In the eye of the Storm

On February 20 2016 Cyclone Winston roared across the island nation of Fiji wreaking havoc. Winston killed more than 40 people and flattened communities. 32000 homes were destroyed; 350000 people have been affected. Rebuilding is extra challenging because of the remoteness of many of the communities.

Increased frequency and intensity of storms is caused by the increase in global temperatures which in turn is caused, in the most part, by emissions created by us in developed countries. March 2016 broke the record for being the biggest monthly increase in temperatures. Climate change seriously threatens the very existence of Pacific Island nations so it is no surprise that the region is calling for urgent action

In May 2015, the Marshall Islands submitted a proposal calling for the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to establish a GHG emission reduction target for international shipping, consistent with keeping global warming below 1.5°C.  The paper was supported by 25 countries but the IMO postponed a decision pending the outcome of UN climate change talks in Paris.

Last December the world united behind the clear goal to ensure that global increase in temperatures do not exceed 2 degrees Celsius. The UN Paris Treaty went so far as to enshrine the more ambitious aim of keeping temperature rises to below 1.5oC. We are already seeing a global temperature increase of 1.15oC against pre-industrial figures.

With the Paris outcome abundantly clear, a number of countries have decided to revive the discussions at IMO’s upcoming meeting of its Marine Environment Protection Committee in London next week on setting a clear emissions target or "fair share" for shipping.

Without significant additional effort the shipping industry risks undermining the Paris Agreement which is critical the very existence of the Pacific Islands. And, ultimately, all of us.

Shipping has yet to be included in the climate Treaty but is coming under increasing pressure to commit to a ‘fair share’ carbon target. Under current policy, shipping’s CO2 emissions are expected to rise by 50-250% by 2050 whilst the Paris Agreement gives us the target of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by then. That gives little more than a ship’s economic working lifetime, around 30 years, to turn things around. There is simply no room for the sector’s currently expected 1.2-2.8 gigatonnes of carbon emissions in the fast approaching zero emission world.

All of this means any ship built today must be able to operate in the new low carbon world. Clear leadership from the IMO is essential to trigger the necessary technology shift.

Meanwhile in Fiji the traditional sailing vessel Uto ni Yalo has been put to work ferrying building materials, and essential supplies to remote islands throughout the region. Using local navigational, sailing and building skills, combined with the effort of the national Olympic team – the region produces some of the best weightlifters in the world - whose national gym was totally destroyed in the cyclone.

The community has rallied together, deploying old technology in new ways to solve an existential crisis.

The region has much to teach the developed world.