Feb 27, 2021 Last Updated 4:38 AM, Feb 26, 2021

Pacific Island nations risk being left behind in the race to decarbonise the shipping industry, despite leading the way on this issue at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

Dr Peter Nuttall, who is the Scientific and Technical Advisor for the Micronesian Center for Sustainable Transport at the University of the South Pacific, says change is happening at an almost “terrifying speed, it’s a global revolution” and the Pacific is not keeping up.

“Ten years ago when I started building this global research program, we were told there would be hydrogen engines by 2050; there are hydrogen ships today, there will be mainstream hydrogen ships operating by 2030. There will not be fossil fuel ships – that is the speed with which the industry and technology is moving. There is a huge risk we will get left behind, an enormous risk that we will get left behind.”

Shipping contributes some 3% of the world’s annual carbon emissions, and Dr Nuttall warns that the Pacific will be left paying carbon levies and fuel taxes if we can’t keep step with the transformation the industry is already undergoing.

Since 2015, the Marshall Islands has been leading a Pacific crusade at the IMO—emboldened by the fact that 12%  of the world’s ships sail under the Marshallese flag, and spurred by the vision of the late Marshallese foreign minister, Tony deBrum, to cut shipping emissions.

“I think they’ve done a brilliant job of displaying their leadership,” says Dr Nuttall. “They’ve used their leadership to coagulate a coalition of high ambition countries to really try and drive this agenda of decarbonisation at the IMO.”

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Departure Lounge

  • Feb 27, 2021
  • Published in June

Boarding pass

  • International Civil Aviation Organisation Secretary General Dr Fang Liuhas says regional cooperation will be critical to air transport recovery post COVID-19. “For your recoveries to be truly successful, your goal should be to assure not only your State’s local recovery, but also the recoveries of your neighbours and their neighbours,” Dr Liuhas told the Pacific Islands Directors General of Civil Aviation meeting. She cautioned countries against going-it-alone, noting that “if a common set of goals is not established among all the stakeholders being negatively impacted by COVID-19, the strength we normally derive from our diversity could quickly devolve into unhelpful duplication and inefficiencies.”
  • The International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicts airlines to lose $84.3 billion in 2020, with a net profit margin of -20 per cent. Revenues will fall 50%, down to $419 billion from the $838 billion seen in 2019. Next year, losses are expected to be cut to $15.8 billion as revenues rise to $598 billion. “Financially, 2020 will go down as the worst year in the history of aviation,” IATA says.
  • The future of Cook Islands government subsidies for Air New Zealand are under scrutiny reports the Cook Islands News. The government “underwrites” Air New Zealand’s return flights to Rarotonga at the cost of US$7.7 million annually. Since the COVID-19 shutdown these payments have been suspended. The original arrangement was to be in place until 2022.  Flights to Los Angeles and Sydney are also part of the deal.
  • Real Tonga Airlines is on the brink of bankruptcy says Tonga’s finance minister, Tevita Lavermaau. The airline owes lease fees for two aircraft provided by China to service domestic routes, as well as landing fees to the government. Minister Lavemaau claims the airline has been operating at a loss since it was established seven years ago. Owner Tevita Palu has asked for more support, telling Matangi Tonga that the government’s declaration that it would set up another airline is “ridiculous”.
  • Air Kiribati has resumed domestic flights, but using only its Twin Otter aircraft. The airline says all islands will be serviced by this flight.

For more transport news, get the June edition of Islands Business.

Rescue on the high seas

SAFETY concerns for inter-island travel in Vanuatu resurfaced last month after passengers on an inter-island ship in Vanuatu were rescued on the high seas after it developed engine trouble and sank. The LC Urata, a self-propelled landing craft was travelling from South Malekula to Port Vila when it encountered problems 25 nautical miles west of Emae in the early hours of 10 January.

Maritime authorities in Vanuatu said it was fortunate that another ship was in the vicinity when the incident happened. All 60 passengers on board and the 16 crew were safely rescued by the MV Young Blood, which was also on it’s way from South Malekula to Port Vila.

The captain of the MV Young Blood, Thompson Alick Enrel, told Islands Business that passengers were relieved when they showed up beside the sinking ship. The stern was submerged and passengers had boarded life rafts when rescuers arrived. All those rescued were disembarked safely when the MV Young Blood docked into Port Vila later that day. 

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DESPITE the passionate plea of a coalition of Pacific leaders, the world’s leading shipping organisation has failed to agree to urgently tackle the industry’s impact on climate change. After a two-week meeting in London last month,the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) agreed to cap emissions of sulphur from ships, which are a cause of air and sea pollution, but on greenhouse gases agreed only to some further monitoring and a fresh round of negotiations.

Campaigners across the world and in the Pacific have condemned the IMO’s lack of urgency on the issue. Potential measures to reduce greenhouse gases have been delayed to 2023, which campaigners said was too late. It was just as anticipated, a collision of the Pacific and the shipping world and sparks flew behind closed doors at the UN negotiations to deliver a climate deal for the industry. While the plea by the coalition of ministers and ambassadors from the the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Fiji, Vanuatu, Palau and the Solomon Islands won some support.it did not change the mindset of the 172-member IMO.

Their submission for the industry to make radical emissions cuts to align the sector’s emissions with a global target to limit warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels was supported by France and Belgium and other IMO member states including those from the EU, UK, Canada, Bangladesh, Bahamas, Scandinavia and NZ.

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WHILE US President Donald Trump has his head in sand on climate change, shipping cannot afford the same luxury and must act to cut back on greenhouse emissions. More importantly for governments and shipping companies in the Pacific, whose livelihoods depend on the people they serve, and whose lives depend on the actions they take to address this very real threat in the islands.

The outcome of the International Maritime Organization negotiations showed why Pacific island governments must stay focused on the issue of decarbonisation of the shipping industry. In the first two parts of this series, Pacific-based experts showed how island governments must adopt some lessons from our traditional past. Colin Philp, whose sail design powered the Na Mataisau, an inter-island ship in Fiji in the 1980s with a proven 30 per cent fuel savings record, said island governments must seek changes at home while waiting on the world to adjust.

“Whilst it is sad to hear that the IMO has not had the determination to make a serious commitment to reduce harmful emissions, we in the Pacific must not wait for international conventions or policy changes,” said Philp,now the president of the Uto Ni Yalo Trust, which advocates for a clean ocean and suatainable sea transportation

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