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The Republic of the Marshall Islands’ (RMI) has launched a lacerating attack on the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) stance on climate change and refusal to challenge shipping emissions.

In particular, RMI foreign minister Tony de Brum singled out departing IMO secretary general Koji Sekimizu, labelling his attitude as “a danger to the planet”.

His comments came in reaction to a recent speech by Mr Sekimizu in Singapore, in which he argued that developing caps for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions or financial penalties for shipping companies was solely the responsibility of the IMO, and he resisted calls from outside the industry to introduce mandatory emission caps.

IMO secretary general Koji Sekimizu

IMO secretary general Koji Sekimizu


He was speaking in advance of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which is set to meet in Bonn and then in Paris as part of the COP21 meeting in December, and urged world leaders not to intervene in framing shipping legislation.

He said: “In the process leading up to the Paris meeting, world leaders might be tempted to consider specific measures aimed at reducing shipping’s overall contribution of CO2 emissions, such as an overall cap. Such measures would artificially limit the ability of shipping to meet the demand created by the world economy, or would unbalance the level playing field that the shipping industry needs for efficient operation, and therefore must be avoided.”

In May the RMI sent a high-level delegation, headed by Mr de Brum, to the IMO’s Maritime Environment Protection Committee annual meeting to call for a reduction in shipping greenhouse gas emissions “commensurate with maintaining a no more than 1.5 degree global warming threshold”, and requesting this form a key part of the IMO’s policy prior to the Paris meeting.

It was a request that fell on deaf ears – a depressing experience reported by The Loadstar at the time.

“Unfortunately, and after only the briefest of debates, the IMO determined not to grant the RMI request, citing the need to complete its work on agreeing a data collection, monitoring and evaluation process for shipping, and to consider the outcomes from COP21 in Paris,” Mr de Brum said this week.

Marshall Islands foreign minister Tony de Brum

Marshall Islands foreign minister Tony de Brum

He continued: “It is against this background, that RMI expresses great concern over the call by Mr Sekimizu for global leaders at COP21 not to intervene and not insist that the IMO now sets a clear and ambitious sector target for shipping. His call is not just a danger to the planet, but as the research points out, also to the shipping industry’s future prosperity and, therefore, the future stability of world trade.

“Of great alarm is the secretary general’s misuse, or at least misunderstanding, of the evidence-base on shipping and its GHG pollution.”

Mr de Brum further argued that “there is no evidence supporting a connection between IMO policy and reductions in GHG emissions”, and pointed to the IMO’s own forecasts which predict that shipping’s GHG emissions will rise by 50-250% between now and 2050, and that the sector will make up 6-15% of global GHG emissions then.

The position is complicated by the fact the RMI is the third-largest ship registry in the world, after Panama and Liberia, which means that thousands of vessels sailing under its flag are contributing to GHG emissions.

“If RMI acts alone and directs only its registry to take a firm stance on shipping emissions, it will simply achieve the demise of our registry. It requires the industry as a whole to make a collective paradigm shift. This will only happen if the IMO sets a firm target now for the industry to reduce its overall emissions profile,” Mr de Brum said.

And he expressed frustration that other major flag states had yet to join the campaign to curtail emissions – but most of his anger remained directed at the IMO executive.

“That the words of the third-largest shipping registry, with strong multilateral support in the IMO, was not enough to move the debate on targets forwards, and that the Secretary-General himself is so publicly communicating a contradictory message, raises serious questions about the organisation’s ability to take a balanced view on this topic,” he said.

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