services, such as water, education, and santitation to everyone. With money from tourism, the administration hopes to relocate and centralize the population to the larger islands so that all citizens can receive government services.

The Saudi’s plan for Fafuu could turn the island into a “Riviera-style super-resort with sea sports, six star hotels, high-end housing and several new airports”. With new developments, the administration hopes to increases tourism from 1.3 million visitors per year to seven million in the next 10 years. A booming tourism industry would increase more investors and provide the Maldives with the funds it needs to adapt to climate change. Additionally, the tourism industry will create thousands of new jobs. Furthermore, resorts could be beneficial for Maldivian reefs. According to Shiham Adam, director of the government’s Marine Research Centre, resorts can act as miniature marine reserves because they are required to protect at least 700m around the island

Conflicting interests

While the tourism scheme may seem like the Maldives’s saving grace, many Maldivians are wary of it. Locals fear they will be moved of their islands in favor of resorts. They are concerned the government will relocate them into apartments away from their island life. Environmentalists are concerned about the inevitable increase of carbon emissions as the Maldives develop their tourism industry. The thousands of extra flights to the Maldives will only further increase their emissions.

The administration accepts the reality that developing tourism and carbon-neutrality cannot co-exist, they are still committed to being a low-carbon country. They hope to invest in solar energy and reduce their emissions by 30 percent by 2030. The situation in the Maldives highlights the tension developing countries face between climate adaptation and development. The administration has made it clear that while climate change is a pressing issue, development is their priority. Yameen commented saying the Maldives, “should be afforded the ability to expand our economy to propel more and more Maldivians towards middle income status.”


Cover photo by Ishan @seefromthesky on Unsplash.