Mauritian minister warns: “It is a matter of life and death”

Small island states such as Mauritius are suffering from devastating impacts of climate change – and the worst is yet to come. Kavydass Ramano, Mauritius’ minister of environment and climate change, urges advanced nations to honour their pledges under the Paris Agreement, emphasising that we cannot afford to lose time.
Mauritius is losing its beaches to erosion, as here in Belle Mare at the east coast. , Building a light-rail transportation system is one of Mauritius’ measures to curb emissions. Construction site of the Metro Express in Port Louis, the capital city. Sinikka Dombrowski||KD Mauritius is losing its beaches to erosion, as here in Belle Mare at the east coast. , Building a light-rail transportation system is one of Mauritius’ measures to curb emissions. Construction site of the Metro Express in Port Louis, the capital city.

Mauritius is a small island developing state (SIDS) and thus particularly vulnerable to climate change. In which ways is Mauritius affected today?
Indeed, Mauritius is amongst the most vulnerable countries to climate change and one of the most exposed to natural hazards due to its geographical location in an active tropical cyclone basin. We are affected in many ways. For example, the sea level is rising at a rate of 5.6 millimetres (mm) per year at mainland Mauritius and 9 mm per year at the island of Rodrigues, while the global average is 3.3 mm per year. The sea-level rise impacts our beaches that are sustaining the tourism industry – which is a major pillar of our economy. In some places, erosion has reduced beach width by up to 20 metres over the past decade. The frequency of storms reaching at least tropical cyclone strength has increased. It is also noteworthy that a study conducted by the US National Academy of Sciences has underlined that the chances of a major tropical cyclone occurring in the southern Indian Ocean basin will increase by 18 % every decade. We are also experiencing ever more frequent and devastating extreme weather events such as flash floods, which severely hurt the economy, the ecosystem and livelihoods. Thus, we are suffering many impacts of climate change.

What are the greatest risks your country is facing in the near future?
Projections for Mauritius are bleak. The projected reduction in rainfall and an increase in evapotranspiration may make agricultural production decline by as much as 15 to 25 % by 2050. With a decrease in rainfall of 10 to 20 % and a temperature increase of 2°, sugar yield is expected to decline by one half to two thirds. The Mauritius Sector Strategy Plan on Tourism estimates that over the next 50 years, half of the beaches will be lost to the point of supporting no visitors. Extreme weather events, including heavy rains, storms and flash floods, are likely to become ever more frequent and intense in Mauritius.

What are you doing on the national level in terms of adaptation to – and mitigation of – global warming?
Climate change is a high-priority issue on the government’s agenda. We emphasise building a climate-change resilient nation and are committed to leave no stone unturned to meet adaptation and mitigation objectives. We are fulfilling the obligations of every climate-related multilateral agreement. Since the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015, we have mobilised considerable resources at the domestic level. We have spent some Rs 6 billion (the equivalent of $ 150 million) in support of our climate agenda in the past five years. In 2018, the government revamped the National Environment Fund by providing around Rs 2 billion ($ 50 million) in support of measures to mitigate flooding and water accumulation, rehabilitation of degraded coastal zones and solid waste management, amongst others. Mauritius is spending about two percent of its GDP (around $ 265 million) on environment and climate-change related policies. We are looking forward to having more ambitious targets in our Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) which is presently under review.

In many countries, including Germany, the Covid-19 pandemic – which considerably slowed down the economy – has helped to achieve national emissions-reduction targets. Is that the case in Mauritius as well?
The Covid-19 outbreak has made the inter-connections between the economy, environment and society more evident than ever. While creating havoc on the economic and social fronts, the pandemic is having some beneficial impacts on the environmental front. In Mauritius, the National Environment Laboratory has recorded a decrease of 52 % and 78.5 % respectively in the average daily concentration of Particulate Matter (PM-10) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) during the 2020 curfew compared to figures recorded in the same period in 2019. These pollutants are usually emitted by vehicles. The greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions for 2020 are still being compiled, but we are expecting a decrease here too. Mauritius was in its first lockdown period from March to May 2020. The second lockdown started in March this year and is still ongoing.

What must the international community do to protect people in SIDS?
Climate scientists are unanimous: the world is currently heading towards a 3° temperature rise, with disastrous consequences for millions of vulnerable people around the globe. SIDS and Africa are affected in particular. In 2014, the 5th Assessment report of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) emphasised the specific vulnerability of Small Island States. In particular, that vulnerability is the result of:

  • risks of livelihood disruption in coastal communities,
  • systemic risks linked to extreme weather events with the potential breakdown of critical services such as healthcare and
  • risks to food security as marine and coastal ecosystems are lost.

In 2018, the IPCC published its Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°. According to it, some of the worst impacts are expected to be felt among people and ecosystems in SIDS. Mauritius has a number of inherent limitations. Our landmass is small, we have no economy of scale, but must bear huge investment costs for greening the power sector. Ironically, SIDS are the least responsible for climate change: we collectively emit less than one percent of global greenhouse gases. It is of utmost importance that key elements of the Paris Agreement such as financial support, technology transfer and capacity building be provided to SIDS and developing countries in Africa. Also, we urge advanced nations to scale up their mitigation targets, act accordingly and provide reliable funding to SIDS and African countries.

What do you expect from this year’s climate conference of parties (COP26) in Glasgow?
We hope that, despite the prevailing Covid-19 pandemic, COP26 will be held as scheduled given the urgency to finalise and agree upon the rulebook for the implementation of the Paris Agreement. The summit has already been delayed by one year, and there is no more time to lose. We hope that all parties will be present at this crucial phase of climate negotiations, and that together we will be able to deliver on key issues to bring the global climate-change agenda forward. Mauritius would align itself with positions of the Africa Group of Negotiators (AGN), the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and the G77 and China (developing countries group). As such, our key positions are:

  • We urge developed-country parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to enhance their mitigation action and provide support in terms of technology development and transfer as well as capacity building.
  • Predictable finance is critical for SIDS and African countries. We must set up new global goals on finance and on more robust finance framework. This will also significantly advance our global efforts to address adaptation as promised in Paris in 2015.
  • Advanced nations must honour their pledges of mobilising $ 100 billion per year to support developing countries to achieve their adaptation and mitigation pledges and targets.
  • Advanced nations should scale up emission reductions and achieve net-zero GHG emissions by 2050. Moreover, they must commit to achieve 45 % GHG emission reduction by 2030.

Mauritius supports steps to address loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change in a comprehensive, integrated and coherent manner.
Developing countries such as SIDS and African countries should be given priority access to support from institutions such as the Green Climate Fund and the Adaptation Fund, and procedures should be made less burdensome.

2021 is often said to be crucial for reaching the Paris goals. Why is that?
This year is crucial because it marks the start of the operationalisation phases of the Paris Agreement. Five years after adoption, we reached the milestone where parties must review their NDCs. We are observing aggravating trends of climate-change impacts. Climate change is happening faster than we are able to adapt. For many people, regions and even countries, this is already a matter of life and death. Actually, 2020 was the hottest year on record and at this pace, it is likely that the 1.5° threshold will be reached as early as 2024. We must act fast. We can – and must – take a build-back-better and green-recovery approach to emerging from Covid-19 and limiting global warming at the same time.

Kavydass Ramano is Mauritius’ Minister of Environment, Solid Waste Management and Climate Change.

Related Articles