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October 17, 2009

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Cabinet dives deep to highlight climate change

GOVERNMENT ministers in scuba gear were yesterday preparing for an underwater meeting of the Maldives' Cabinet to highlight the threat global warming poses to the lowest-lying nation on earth.

The Maldives' president will lead today's meeting around a table on the sea floor -- 6 meters below the surface -- and ministers will communicate using white boards and hand signals.

President Mohammed Nasheed has emerged as a key, and colorful, voice on climate change amid fears that rising ocean levels could swamp the Indian Ocean archipelago within a century. Its islands average 2.1 meters above sea level.

Nasheed is a certified diver, while other ministers have had to take diving lessons in recent weeks.

"None of the ministers has ever been diving before, except the defense minister, and all of them are very enthusiastic," Zoona Naseem, president of Divers Association Maldives, said.

Nasheed has already announced plans for a fund to buy a new homeland for his people if the 1,192 low-lying coral islands are submerged.

He has promised to make the Maldives, with a population of 350,000, the world's first carbon-neutral nation within a decade.

The underwater Cabinet plans to sign a document calling on all countries to cut down their carbon dioxide emissions ahead of the major United Nations climate change conference this December in Copenhagen. A successor to the Kyoto Protocol will be discussed at the meeting.

Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide are blamed for causing global warming by trapping heat in the earth's atmosphere.

Wealthy nations want broad emissions cuts from all countries, while poorer ones say industrialized countries should carry most of the burden.

Yesterday, the Maldives ministers went diving in a rehearsal off the island of Girifushi, about 20 minutes by speedboat from the capital, Male, said Aminath Shauna, an official from the president's office.

Three of the 14 ministers will miss the underwater meeting because two were not given medical permission and another is abroad, Shauna said.


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