International shipping emits a similar amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere as Germany (4). The Marshall Islands is asking IMO member states to make sure that emission reductions from international shipping are consistent with efforts to keep global warming below 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels.
The UN climate talks, which are expected to deliver a global deal in December, cover all GHG emissions except those from international transport. These emissions are covered instead by the specialised UN shipping and aviation agencies: IMO for shipping and ICAO for aviation. Unless they introduce policies to reduce their members' emissions, they will keep growing and other sectors will have to make even steeper cuts in order to avoid dangerous climate change.
WWF-UK's Chief Adviser on climate change Dr Stephen Cornelius said: The Marshall Islands' leaders understand that they won't have an economy if their land is lost to climate change.
"UK and EU policymakers should back this call for international shipping to do its fair share in tackling carbon emissions.
"The new climate agreement in Paris in December must cover all major emissions sources and ensure that international aviation and shipping are working towards long-term science-based climate targets in a way that is fair for all countries."
James Beard WWF-UK's climate and energy policy officer said: "When it comes to reducing emissions, international transport has been let off the hook for too long.
"WWF is working hard to put a price on CO2 emissions in international aviation, but it's slow going. The Marshall Islands' proposal for shipping reflects the true level of ambition needed to tackle climate change. Let's hope it catalyses the action that's needed to prevent international transport emissions from busting our wider climate targets."
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(1) The IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee meets in London between Monday 11 May and Friday 15 May where they will discuss the Marshall Islands' call for a carbon target for international shipping.
(2) The Marshall Islands is among the low-lying island states that have been listed by the World Bank as most at risk from seal level rise due to climate change
Six Climate Threats, and the 12 Countries Most at Risk
All low-lying Island states
Source: World Bank
(3) Republic of Marshall Islands ranking as flag state for shipping
(4) In 2012, the GHG emissions from Germany and international shipping were both estimated to be 900-1,000MtCO2e.
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Background - courtesy of Republic of the Marshall Islands Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The Republic of 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 Celsius above pre-industrial levels. To achieve this goal, anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions need to be phased down to near zero by mid-Century, which will require significant emission reductions across all economic sectors.
At present, international shipping emissions are not addressed by negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) because countries have not been able to agree on how to allocate emissions among the countries involved. Only if the emissions were allocated could individual countries assume responsibility to reduce them pursuant to their emission reduction commitments under the UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol. As a result, the Parties to the UNFCCC have looked to the International Maritime Organization to take forward initiatives to reduce emissions from the global shipping sector. Initial efforts have focused on fuel efficiency standards for new ships and compulsory energy efficiency management plans for all ships. But recent studies have shown that such measures are insufficient to achieve reductions consistent with limiting global warming to below the globally agreed limit of 2 degrees Celsius, and that a clear overall target for the sector is needed to drive the necessary deeper emissions cuts.
Shipping currently contributes around two to three per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. If the shipping sector were a country, it would rank as an emitter on the scale of Germany or Japan. But the projected increase in emissions over time gives greatest cause for alarm. Under current policies, emissions are expected to increase by 50 to 250 percent by 2050, which would be equivalent to between 6 to 14 per cent of total global emissions - roughly equivalent to the emissions of the entire European Union today. While other sectors are looking to peak in 2020 and decline for the next 30 years, none of the "business as usual" scenarios for international shipping foresee a peak in shipping emissions before 2050. According to the 3rd IMO GHG Study, this would make a limit of global warming to below 1.5 unachievable.
RMI is host to the third largest independent shipping registry in the world - almost one in ten of the world's fleet flies the RMI flag and in 2016 they are expected to overtake Liberia and become the world's second largest registry. Vessel fees are one of the RMI Government's few regular sources of income, together with tuna fishing license 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.
In the months leading up to this December's UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, nations are being asked to make ambitious post-2020 commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Pacific island nations are joining this effort, building on the ambitious targets they put forward under the Majuro Declaration for Climate Leadership, which was the result of the 2013 Pacific Islands Forum Leaders' Meeting hosted in the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
Given its growing significance as a pollution source, 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. RMI's submission to the IMO Marine Environmental Protection Committee's 68th Session makes the case that it is time for the UN agency charged with regulation of international shipping to take ambitious and decisive action consistent with emissions trajectories that can avoid dangerous climate change.