Green shipping corridors must not strand island states

By Asela Peneueta, Government of Tuvalu | May 16, 2023

Tuvalu, along with other atoll nations, is amongst those most impacted by climate change and yet the least responsible for it, so we eagerly await action from the IMO to align the maritime sector with 1.5oC. Our very survival depends upon it, we are facing a reality where our entire country becomes uninhabitable within the next two to three decades.

We need urgent absolute reductions this decade. MEPC 80 will be the IMO’s last chance to commit to a 1.5oC commensurate agenda. We are highly dependent on boats to move between our islands, and on international ships for essential supplies such as food, fuel and medicines. For a maritime nation living at sea level, shipping is our lifeline.

‘Green corridors’ were promised at COP 26, to promote the reduction of GHG emissions through shifting to zero- and near-zero emission vessels and fuels and decarbonized ports. However, as ocean stakeholders, we need careful thought to ensure that green corridors contribute meaningfully to an equitable transition; benefiting everyone and not just the dominant trading and shipping nations. Otherwise, they will increase the inequality that already exists leaving some of us even further behind.

Island states are embracing decarbonisation

Tuvalu is committed to playing our part by decarbonizing our domestic fleet, even though it is miniscule when compared to most (we have five boats greater than 15m in length and a few hundred small canoes and punts owned by households).

Our Pacific neighbours, such as  Fiji, Kiribati, and Tonga, are also making a concerted effort to decarbonize their domestic fleets. For example, the Marshall Islands already operate a sailing cargo vessel and are investing in a new wind-assisted vessel, as well as building small sailing canoes. Our country-driven, bottom-up approaches to decarbonization are working – and with external finance can be accelerated. Significant increases in ship build costs have meant that investment in new innovation, such as wind assisted ships, is no longer viable, when judged on a purely economic basis. We won’t get ‘green corridors’ in our part of the world without deliberate inclusion and support, currently the economics is a major barrier.

Defining green corridors

The IMO should also be mindful that for us, the opportunity to benefit from this transition is limited. We have a total land area in Tuvalu of 26 square kilometres (6 atolls and 3 islands) spread over an area of 760,000 square kilometres of ocean. We are not going to be able to access the new green fuels which the major global shipping corporations are preparing to adopt.

We don’t own international ships – neither do our neighbours. Between 2014 and 2018 just over 1,400 international ships visited Tuvalu waters. The vast majority of the international ships that spend time in our waters are fishing boats or associated with the fishing industry. I would be really interested to know, how does the IMO see fishing fleets fitting in with the Green Corridor programme?

We have serious question marks around what green corridors are, the role they play in the overall international transition, but most importantly that question of equity. None of the green corridors announced to date have included Small Island Developing States (SIDS), with the exception of Singapore. In nearly all cases, green corridors connect developed and major economies.

We understand the market economic theory. We understand that the industry needs to be incentivised and first-movers are essential to powering up the transition and building demand for new fuel and technologies. But we also understand that our microstates with our huge negative trading imbalances – and as we already pay the highest shipping costs per capita in the world, we are not going to be those first-movers or technology-makers. So our question remains. Will we be left in port with spiralling fuel and import costs when the global fleet has all sailed off on green corridors?  Or will they be inclusive and include the technologies and approaches that work for us as well?

Charting an equitable course for Green Corridors

If green corridors are applied as a blunt instrument, Pacific islands, which have done everything possible to lead ambition, will pay the greatest cost.

To prevent this, green corridors need to be about more than the tons of CO2 reduced, although that is incredibly important. They need to be about building resilience of port infrastructure and the communities that surround them and keep them running. We need research and education, and upskilling and training for all involved, whether they be on shore or ship. We need to be supporting country-driven initiatives.

The key ‘take-home’ for me is that country-driven bottom-up approaches work, national plans are essential building blocks that green corridors could connect, and that external financing is vital for green corridors to be equitable for all.

Asela Peneueta, Assistant Secretary, Ministry of Communications & Transport, Government of Tuvalu articulated the points above at an event entitled ‘Advancing the implementation and Impact of Maritime Green Corridors’ held at Singapore Maritime Week. The event was co-hosted by the UN Climate Champions Team; Race to Zero Members – Bureau Veritas and Lloyd’s Register; plus delivery partners The Aspen Institute Decarbonisation Initiative; UN Foundation; Getting to Zero Coalition; and the Maersk-Mckinney Moller Center for Zero Carbon Shipping.

This article was first published by Business Green.

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