COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Maldives government ministers are taking scuba lessons and learning underwater signs in preparation for an unprecedented Cabinet meeting at the bottom of the ocean intended to highlight the threat global warming poses to the low-lying nation.
Since taking office last year, President Mohammed Nasheed has emerged as an important international voice on the impact of climate change amid fears that rising ocean levels could swamp this Indian Ocean archipelago within a century.
He has announced plans for a fund to buy a new homeland for his people if the Maldives' 1,192 low-lying coral islands are submerged. He also has promised to make the Maldives, with a population of 350,000, the world's first carbon-neutral nation within a decade.
Nasheed will chair a meeting of his 14 Cabinet ministers about 20 feet (six meters) underwater on Oct. 17, said Aminath Shauna, an official from the president's office.
"The intention is to draw the attention of the world leaders to the issue of global warming and highlight how serious are the threats faced by Maldives as a result," she said.
The ministers will wear scuba gear for the gathering off the island of Girifushi — about 20 minutes journey by speed boat from the capital, Male, she said. The ministers will communicate using hand gestures and are now receiving diving lessons, she said, adding that Nasheed is a certified diver.
At the meeting, the Cabinet plans to sign a document calling on all countries to cut down their carbon emissions ahead of the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December, where the countries will negotiate a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, Shauna said.
Wealthy nations want broad cuts in emissions from all countries, while poorer ones say industrialized countries should carry most of the burden.
The Maldives' islands average 7 feet (2.13 meters) above sea level, making the Maldives the lowest-lying nation on Earth.