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Marshall Islands environment minister David Paul has urged the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to issue a clear signal that it will take action against climate change ahead of its key environmental meeting this week.
Mr Paul described claims that climate action would dent economic growth in the shipping sector as “completely and utterly false”.
“In the next days, the IMO will determine whether Marshallese children born today will have the chance of a secure and prosperous life or will have to leave the land of their ancestors and set sail across the oceans to an uncertain future,” said Mr Paul.
“This is scientific fact. If the shipping sector were a country, it would already be the world’s sixth largest climate polluter.”
Responsible for around 3% of global emissions, the shipping sector could see this share increase with the IMO estimating a 250% increase in shipping emissions by 2050 if action is not taken.
Instead, Mr Paul said the sector needed to reach peak emissions by 2020 and then rapidly decline if it was to have “any hope” of staying within the Paris Agreement temperature limits.
“The technologies exist now to allow shipping to transition to clean and sustainable growth,” Mr Paul continued.
“Industry has clearly stated it wants to act, and so do shipping customers; they need a clear policy signal from this body to do so.”
His comments come as the IMO gathers in London for the 72nd session of the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC).
The event is due to culminate in the UN body unveiling its strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), although there are fears this will fail to meet the Paris requirements.
In a position paper, the Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF) expressed concern the IMO would fail to confirm emission caps in line with a 1.5-degree global temperature rise.
“It is not expected a hard 1.5 degrees “line” will receive much, if any, support at MEPC 72 and that a compromise position will need to be considered,” said the paper.
“At a minimum any compromise must protect the possibility of achieving 1.5 degrees C and the Paris Agreement goal of ‘pursuing efforts’.”
New Zealand’s associate minister for transport Julie Anne Genter additionally called on the IMO to be “ambitious” and implement appropriate measures.
“With end of the negotiations imminent, we urge the IMO not to miss the opportunity to adopt a workable and effective strategy to bring rising GHGs from shipping under control,” said Ms Genter.
“The IMO strategy needs to be implemented as soon as possible and it needs to apply to all IMO member states and all ships equally, regardless of which state a ship is registered in.”
The Marshall Islands is the world’s third largest ship registry – only slightly behind second-placed Liberia – with Mr Paul describing the country as “totally reliant” on shipping for trade.
He said he “doubted” any country had as great an interest in the MEPC outcome, restating that a trade off between climate action and sustainable economic growth of shipping was “false”.
Despite this, the IMO’s initial strategy still contains provisions that disproportionate negative economic impacts had to be identified and addressed before implementing measures to tackle climate change.
“We are willing to work with all countries to improve the text, but I have to be clear we’ll very publicly dissociate from an outcome that does not contain an explicit quantified level of ambition consistent with a possibility of achieving the Paris Agreement temperature goals,” he continued.
“I will not go home to my children, and my country’s children, endorsing an outcome from the IMO that fails to face up to the greatest threat of the century.”