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A drama on the high seas: Are we watching?

Jun 22, 2022

This Op-Ed, for #Illuminem, is an outcome of my ‘research’ in connection with the recent #International Union of Marine Insurance (IUMI) event. While #shipping became a dominant catalyst of #globalisation, its reckless ways is wrecking the planetary health.

More than four-fifths of the international trade in goods is carried by sea. About nine out of 10 items are shipped halfway around the world on board some of the biggest and dirtiest machines on the planet. 

Like aviation, shipping is not covered by the Paris Agreement on climate change because of the international nature of the industry. “Instead, it is the job of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to negotiate a reduction in emissions from the industry.” Environmentalists blame the organisation for the industry’s slow response.

“The ocean has absorbed one third of the carbon we’ve produced and 93% of the extra heat being trapped inside the atmosphere by the extra blanket we’re wrapping around our planet. Marine species are migrating 10 times faster than species on land … and they’re also being affected by pollution, sewage, massive algae blooms from fertilizer runoff, and 14 million tons of plastic every year. Why aren’t we talking about what’s happening in the oceans more?” Says Katharine Hayhoe, Climate Scientist.

“The ocean is our greatest ally in our fight against the climate emergency”, remind Alex Rogers at REV Ocean and Steve Trent of the Environmental Justice Foundation.

The importance of ‘green carbon’ stored on land, such as in forests, is widely recognised by the public and governments and it is included in many commitments under the Paris Climate Accord.

However, blue carbon, the carbon stored in coastal and marine ecosystems, has not been fully recognised, even though the ocean is the largest active carbon sink and store in the earth’s system.

Carbon uptake and storage by marine ecosystems must now be considered in every aspect of ocean management, from coastal development to fisheries management and shipping.

Even “If we become carbon neutral tomorrow, atmospheric carbon dioxide will still pass 500ppm, and oceanic pH will drop below 7.95 and all carbonate base life including coral reefs will dissolve within 25 years.We could survive climate change, we will not survive the loss of marine life and the Ocean Drifters upon which Life on Earth depends’’, warns Dr. Howard Dryden.

Can the IMO live up to the responsibility vested on it or will it succumb to the alleged corporate capture? Will marine insurers demonstrate leadership as general insurers and reinsurers struggle making up their mind? Would attempts at invoking #ESG be just lip service? Can Poseidon Principles navigate the shipping industry out of the dire straits?

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