Marshall Islands calls for cuts in shipping emissions

Most of the land in the Marshall Islands is no more than 1 meter above the high tide mark. As a result, the country is extremely vulnerable to rising sea levels. Photo: Erin Magee, AusAID/ BY

By 2050, greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping are expected to increase by up to 250 per cent, equivalent to between 6 and 14 per cent of total global emissions.

In a submission to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the Republic of the Marshall Islands, currently the world’s third largest shipping registry, has called for the setting of a new global target for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from international shipping, a growing sector currently left out of international climate negotiations.

Shipping currently contributes around three per cent of global GHG emissions, but the projected increase in emissions gives greatest cause for alarm. Under current policies, emissions are expected to increase by 50 to 250 per cent by 2050, which would be equivalent to between 6 and 14 per cent of total global emissions – roughly equivalent to the emissions of the entire European Union today. According to the Third IMO GHG Study, this would make it impossible to limit global warming to below 1.5 to 2 degrees.

The Marshall Islands, joined by over 100 other vulnerable nations, has long called for global warming to be limited to less than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. To achieve this goal, anthropogenic GHG emissions need to be phased down to near zero by mid-century, which will require significant emission reductions across all economic sectors.

Being host to the third largest independent shipping registry in the world – almost one in ten of the world’s fleet flies its flag – vessel fees are one of the nation’s few regular sources of income, together with tuna fishing licence fees and foreign aid.

For small island states, sea transport is essential for connectivity and all aspects of island life. But global emissions continue to rise, and current projections are for 3 to 4 degrees of global warming, which would produce enough sea-level rise to put the Marshall Islands and other low-lying countries and regions under water. The effects of climate change on the island countries of the Pacific are clearly evident, and for some, their very existence is under grave threat.

It is important that the international shipping sector keeps pace with the international momentum for climate action, and is not left behind as a major polluting sector while the rest of the world economy moves down an accelerating decarbonisation pathway.

The Marshall Islands’ submission to the IMO Marine Environmental Protection Committee’s 68th Session in London in May makes the case that it is time for the IMO to take ambitious and decisive action consistent with emissions trajectories that can avoid dangerous climate change.

Source: Press release of Republic of the Marshall Islands, 20 April 2015

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