Worried their country will end up under water as the globe warms and sea ices melt, the government of the Maldives this week announced that the Indian Ocean nation will go carbon neutral by 2020. No part of the chain of 1,200 low-lying islets rises more than six feet (1.8 meters) or so above sea level, leaving the 400,000 inhabitants there at grave risk of rising sea levels and storm surges, environmental journalist Andy Revkin writes today in a New York Times blog.  

The Maldives government last year considered setting aside funds from its main biz – tourism – to purchase land from another country, such as India or Sri Lanka, to eventually relocate its populace. Recent reports give urgency to the plan, indicating that  sea levels are expected to rise some 3.3 feet (1 meter) by 2100, even faster than predicted in the already dire-sounding Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released in 2007.

In an effort to prevent his archipelago nation from literally drowning, newly elected Maldives Prez Mohamed Nasheed said he will attempt to make the islands carbon-neutral by 2020 – the first country to do so, reports The Observer. How? By investing $1.1 billion over 10 years in alternative energies from rooftop solar arrays to wind turbines, to a biomass-burning power plant (in the tropical islands’ case, that means coconut husks), according to another New York Times blog today. “Going green might cost a lot," Nasheed said in an op-ed published this weekend in The Observer, "but refusing to act now will cost us the Earth."

Such an effort by the tiny nation is not likely to make much of a dent in total worldwide carbon dioxide emissions, given that the Maldives account for less than 0.1 percent of the total output (the U.S. and China combine for almost half). But the symbolic gesture may set an example for climate-polluting nations when they convene this December in Copenhagen, Denmark. There, the U.N. hopes to hammer out a new international climate change treaty to replace the 1992 Kyoto Protocol.

The North and South Malosmadulu atolls in the Maldives. Credit: NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team