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Maldives wants emissions cuts but not from tourism
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The Maldives, worried about rising seas from climate change, wants steeper cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions but is unwilling to curb its tourism industry, which is reliant on polluting international flights.
President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, in Singapore promoting his book "Paradise Drowning" at an environmental business summit, said cutting back on tourism was not the answer even though the country's survival was more important than development.
"I don't think it's a viable option for us to cut down on tourism because it's the mainstay of our economy," Gayoom told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday.
Tourist arrivals grew 12 percent last year to a record in the Maldives, a chain of Indian Ocean islands known for luxury resorts, expensive honeymoons and world-class scuba diving.
Tourism contributes about 5 percent to global emissions of greenhouse gases, but this is expected to rise as more people take international flights.
Scientists say emissions from jet engines have a much greater heat-trapping effect when released high in the atmosphere than when released at ground level.
This irony was not lost on Gayoom, facing the same problem as major developing countries that do not want any global agreement on emissions to constrain economic growth. The United Nations is leading talks to try to agree a new pact to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, whose first phase ends in 2012.
With the United Nations forecasting aviation emissions to rise by two to five times by 2050, the European Union aims to make all airlines buy pollution permits whether they fly into or out of the bloc.
"It's up to the business community, the corporate community, to look at alternatives to air travel as it is now -- to have more efficient fuel, alternative methods of fuel consumption, safer methods, greener methods -- we are the victims," Gayoom said.
"For a country like the Maldives, development comes after survival," he said. "I'm not happy at all, because what the international community has agreed so far is not enough to save our country and other low-lying area countries."
A U.N. climate panel has forecast world sea levels are likely to rise by up to 59 cm by 2100 due to global warming.
Gayoom said some of his people could be moved to islands with higher ground but adaptation was not enough and it would cost $6 billion to build sea defences around the tiny Indian Ocean islands -- more than the Maldives could afford.
He said the country was not planning a levy on international tourists to help fund such a scheme, but was considering a trust fund combining government revenues and money from international donors.
The economy, which Gayoom said would grow between 6 and 7 percent in 2008, derives about 30 percent of revenues from tourism. Officials previously forecast 9.5 percent growth this year after 6.6 percent last year and a 19.1 percent post-tsunami boom in 2006.
Gayoom, 70, who has led the Maldives for three decades, said he planned to run in October presidential elections and was confident of adding to his tenure as Asia's longest-serving ruler.
"The introduction of a multi-party liberal democracy in the Maldives is going to be my legacy."
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