Former president of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed speaks without equivocation in the film “The Island President,” screened at Harvard Law School early Monday evening. Climate change is “the most important fight is the fight for our survival,” he says in the film.
The screening of the documentary was the focal point of an event sponsored by the Program on Negotiation, the Environmental Law Program at the Law School and the Harvard Law Documentary Studio. The film depicts the first year of Nasheed’s term in office and traces his handling of administrative issues of pressing importance to his island nation, most notably climate change.
In particular, the documentary follows Nasheed’s ascent onto the international stage as he recruits support for carbon emission reductions. His policy goals aimed to prevent a dramatic rise in the sea level and, therefore, ensure the survival of the Maldives, a low-lying country made of more than 1,300 islands.
The film spotlighted Nasheed’s struggle to garner international support for the inclusion of specific environmental precautions in the Copenhagen Accord, a climate change agreement drafted during the 2009 United Nations Climate Conference. Nasheed appealed to other developing nations and compromised with the project’s primary opponents—China and India—to incorporate successfully clauses that limited the global temperature increase to less than two degrees and atmospheric carbon concentration to 350 parts per million by 2012. But since 2009, carbon emissions have increased dramatically, and Nasheed was forced to resign from the presidency earlier this year to avoid a violent military overthrow from allies of the previous president.
Viewers also were invited to partake in a post-screening discussion of the documentary, led by senior advisor of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, Hardy Merriman. Audience members delved into the political climate of Nasheed’s administration, including details leading up to the coup d’etat that eventually led Nasheed to step down from office. They also discussed the economic feasibility of transforming the Maldives into a carbon-neutral nation.
Susan Hackley, managing director of the Program on Negotiation at HLS, said that she thought the documentary was successful in emphasizing the need for immediate environmental awareness. “What Nasheed does so wonderfully is make things visible through his talking,” Hackley said. “With climate change, one of the things to do is make things visible and affect people.”