Interview with Honorable Thoriq Ibrahim, Minister of Climate Change, Environment, and Energy, Maldives

Interview with Honorable Thoriq Ibrahim, Minister of Climate Change, Environment, and Energy, Maldives


A few years back, Maldives adopted a conditional emissions reduction target of 26% by 2030 compared to business as usual, including improving the country’s preparedness for possible future extreme weather events and strengthening collaboration with other island communities. To begin the interview, how does the Ministry of Climate Change, Environment, and Energy in the Maldives actively contribute to steering the nation’s ambitious journey towards achieving net-zero targets while fostering sustainable economic growth?

In the last NDC, Maldives pledged that we could reduce emissions by 26% by 2030, with the caveat that external funding should be available for us to do that. We have the vision, and we have the strength to achieve this 26%, and zero net emissions, if we receive adequate external funding assistance.

However, we only have six years until 2030 and since the NDC was published we have not seen any major funding by any of the multilateral agencies or developed countries to help us to achieve this goal. We want to achieve 26% and we require external assistance, especially from the major historical emitters, as Maldives only emit 0.0035% of global emissions yet we are suffering the consequences. If we want to achieve a reduction of 26%, or net zero, we must compromise on a lot of things.

Our major economy is tourism and fishing. Currently we get our energy from fossil fuel or diesel fuel. This is imported but without the imported diesel fuel we will not be able to run our economy. To be able to reduce emissions further we require the latest technology, financial assistance and the necessary technical assistance, which we are not receiving adequately. It is impossible to reduce our emissions without this kind of technology and assistance.

How can we tell the fishermen not to go out fishing to reduce the emissions? How can we tell the tourism industry not to power their resorts through diesel? If there are alternative technologies that we can acquire easily, more economically and with the required funding, then we will do it. The main thing is the funding.


The World Bank has been a steadfast supporter of Maldives through the Accelerating Sustainable Private Investment in Renewable Energy (ASPIRE) project, which is set to commemorate its 10th anniversary in 2024, and the recently launched Accelerating Renewable Energy Integration and Sustainable Energy (ARISE) project. Could you share insights into the specific decarbonization targets set by your ministry, and highlight key projects currently underway that play a crucial role in realizing the nation’s ambitious goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2030?

The World Bank has been a very supportive partner for Maldives in our journey toward reducing emissions and they are doing a lot of work, but this alone is not sufficient. Started in 2017, with a 1.5-megawatt ceiling, the ASPIRE project was the first of its kind in Maldives with a public-private partnership. I was also the Minister at the time and, although there were initial complications in implementing all the necessary mechanisms, we launched the project and the initial phase was completed in 2018.

We started producing renewable energy and then selling the power through STELCO with a great PPA model. At that time, the agreed PPA rate was 21 cents per kilowatt. It was a very innovative program where the World Bank gave a guaranteed mechanism to the investors who installed the solar panels. If the utility company was unable to pay for the energy produced, the World Bank guaranteed them the payment.

It was a very successful model. We were able to implement that program and then progress to a larger program with a 5.5-megawatt solar PV installation in Hulhulé. It is already completed and producing power. With that project, the PPA went down from 21 cents to 10.9 cents in less than five years. Investors FELT much more comfortable investing in Maldives, so the prices decreased as the technology increased.

As a result of ASPIRE we now have other projects in the pipeline, one of which has lowered prices again, to 9.8 cents per kilowatt hour. The project is for 11 megawatts of solar power. For these projects under ASPIRE, the World Bank comes in as a guarantor to investors. There is also a tariff buy-down mechanism to decrease capital costs. Initially, the tariff was very high but gradually it has been reduced. It is very attractive and very safe for investors. The institution of the banking system guarantees that mechanism and, as a government, we make sure that it is safe.


Who should the investor contact? Is it through your Ministry? Is there a body that handles the process directly?

Investors can make contact either directly with us or with Invest Maldives. As potential investors they will receive all the pertinent technical information upon application. As I mentioned, we have around 11 megawatts under installation at present. There are upcoming tenders under ARISE, which is the next program of the World Bank after ASPIRE. Under ARISE, we have 25 megawatts that will be tendered this month, consisting of 15 megawatts on land and a 10-megawatts floating solar system. Floating systems will be crucial in the future of Maldives, as we don’t have sufficient land to have bigger installations. Maldives is a large ocean country. The 10 megawatts will be the first of its kind on this larger scale.

It’s not like having a floating solar plant on a lake; It’s offshore. There will be challenges but technology can overcome those challenges. Currently there are much smaller floating systems in the Maldives of 200-300 kilowatts. This one will be on a much larger scale. Floating technology is the way forward in the Maldives and whoever makes the best presentation will be the one to help us advance.


In addition to a giant sea wall already surrounding the city of Male, reclamation projects have already increased Maldives’ landmass by about 10% in the past four decades, using sand pumped onto submerged coral platforms. What initiatives is the Ministry of Climate Change, Environment and Energy currently undergoing such as the “Building Climate Resilient Safer Islands in the Maldives” project and the “Early Warning For All initiative” to address climate challenges and enhance resilience in the region?

Maldives is a country with 1% land and 99% sea. As with all the other developing countries and the other countries, we also need land. Land reclamation began in around 1967-1968. The first land reclamation was for the airport, bridging one of the islands at the top of the lagoon with the island of Hulhulé, and then having that as part of the runway extension.

Then came Malé, because it was the capital. The government began looking at Malé with regard to tourism development and wanted to reclaim it. It was a very manual reclamation. The first cutter-dredger was brought to Maldives and Malé in 1977-78. More than 1/3 of land in Malé is reclaimed.

At that time, we did not have environmental impact assessments or know what the best height at which to reclaim was, and so we reclaimed to just above sea level. However, we began to experience issues with flooding and realized that we needed to further raise the islands. From there on there was a requirement of dredging for small, highly populated islands. As a result, dredging and reclamation were effected.

In the 1980s Maldives was the first country to highlight climate change issues. We could see it happening firsthand. In 1987-1988, we had high tidal waves that washed over Malé and some of the islands. H.E. Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was the first person to talk about the climate issues that the small island states were facing and we are proud of that. Nobody else was addressing environmental challenges at that time. From then on, the hazards of climate change and natural disasters due to climate change issues were brought to the fore.

We also started thinking about how we could develop our islands to make them safer. Malé was a classic example where some parts are just above sea level. We started thinking about adaptations. Japan Aid was the first aid that came to Maldives to protect Malé from the waves. On the southern side of Malé, those three-meter-high walls, the tetrapods, were built by the Japanese in the late 80s. They protects us, even from tsunamis. These huge tetrapods, which are about three to four meters high, actually block the waves coming from the open sea. We were not able to raise the land in Malé because it was already built so we had to come up with another solution.

We continued the land reclamation scheme to enable expansion. Malé is about 1.5 meters above sea level. We later reclaimed Hulhumalé to about 2 meters above sea level. These measures are necessary for survival, to mitigate damage caused by any high tidal wave or heavy storm brought about by climate change. With Hulhumalé, we were able to build a more habitable island than Malé. It is a completely new island. There was nothing there when they started in 1997. We learned from that process and now we are moving forward.

If you look at Ras Malé, which we have started reclaiming, it is a much bigger city. It is around 1000 hectares, is approximately three meters higher and will be a much more resilient island. Adaptation measures there are better than on all the rest of the islands. We will have that island showcased as an eco-city, where all the vehicles will be electric. It will be designed in such a way as to place a major focus on pedestrians; everything is designed so that you can reach the required amenities faster by walking.

These are the kinds of measures that we have been taking. We must build our islands with adaptation measures and we are continually learning. We need to be prepared for natural disasters or climate-induced problems. As of the last UNFCCC Global Stocktake (GST) this is a requirement in the Paris Agreement. Each country must determine how much they are reducing their emissions in order to avoid a global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees. Now it seems that temperatures could increase by 2 to 3 degrees. If that happens, the science warns that there will be serious issues. We need to be prepared. We are at the receiving end and the first port of call for the negative effects of climate change, unless the developed countries, the historical emitters, reduce their emissions dramatically.


When do you expect to see these negative changes?

Just a few months ago we had floods. The rainy and dry seasons are not following their usual patterns. The dry season might be prolonged, and we would have to provide water to some islands that still don’t have drinking water. The natural groundwater of our islands is contaminated because of saltwater inundation, so we must actively produce water through the desalination process. We are on our way to developing the necessary desalination plants.

There are more than 100 islands. If there is a prolonged dry season, there is no drinking water and we have to send water from Malé. Providing drinking water to all these islands is just one of the major issues that we are facing. The highest recorded rainfall in Malé was just two months ago, when it rained more than it had done for the whole year, in addition to extreme high winds that we didn’t have previously. We don’t have the luxury of more time; climate change is already here. We want to adapt ourselves to the impact of climate change but we cannot do that on our own. We need help. However, Maldivians are very resilient people so we will adapt.


In November 2023 USAID Administrator Samantha Power, announced that the US entity will establish a permanent USAID Country Office in Maldives as part of the US Embassy presence in the country. How does your collaboration with USAID and US companies contribute to enhancing climate resilience in Maldives, particularly in addressing climate risks? What strategies are being employed to mobilize private sector funding for effective climate-related actions?

USAID has been a funding partner for Maldives for a long time and have been very instrumental in providing us with technical expertise in diverse areas, such as climate change studies, coral rehabilitation studies, coral bleaching studies, and studies on how to remediate the coral bleach in protected areas. With the establishment of the US Embassy in Maldives, communication will be easier. Previously, the US ambassador came perhaps once or twice a month and would only see a snapshot of what was happening. Now the US ambassador is here, and the USAID office will be here soon. They will be able to watch what is happening to Maldives very closely and will to develop programs to assist more comprehensively. That will also lead to further investment in Maldives.

Investments in energy development are something that we can investigate and for which we open our doors. At COP28 last year in Dubai our President pledged that 33% of our electricity production should come from renewable energy. We are also revising our policies to open our doors for foreign investors to come and invest in energy production. This is an area where American investors can come to Maldives and perhaps partner with government or public sector investments.

With this target, resorts will increase their renewable energy share and private investments will also be able go to the resorts. There are some very large opportunities for investment in renewable energies. We also want to decarbonize our transport sector and introduce renewable energy, both on land transport and sea.


In September 2023, The Asian Development Bank approved a financing package of 50.5 million dollars to expand renewable energy development in Maldives, which included a 500,000-dollar grant from the USA’s Climate Change Fund. What makes Maldives an attractive investment destination for sustainable energy projects, and how are opportunities linked to the aforementioned ASPIRE and ARISE projects playing a role in advancing sustainable energy initiatives in the region?

ADB has been very instrumental in funding public sector investments. The World Bank, on the private sector investment, go for the bigger power purchase agreement. However, ADB has been looking into the smaller islands where there are no economies of scale to develop renewable energy. We have 182 inhabited islands, and each island has a mini-grid system, currently powered by a diesel operation generator. Those grids were developed a long time ago, were not properly designed and have Issues. If we want to have renewable energy on the roof, as it is, we can’t go beyond 30% of renewable energy. To increase the renewable share, we must first deal with the network system on the island; we must have battery systems on the island to enable energy.

If we can come up with a good financial proposal to have everything together; the renewable energy panels, solar panels, the network system, the battery system and then have a pool of islands that an investor can come in and take up, then that would be an area for investment. As I said, 33% of our energy consumption needs to be from renewable energy. We have a lot of investment opportunities in Maldives. ADB will also go to PPS in the future but they are currently very much involved in battery systems, energy storage systems, and solar panels projects on the smaller islands.

Maldives is still in the very early stages of having rooftop solar in residential buildings. When President Muizzu came into office, one of his pledges was to have solar panels on rooves. We have a program called ´Magey Solar`, which means ´My Solar`. Under ADB, we have already finished tendering for three megawatts of solar panels. Those are smaller five-kilowatt and three-kilowatt individual panels.

Once we receive those, we can install them in 750 houses. As a second phase to that project, which we will be tendering, there will be another three kilowatts, which is another area for investment. In Maldives we have regulations on net metering so the uptake of solar is regulated. The buyback mechanism from the panel is in place. If investors want to do more on the research and development side, we are also open to that. We have a vast ocean. It is a great opportunity.


What is your final message as Minister to the readers of USA TODAY, underscoring the importance of collective efforts for environmental stewardship and sustainable energy practices?

We are a small island country. For us to survive we need assistance from the larger developed countries. We feel that the historical emitters should help us with our adaptation needs. We have a lot of opportunities for investment in the renewable energy arena. Due to the dispersed nature of the Maldive islands, we need investments to be innovative. Maldives has been a successful country in tourism and fishing. Now we need to diversify. We want to reduce our fossil fuel dependency. We are very open to welcoming new technologies and new research.