IMO fends off Marshall Islands call for reduction target

‘Any increase beyond 2 degrees is a death warrant for our countries,’ the foreign minister of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific, Tony de Brum, has warned after the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) sidelined his country’s plea for a global CO2 target for shipping.

De Brum spoke in person at the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) in London last month and called on shipping to play its role in the global effort to curb climate change. The Marshall Islands, which has the world’s third largest shipping registry, comprises low-lying atolls extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

While acknowledging that shipping is the most efficient form of transport, de Brum said at the meeting that projected growth in global shipping activity will wipe out any gains made by measures to improve efficiency.

But the IMO put off his appeal for a timeline to be set for establishing a sectoral emission reduction target for shipping, deciding instead that other business on the day was more important.

During the debate, many countries said they supported the Marshall Islands’ objective for shipping to contribute its fair share to cutting CO2 emissions. But none of them appeared willing to commit to an actual timeline to set a reduction target. Instead many stressed the importance of policies already agreed at the IMO and its current focus on getting a global ship fuel consumption data collection system underway as a first step toward reducing CO2 emissions.

Bill Hemmings, shipping programme manager with T&E, said: ‘How incredible! Pacific Island delegations confronted the IMO with the fundamental question as to its relevance on the gravest issue facing mankind. A simple Nyet took only 90 minutes but the world must continue to hold the shipping industry and IMO to account.’

John Maggs, senior policy advisor with Seas At Risk and president of the Clean Shipping Coalition, said: ‘The Marshall Islands, Vanuatu, and other small island Pacific states brought courage, clarity of purpose and the urgency of the climate change crisis to the IMO, perhaps for the first time. The failure of the IMO to grasp the significance of this moment and make an urgently needed step change in the pace of ship GHG emission reductions was shameful.’

This week countries’ representatives are meeting in Bonn, Germany to lay the groundwork for a climate deal in Paris in December. In a statement the EU’s delegation said it welcomed and supported the Marshall Islands’ proposal at the IMO and called for countries to submit proposals to the next MEPC to facilitate that discussion. It also called for endorsement at IMO of a data from maritime activities collection system as another step to address international maritime emissions.

Currently ships are responsible for over 3% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. If these emissions were reported as a country, maritime transport would be Europe’s eighth largest emitter. According to the latest IMO study on GHG emissions from ships, under a business-as-usual scenario, shipping could represent 10% of global GHG emissions by 2050.