The campaign to combat climate change often feels like a David vs. Goliath struggle, with activists attempting to counter the influence of entrenched and moneyed interests and prod recalcitrant governments to action. But this abstraction is made clearer in a new documentary focused on the former President of the Maldives called The Island President. President Mohamed Nasheed, known as “Anni” to his supporters, is a man of small stature governing a tiny archipelago in the Indian Ocean who has emerged as a towering figure in the global campaign to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change. Given unprecedented access to a sitting head of state, the filmmakers followed President Nasheed and his advisers as they prepared for and negotiated at the 2009 Copenhagen Summit. What the audience gets is a story that is deeply personal yet embedded within the wider frames of global governance, democracy, and anthropogenic climate change.
Through the course of the film, Nasheed transitions seamlessly from pro-democracy activist fighting for reform in the Maldives to that country’s first democratically-elected leader in modern times fighting against climate change on the global stage. With democratization toppling dictatorships worldwide—from the collapse of the East Bloc and the fall of Latin American juntas in the 1980s and 1990s to the Arab Spring today—it seems natural that the next battle for democratic accountability is on the global stage. In 2008, the Maldives produced a paltry 980,000 metric tons of carbon emissions (far less than 0.01% of the world total) yet it is already suffering from rising seas brought on by climate change. If emissions continue to rise, then this low-lying archipelago (highest point: 2.3 meters above sea level) will be completely submerged by the end of the 21st century
The Island President reveals Nasheed as having the soul of a dissident; though they may have vastly different backgrounds, I am reminded of insurgent trade unionists Lech Walesa and Lula da SilvaVaclav Havel view at the time among progressives that Copenhagen was a complete failure
In addition to the bold agenda of the Maldivian delegation, part of what made even a modest amount of progress the Copenhagen summit possible was the Obama administration’s willingness to make a deal. This stands in stark contrast the previous presidential administration, but President Obama’s environmental recordNasheed was ousted from the presidency The Island President Film Forum