Global shipping is a big emitter, the industry must commit to drastic action before it is too late

METROany communities around the world have recently been confronted with the dangerous impacts of climate change and as world leaders prepare to meet in Glasgow for the COP26 summit, are examining what action needs to be taken.

But one of the world’s major global greenhouse gas emitters has long escaped global attention.

We in the Pacific, who have been bearing the brunt of the impacts of climate change for years, and are now fighting for our existence, urge decisive global action on one of the major global greenhouse gas emitters – maritime transportation.

Shipping must live up to the Paris Agreement and commit now to zero emissions by 2050, before it is too late.

Shipping has traditionally not received the attention it deserves when it comes to reducing global emissions. This is despite the fact that around 80% of global trade is transported across oceans on cargo vessels – currently powered by fossil fuels such as heavy fuel oil.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO), the United Nations agency in charge of regulating maritime transportation, estimates that shipping accounts for about 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions. But given the current growth rates and a lack of substantial efforts to decarbonise the sector, researchers warn that shipping could well represent up to 10% of all global emissions by 2050.

Last week three Pacific Island states – the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Kiribati and the Solomon Islands – officially asked the IMO to drastically scale up its ambition for decarbonising the shipping sector. Our joint resolution would commit the agency to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from global shipping to zero by 2050 at the latest.

Recommended by both the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the UN Secretariat, this target goes way beyond the IMO’s current goal of only halving shipping emissions by mid-century.

It would in fact for the first time align the shipping sector with achieving the 1.5C temperature goal of the Paris Agreement, which has been adopted by governments and businesses around the world. It would also send a strong, long-overdue signal to shipping companies worldwide that they must finally do their part in preventing a global climate disaster.

This is not the first time that the Marshall Islands has requested greater climate ambition at the IMO. En marzo 2021, with the support of the Solomon Islands, we proposed developing a carbon levy, under which all international shipping would be obliged to pay $100 per tonne of CO2 equivalent on all greenhouse gases emitted from 2025, with the levy amount increasing thereafter.

This would create a strong business case for moving away from fossil fuels towards new zero-carbon fuels, as well as raising funds to help address the obstacles in this transition, such as making sure new technologies and fuels are ready and available in time and ensuring an equitable transition for developing and climate-vulnerable countries.

Committing the IMO to zero emissions from shipping by 2050 is crucial for leading the decarbonisation of this major polluter and for safeguarding the future of our next generations.

Our proposal for a carbon levy will be discussed at the IMO during the next working group discussion on this topic in October, and then at the IMO’s 77th Marine Environment Protection Committee meeting in November. During the latter, delegates will also discuss the newly submitted resolution on zero-emissions shipping that is so existential for our region.

In a cruel irony, it is the most climate-vulnerable countries – which contribute very little to global warming – that suffer the most from its consequences. We and all our neighbours in the Pacific, like Fiji, Kiribati, Tonga, or the Solomon Islands, are seeing the gravest effects of climate change on the planet.

These include losses of coastal land to sea-level rise, cyclones of increasing intensity, longer periods of droughts, and significant losses of biodiversity and coral reefs. It is estimated that over the past five years cyclones and typhoons alone caused economic damages in our region ranging from 31% a 63% of GDP – not to mention the trauma and losses foisted upon our local communities.

Y ahora, we are moving closer towards a future where many of our islands and cultures may disappear entirely. According to the recent IPCC report, failing to meet the 1.5C temperature target will lead to a loss of whole countries – particularly in the Pacific region – due to sea-level rise. Taking decisive action now has become a matter of existential urgency for our region, with time running out fast.

We call on our partners around the world to stand in solidarity with the Pacific region and support our two proposals.

Many countries have already committed to zero emissions by 2050 and are urging more global climate ambition via the UN climate framework, the UNFCCC. Now is the time for these countries to also align the IMO and the shipping sector with these ambitions. It is the only way to prevent a total disaster for independent Pacific countries and for the entire planet.

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