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IMO climate strategy must be in line with 1.5°C temperature rise limit

Adopting IMO’s initial strategy is critical, but it must be an ambitious one, writes Marshall Islands president Hilda C Heine from the Bonn climate talks 

IF THE international shipping sector were a country, it would be the sixth largest climate polluter in the world — and its emissions are set to grow rapidly.

If we are to succeed in limiting global temperature increases to no more than 1.5°C, then ambitious climate action must be taken in all sectors. And the International Maritime Organization must play its full part in that.

I speak on behalf of the Marshall Islands, one of the most climate vulnerable nations on Earth, and also home of the world’s second largest shipping registry. My country is also greatly dependent on the shipping sector for food imports. I believe close to 90% of our food is imported from overseas, so we depend on shipping quite significantly.

In that capacity and context, I stress that ambitious climate action and sustainable growth of the shipping sector are both possible. And both are essential. Ambitious climate action can be taken in such a way that disproportionate impacts on states — in particular small island developing states and least developed countries — can be avoided or addressed.

I am proud that the Marshall Islands has been leading calls for action on international shipping.

And we are also leading domestically on transport emissions — we remain one of the very few countries to address shipping greenhouse gas emissions in our nationally determined contributions.

To achieve that determined contribution, with assistance from the University of the South Pacific and the German state development agency, we have already established the Micronesian Centre for Sustainable Sea Transport, and are working with our regional partners to develop the technologies that will enable our islands and atolls to enjoy a future of fossil-free, sustainable shipping.

The late, great, Tony de Brum, a Marshallese politician and government minister, spoke about both at the IMO in 2015, and at a similar side-event to this at the COP 21 climate talks in Paris. Two years later I am proud that we are taking forward his vision, and that many more are now paying attention to his visionary call to action.

And yet it is still to be heeded: the IMO urgently needs to adopt a vision and objective of reducing GHG emissions from international shipping to zero by 2050.

To do that it is critical that the initial strategy to be adopted by the IMO in the spring of 2018 ensures that ambitious measures are implemented in the short term. That means well before 2023. Doing so will enable the IMO to play its part in limiting global temperature increases to no more than 1.5°C. The difference between rises of 1.5° and 2° would be devastating for all of us, not just vulnerable countries like the Marshall Islands. 

Relevant technologies exist now. We can design policy measures that will decarbonise shipping at the same time as protecting economic interests. More work must be done on this and we are pleased to see that among the panel at the COP 23 talks currently taking place in Bonn we will hear further ideas, particularly on carbon pricing, and we very much look forward to the discussion.

At the same time we are very concerned that with limited negotiating time left to agree the IMO’s initial strategy, we are still far from consensus on an ambitious outcome that is consistent with the 1.5°C limit. Disappointingly little progress was made in the IMO on this issue last month.

We strongly urge all IMO countries to use the months between now and April 2018 to work hard to make progress towards consensus on all issues.

Let me reiterate — adopting the IMO’s initial strategy is critical, but it must be an ambitious strategy that is consistent with the 1.5°C limit. We will not accept anything less as an outcome.

 

Hilda C Heine is president of the Marshall Islands. She discussed maritime trade and emissions targets in a speech at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn.

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