In a last ditch effort, Pacific nations are rallying the United Nations governing body responsible for maritime transportation to drastically cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to protect climate vulnerable countries.
Government and industry stakeholders from 175 countries began with the London-based International Maritime Organisation’s climate summit on Monday, picking up from where they left off last week, and are expected to agree on a key document to decarbonise the sector by 2050.
The Marshall Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, Kiribati, and Tuvalu were among several voices who strongly called for the IMO member states to adopt an ambitious, science-based target to reduce GHG pollution from shipping and align it to the Paris Agreement temperature goal.
Marshall Islands Ambassador to the IMO, Albon Ishoda, said “there can be no excuse” for global shipping not to clean up its act.
Ishoda said the countries at the IMO have a responsibility to be guided by science and lead on the issue.
“If we set these targets this week and make a commitment to swiftly enact the measures to achieve them, the science-based path is one we can follow,” Ishoda told delegates at the opening plenary of the 80th Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC80).
“But targets are meaningless without the right actions to implement them. We need the right measures to get us there,” he said.
The shipping industry is a lifeline for economies around the world, transporting goods across the oceans on cargo vessels.
But shipping is principally powered by coal, gas, and oil, and as a result is responsible for almost three percent of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Ishoda urged the IMO to put effective measures in place that does not encourage the “development of a patchwork of inequitable regional mechanisms, favouring the largest shipping and trading nations”.
The right measures, he said, were a global fuel standard and a universal GHG levy that should be established together “as a complementary basket of measures” to address the sector’s problems.
“We can choose to act decisively to set a hard 1.5 [degrees] commensurate agenda. Or we can choose to kick the can. We, the smallest and most vulnerable nations in the world, have chosen not to kick the can. But we have worked hard to offer a swift, economical and equitable transition.”
According to current projections, this means the industry is off-the-mark to help keep global warming to 1.5 degrees. To align with climate science, shipping must commit 36 percent reduction in emissions by 2030 and 96 percent by 2040 to meet.
‘In all our best interests’
Vanuatu’s Climate Change Minister Ralph Regenvanu said his country has been sounding the alarm for the past three decades that the world urgently needs to get over its “fossil fuel addiction”.
“Ignoring climate change impacts on the most vulnerable is not an option,” Regenvanu said in an empathetic intervention.
“Let me be clear, although my people and communities are already paying a disproportionate price for the climate crisis, that is not why I am here,” he said.
“I am here because we all desire a future in which our children and their children can flourish and thrive. I am here to remind you that what we are asking of this organisation is in all our best interests.
Last year emissions from international shipping had risen instead of the “decline we all need”,” Regenvanu said.
He urged the IMO to adopt measures this week that does not “benefit a few at the expense of many”.
“The need for multilateral cooperation has never been greater. This [MEPC80] is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we need to grasp with vision and courage and the knowledge that we can do this.”
But a Solomon Islands negotiator is hoping there will be a “turn of events” for global shipping after “heated debates” at the preliminary meeting last week.
Solomon Islands Maritime Authority’s senior sustainable shipping officer Dyan Vasula told RNZ Pacific “most of the things” Pacific nations want in the final document have not been “clearly stated”.
Vasula said for the IMO’s MEPC80 to meeting to be considered successful, the shipping sector must align to the Paris Agreement goal of 1.5 degrees.
“So, we are hoping we get the revised strategy, the equitable transition and the 1.5 temperature goal alignment…that is the main goal that the Pacific we wanted to have inside. That is the utmost priority,” she said.
‘Time to demonstrate leadership’
With the focus of MEPC80 to respond to the global climate crisis, IMO’s secretary-general Kitack Lim is confident it can show global leadership, even with concerns some countries are resisting cutting down emissions, including China and South American countries.
“This is a historic moment in which all of you have a role to play,” Lim said.
“The 2023 IMO GHG Strategy will be your legacy, for which your children and grandchildren will be grateful. The time for IMO to demonstrate its global leadership is now.”
UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres, in a video statement, warned that “humanity is in dangerous waters on climate but said by the IMO this week “could help chart a safer course”.
Guterres said the science was clear that it was still possible to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, but added that for that to happen it would require “an immense and immediate global effort and shipping will be vital”.
Australia wants greater ambition
Meanwhile, Australia said it was “disappointed” with the draft text of the 2023 IMO Revised Strategy.
Australia has been accused of siding with countries that are opposing the Pacific nations proposal for a carbon levy for ships paying $US100 per tonne of CO2 they emit.
But during its intervention on Monday, Australia strongly supported calls for greater ambition.
It said the meeting needed to send an “unequivocal” message “to industry and the world” that the IMO is committed to respond to the climate crisis “with real urgency”.
Australia also said for the first time in its history, the IMO was at “serious risk of failing to deliver” and it “must do better”.