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The Marshall Island’s Momentum-Changing Proposal for Shipping Carbon Emissions

A large cargo ship full of shipping containers sailing into port. Photo:

A large cargo ship full of shipping containers sailing into port. Photo: CC BY 3.0

This article is based on a piece written by Aaron Packard for, an organisation building a global climate movement, and is republished on Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement.

UPDATE: The International Maritime Organisation shelved the Marshall Islands’ proposal on May 13 after it failed to win much support among member states.

This week as the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) meets in London, they’ll be considering a proposal from the Republic of the Marshall Islands calling for a binding global reduction target on shipping carbon emissions. After years of slow movement on reducing shipping emissions, the proposal brings new momentum at a critical time.

The Marshall Islands is in a curious position of on the one hand being the holder of the world’s third largest shipping registry, and on the other hand being at very real risk from the unchecked emissions of shipping. Foreign Minister Tony de Brum highlighted this in a statement:

We are an island nation and shipping is one of our lifelines. At the same time, carbon emissions, including those from shipping, pose an existential threat to our people and our country.

Since 1990, shipping emissions have increased by approximately 70%, and in 2012, represented 2.7% of global CO2 emissions. If these emissions were reported as a country, maritime transport would rank between Japan and Germany on a table of CO2 emitters. Yet these emissions are not held accountable through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and predictions are that emissions will grow even more rapidly in coming decades if left unchecked. It has been left up to the IMO to make progress, which has been slow – as the infographic below from Transport & Environment, an umbrella group representing European environmental and sustainability organizations, highlights.


If the Marshall Islands proposal is adopted by the IMO this week, it would bring a crucial breakthrough for reducing shipping emissions, and beyond that, an important momentum builder as the world builds to the UN climate talks in Paris later this year.

  • Than Nguyen

    It’s great that there is greater emphasis on global reduction target on shipping carbon emissions. At a time when environmental matters are increasingly a more pressing responsibility for companies, and in the transport sector particularly, more and more firms are trying to find different ways to help customers improve their environmental footprint.
    Than Nguyen

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