Why Global Shipping Industry Must Climb Aboard Paris Climate Pact

Latin American states, as major sea-trading nations that are also vulnerable to climate change, must act now to find ways to curb shipping pollution.

Sailing to Rio, Brazil
Sailing to Rio, Brazil
José Manuel Figueres*


BUENOS AIRES The boom in renewable energy is creating economic opportunities for countries across the world — now, it must also be extended to our oceans.

Shipping is the last major global industry that needs to be brought into the fold on energy transition. If it were a country, its greenhouse gas emissions would be comparable to Germany's and the sixth highest in the world. But in contrast with Germany, sea transportation remains outside the Paris Accords and its emissions may keep rising for decades.

We currently have the option of fighting some of the easier battles, like publishing efficiency data for ships in the market, to help channel private investment toward more efficient vessels. That would save billions of dollars in fuel costs each year and substantially cut the sector's emissions.

Speed limits are another simple way for the sector to curb pollution, and again, save billions in fuel costs. Similarly, decarbonization through greater use of new, wind-power technologies could bring major benefits.

Adopting these practices would require regulatory action and new financial mechanisms, especially for developing countries.

Battery technology is advancing in areas like short circuits and internal navigation, but decarbonizing the entire maritime fleet would require massive investment in low-emission or zero-emission fuels like hydrogen, ammonia, and biofuels.

Adopting these practices would require regulatory action and new financial mechanisms, especially for developing countries.

When an industry spends more than $100 billion a year on fuel, even a 1% tax on petrol purchases could generate substantial funds for research on renewable propulsion technologies while keeping the money inside the sector. Many shipowners would welcome the availability of a massive fund for clean energy innovation, while it could also provide compensations for developing countries hard-pressed to meet the costs of energy transition.

Photo: Andres Perez Moreno/ZUMA

These are countries that need greater access to clean shipping technology. In Latin America, wind and solar energy are growing at a remarkable rate, so why not use some of the excess energy generated to produce hydrogen for ships or charge grid batteries? Why not use existing hydroelectric energy to produce ammonia-based fuels?

The French firm Engie is considering investing in hydrogen production where solar energy is cheapest, and one of the places it has cited is the Atacama desert in Chile, where the company could produce hydrogen on an industrial scale.

Brazil has competitive advantages in biofuels that could help national ethanol producers currently facing difficult times, by expanding the market into marine fuels.

As businesses, shipping firms' decisions on the type of fuel they must use must make financial sense. The price of renewable fuels like hydrogen ultimately depends on the price of the electricity used to produce it, and that is plummeting worldwide — and especially in Latin American markets where renewable energy is potentially abundant.

This requires them to act in unison.

In shipping like other industries, it would be imprudent to base business models on the belief that fossil fuels will remain the cheapest fuel option forever. Many carbon companies have already learned this the hard way, through bankruptcy. As ships tend to last 25 years or so before being scrapped, shipbuilders must now take climate change into account.

Latin American states are both united in their deep dependence on maritime trade and their exposure to the dangers of climate change. This requires them to act in unison. We need to show the same leadership talking about this issue as the Marshall Islands and other Pacific nations, and push just one shipping objective in line with the Paris accords: a 70-100% reduction in greenhouse emissions by 2050.

The only way to do this is through a secure regulatory framework that becomes an incentive to decarbonize the merchant fleet. This month's Marine Environment Protection Committee's meeting in London was a good opportunity to find this common strategy.

I would urge all Latin American nations to act together to send shipping on the sustainable route, for anything less is to jeopardize the Paris climate accord and the health and sustenance of our citizens.

*José Manuel Figueres is a former president of Costa Rica.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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