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Ambassador Albon Ishoda, presidential special envoy for maritime decarbonization of the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
Ambassador Albon Ishoda, presidential special envoy for maritime decarbonization of the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
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By H.E. Albon Ishoda, presidential special envoy for maritime decarbonization of the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

Climate change is a daily reality for many around the world, but it hits small island states the hardest.

Rising sea levels are swallowing our land, acidic oceans are destroying our coral reefs, and extreme weather is tearing apart our homes.

These catastrophes are not our doing. Our contributions to global emissions are negligible compared to the wealthy nations and powerful industries that drive the crisis.

If we want our communities and cultures to survive, we must hold the biggest polluters accountable. 

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This is why we are calling on the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, who is meeting fellow small island leaders from across the world at the UN SIDS4 summit in Antigua and Barbuda on May 27-30, to join us in taking action on one of the biggest global emitters of all: the international shipping industry.

Our mission is to hold shipping accountable for its climate impacts by making it pay for its pollution, which would be the world’s first global greenhouse gas (GHG) price on any international industry. 

Ships, powered almost exclusively by fossil fuels, emit more GHG than all but the top five biggest economies worldwide. The industry is responsible for almost 1 billion tonnes of CO2 a year, which is around 3% of the global total.

Yet, shipping is essential for our islands, delivering food, medicine, and vital goods, and sustaining travel and tourism.

We need shipping to survive, but we need to make it sustainable—and fast. Luckily, this transition seems to be on its way.

Last year, small island developing states (SIDS) were instrumental in achieving a historic agreement at the UN’s climate shipping regulator, the UK-based International Maritime Organization (IMO), to make shipping zero-emission by 2050.

Now, as IMO member states negotiate the policies to realise this goal, SIDS are leading the charge for a binding GHG levy. The latest round of negotiations in March saw an overwhelming support for this mechanism, largely thanks to our Caribbean allies, making its adoption in less than a year seem inevitable.

However, the battle is far from over and the clock is ticking on getting the details of this crucial mechanism right.

A levy would require companies to pay a fee for every tonne of GHG emissions from their vessels, and in doing so, help match the price of currently cheap fossil fuels with clean, but more costly, energy.

At the same time, the mechanism would generate billions of dollars a year in funding as a by-product, which is needed for upgrading shipping to zero-emission and for improving climate resilience of our supply chains.

The revenue is vital for developing countries, and especially SIDS across the Caribbean and the Pacific, who depend on shipping but are already facing higher transport costs due to our location. 

This is why together with Belize, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu propose a levy with a starting price of at $150 per tonne of GHG. 

This is the only way we can provide a strong enough economic incentive to accelerate shipping’s clean energy transition, while generating sufficient revenues. 

We propose to use the revenue generated from the levy first and foremost for mitigation, adaptation and resilience of the maritime sector, by investing in research, development and uptake of zero-emission energy and solutions on new and existing fleets, particularly in SIDS and Least Developed Countries.

Improving climate resilience of ports, supply chains and trade infrastructures is another key area where the revenue could be a game-changer. The devastating drought in the Panama Canal is a stark example of shipping’s vulnerability to climate change and underscores the urgent need for action.

We also believe that the shipping revenue should support wider climate action and adaptation efforts.

While there are some concerns about the cost of shipping’s transition, the UN’s trade agency UNCTAD asserts that a GHG levy is a cost-effective solution compared to the future expenses of climate disruption. Investing in efficiency and digitalization can further mitigate these costs.

Moreover, the levy revenue itself could be deployed to cushion any impacts, through investments in digitalisation and better efficiency of vessels that lowers operational costs.

The March IMO talks sent a strong, positive signal: the Pacific and Caribbean Islands are prepared to lead the world towards making shipping pay for its pollution, through the world’s first universal GHG levy.

I urge my fellow SIDS leaders to use the upcoming UN summit to unite their voices on the IMO levy and design this policy in a way that benefits the peoples of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and those around the world that need it most.

The opinions presented in this content belong to the author and may not necessarily reflect the perspectives or editorial stance of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].