Contrary to reports that the Cook Islands is strongly opposed to control of shipping emissions, Foreign Affairs director of UN and Treaties division Josh Mitchell says the country has always backed authorities leading the charge on the prevention and control of pollution from ships.
Recently website MarineLink.com carried a story saying that the strongest opposition to control of shipping emissions at a climate change debate in London in April, had come from the Cook Islands.
This, the article said, was in complete reversal of the Cook Islands’ position on climate change in Paris, and in opposition to many other Pacific Island countries at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).
However, Mitchell said the Cook Islands had been instrumental in establishing a landmark mandatory data collection system approved by Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC). Mitchell said the system required ships to record and report their fuel consumption, reflecting the organisation’s continuing commitment to climate change mitigation.
“The Cook Islands supported and lobbied extensively for agreement on a key submission by the Marshall Islands.
“It was eventually supported by a clear majority of member states who recognised that without the data, it would be impossible to assess, determine and achieve the further reductions that all members were committed to achieving from the shipping sector.
“The mandatory data collection system is intended to be the first in a three-phase process in which analysis of the data collected would provide the basis for an objective, transparent and inclusive policy debate in the MEPC.
“This would allow more informed decisions to be taken on what further measures would be needed to enhance energy efficiency and address greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping. If so, proposed policy options would then be considered.”
Mitchell said this successful outcome had been undermined by a deliberate campaign by a group of NGOs, under the banner of the “Clean Seas Coalition to marginalise the efforts of the IMO.
He claimed as part of their “campaign,” the group was attempting to isolate the Cook Islands through media reports which grossly misrepresented the IMO’s position and harmed the reputation of the Cook Islands.
Mitchell said the NGO coalition was made up largely of European NGOs but with links to the Pacific through the Pacific Islands Development Forum and the University of the South Pacific).
“This NGO collective sees the IMO as out of step with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement and wants to see more immediate steps taken to curb emissions.
“The problem is that successful though the Paris Agreement was, it is still largely dependent on countries’ individual contributions.
“This will take considerable time to achieve.
“To effectively estimate an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution, a country needs data in order to properly assess how best to respond to the problem, and then set targets.”
Mitchell said the NGO coalition was advocating for the IMO to move straight to setting targets and not suggesting what these should be and more importantly, what the response would be to try and limit to any such hypothetical target.
“One such important principle left out of the discussion is the UNFCCC principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, which means developing countries including Small Islands Developing States, are given special consideration when setting and achieving target emission levels.
“The IMO on the other hand, has a strict principle of ‘No more favourable treatment’, so what action applies to one, must apply to all.
“This means any agreed measures would strictly apply to the Cook Islands along every other state. Certain countries and NGOs see the answer to limiting emissions as being through ‘market based measures’, which effectively are the imposition of ‘green levies.’ which would be in this case applicable to shipping.”
Mitchell said any levies would ultimately be passed on to consumers/countries which depended almost exclusively on shipping imports.
The Cook Islands could find itself paying the cost of such levies in precisely the same way as had been proposed in the aviation sector.
“In its campaign, the NGO deliberately singled out and attacked the Cook Islands with various false and misleading statements, and suggested that its position at IMO with respect to the UNFCC/Climate Change was inconsistent and somehow disconnected,” Mitchell said.
“The Cook Islands has been the victim of a grossly unfair and manipulative slander campaign which has deliberately misrepresented its position.
“We believe our position, in both the UNFCC/Climate change arena and the IMO, has been entirely consistent.
“The Cook Islands supports real, practical and implementable solutions to tackle emissions in the shipping sector, which does not unfairly penalise small island developing states.
“However because this position does not suit a particular narrative, the Cook Islands is targeted and made the victim of subsequent bullying and manipulation through the media.”