Greenpeace Australia Pacific BLOG

Why does the Marshall Islands serve the oil companies who drown us?

Posted on March 31, 2015 at 15:37 by Lagi Toribau

We have just seen the destruction caused by violent cyclone in Vanuatu. This is what climate change will bring us: storm surge, sea-level rise, polluted water supplies, and more extreme weather events such as droughts and tropical cyclones. Like Vanuatu, the Marshall Islands is particularly vulnerable to climate change. This is a drowning nation.

Majuro Attoll, Marshall islands, affected by sea level rise due to climate change. © Greenpeace / Steve Morgan

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) makes clear the extreme vulnerability of the Marshall Islands, pointing out that some Pacific atolls have recorded sea level raises 3 times the global average. Earlier IPCC reports pointed out that a 30-50 cm sea-level rise projected by 2050 would threaten low islands (like RMI), and that a 1 m rise by 2100 ‘would render some island countries uninhabitable’.

No wonder that RMI has taken a strong role in international negotiations to stop climate change. Foreign Minister Tony de Brum is a leading advocate for strong international action on climate change. There is even an important climate declaration named after the capital of RMI. The “Majuro Declaration” is a strong statement from the leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum on the need for urgent action. Tony de Brum has been strong moral voice calling big polluting nations to reduce the burning of fossil fuels that cause climate change.

Abandoned houses line the coast of Rita, Majuro, in the Marshall Islands. Families were forced to leave because of rising tides, environmental refugees from climate change. © Greenpeace / Tim Georgeson

In light of the existential threat of climate change to the Marshall Islands, it is surprising to learn that oil companies around the world are flying the flag of the Marshall Islands while extracting more oil to warm the planet. The Marshall Islands shipping registry is widely used by offshore oil industry. Just last September the registry sent out a press release titled ‘the Republic of the Marshall Islands is Offshore Flag of Choice’. A total of 183 drill ships and drill platforms sail under Marshall Islands flag, which is a substantial number compared to other registries.

One particular direction where oil rigs sailing under the flag of the Marshall Islands have been active is in the Arctic. As climate change warms the planet, the northern glaciers, ice caps, and sea ice are melting rapidly. This year we have witnessed the lowest amount of winter sea ice in the history of measurement. This is the ultimate warning for humankind to finally act on climate change. Unfortunately, for oil companies the melting Arctic is a business opportunity. Oil companies like Shell, Exxon, Chevron, ENI, and Norwegian Statoil want to pump ever more oil to warm the planet.

Right now there is an oil rig flying the flag of Marshall Islands heading towards Alaska, US to start Arctic exploratory drilling. Shell has rented an RMI-flagged rig called Polar Pioneer for 2015. Last year another oil rig under the Marshall Islands flag (Transocean Spitsbergen) drilled in Arctic Barents Sea.

Miriam Friedrich (23), Austria looking at the Shell's oil rig the Polar Pioneer from the bridge of the Esperanza. Six people from around the world are tailing Shell's Arctic oil rig on board the Greenpeace ship Esperanza. As ambassadors of a movement of millions, the six men and women want to expose Shell's reckless plans to drill in the remote Chukchi Sea in the Alaskan Arctic this summer. Esperanza is following Shell's oil rig the Polar Pioneer in transit across the Pacific on board the heavy lift vessel Blue Marlin.
Miriam Friedrich (23), Austria looking at the Shell’s oil rig the Polar Pioneer from the bridge of the Esperanza. Six people from around the world are tailing Shell’s Arctic oil rig on board the Greenpeace ship Esperanza. As ambassadors of a movement of millions, the six men and women want to expose Shell’s reckless plans to drill in the remote Chukchi Sea in the Alaskan Arctic this summer. Esperanza is following Shell’s oil rig the Polar Pioneer in transit across the Pacific on board the heavy lift vessel Blue Marlin.

The influential science journal Nature published an article earlier this year that specified and quantified the regions of the world where the oil, gas and coal must stay in the ground if we are to avoid dangerous climate change. The article concludes that ‘all Arctic resources should be classified as unburnable’. Going for Arctic oil means that we have no chance to keep climate change on levels that won’t drown Marshall Islands.

So while demanding action on international forums, the Marshall Islands should act also at home. RMI should not provide cheap shelter for oil drillers of the world under its flag of convenience. Oil drillers should be deflagged to save ourselves.

But to make the story even weirder: this is not all. The registry is providing Marshall Islands government with only minute income. The contribution was $1million a year for 10 long years (1995 – 2005) and doubled to $2million for five years (2005 – 2009) and incrementally increased since 2010 to $5million. The similar sized Liberian ship registry generates about $20m to the Liberian government.

The Marshall Islands shipping registry is the third largest in the world, with over 2000 vessels. Although the Trust Company of the Marshall Islands (TCMI) is based in the Marshall Islands, in practice the operation is run by International Registries Inc (IRI) based in Reston, Virginia, United States.

To be clear: a US-based company is making money operating the Marshall Islands shipping registry that is used to promote and conduct drilling operations in the Arctic and other seas of the world.  These actions will drown RMI.  Climate action starts at home, so if RMI is serious about stopping climate change, we need to get oil rigs and drill ships out of the RMI Shipping Registry. Now.

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Cyclone Pam: Before and after images of the destruction

Posted on March 30, 2015 at 13:48 by Rashini Suriyaarachchi

On March 13 and 14, Cyclone Pam tore through the island nations of Vanuatu, Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands. These aerial photos reveal the devastating impacts of Vanuatu’s worst natural disaster in memory.

Cyclone Pam - Vanuatu

Satellite image of Port Vila, Vanuatu, before (top image taken on March 1st 2014) and after the devastation caused by Cyclone Pam on March 14th 2015 (bottom image). © DigitalGlobe

Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu

Satellite image of Port Vila, Vanuatu, before (top image taken on March 1st 2014) and after the devastation caused by Cyclone Pam on March 14th 2015 (bottom image). © DigitalGlobe

Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu

Satellite image of Port Vila, Vanuatu, before (top image taken on May 17th 2013) and after the devastation caused by Cyclone Pam on March 14th 2015 (bottom image). © DigitalGlobe

Right now, our friends in the Pacific urgently need clean water, food, shelter and supplies. Some of the organisations helping to provide emergency assistance are: OxfamAustraliaAustralian Red Cross, UNICEF Australia, Save the Children Australia, and CARE Australia. If you can, please consider donating to help humanitarian workers on the ground respond to this crisis.

Have your say on Reef dumping here!

Posted on March 25, 2015 at 16:02 by Rashini Suriyaarachchi

Right now, there are some sinister plans underway for our Reef. Indian coal giant Adani is hoping to get approval to dredge in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area for their Carmichael megamine project. They wanted to dump all their spoil in the Marine Park, but people like you and I spoke out and forced the government to back down on dumping. But more needs to be done – help us keep the pressure on!

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Government unveils Reef 2050 plan: experts react

Posted on March 25, 2015 at 08:50 by Greenpeace Australia Pacific

Barbara Norman, University of Canberra; Iain McCalman, University of Sydney, and Terry Hughes, James Cook University

On Saturday the federal and Queensland governments released the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan, which outlines key measures to safeguard the Great Barrier Reef over the next 35 years.

The plan identifies targets and actions to protect the reef’s natural beauty and extraordinary wildlife as an internationally recognised World Heritage Area.

The plan addresses key threats to the reef identified in the 2014 Outlook Report by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, which found the overall outlook of the reef is poor and getting worse.

The greatest threats to the reef are climate change, coastal development, runoff, and some fishing.

Dumping of capital dredge spoil will be banned within the marine park and World Heritage Area, and dredging for new projects will be confined to established ports. However maintenance dredging will continue.



Established reef ports are Abbot Point; Gladstone; Hay Point and Mackay; and Townsville.
Queensland Government, Department of State Development, Infrastructure and Planning, CC BY

Sediment in runoff will be reduced to 50% below 2009 levels by 2025, and nitrogen by 80%.

On climate change, the plan cites the federal government’s A$2.55 billion Emissions Reduction Fund as the main tool for reducing Australia’s greenhouse emissions.

Overall, the plan projects funding of A$2 billion over 10 years, including A$200 million from the federal government (particularly A$40 million from the Reef Trust) and A$100 million from the Queensland government over five years.

Below, experts react to the new plan.


Barbara Norman, Foundation Chair, Urban and Regional Planning at University of Canberra

The Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan avoids the tough issues. The major omissions are a clear statement that protecting the environment is the first priority, a continuing absence of effective national action on climate change, and the continuing impact of coastal development and mining related infrastructure.

To illustrate, future “Masterplans” for the ports (Gladstone, Hay Point Mackay, Abbot Point and Townsville) will consider “operational, economic, environmental and social relationships as well as supply chains and surrounding land uses.”

Another example is that decision makers will have regard to a set of principles that include economic, social and environmental considerations. When push comes to shove a weak “having regard to” with no clear priorities is fraught with danger.

In contrast the Victorian Coastal Strategy 2014 sets a clear hierarchy of principles for decision makers placing protection of the environment first.

This approach is intentional because in coastal planning you are dealing with major vested interests and multiple stakeholders and the environment is most often the poor cousin in a decision making process that take a “balanced” approach.

The Queensland Government and the Commonwealth government need to make this clear commitment to the Great Barrier Reef in policy and law. A World Heritage Area deserves no less.

Terry Hughes, Federation Fellow, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University

The final plan is a disappointment because too much of it is business-as-usual. The recent decision by Minister Hunt to ban dumping of capital dredge spoil is a welcome step in the right direction, but there is no change to the amount of dredging per se, only where it can be dumped. For example, Townsville Port is still proposing to dredge 10 million cubic metres of material, which will likely kill off the few corals that still survive around Magnetic Island.

There are no restrictions proposed for dumping about 2 million cubic metres of maintenance dredge spoil each year from the major ports, either in the Marine Park or the coastal area of the World Heritage Area administered by Queensland.

The biggest omission in the plan is that it virtually ignores climate change, which is clearly the major ongoing threat to the reef. Perversely, the plan will be partially financed by offsets – effectively fines paid as a licence fee for environmental damage – from fossil fuel developments.

The government wants to have coal mines operating in 60 years’ time, and still hopes to have a healthy reef. The science says otherwise: either we plan to adequately protect the reef and transition away from fossil fuels, or we abandon the reef and develop the world’s largest thermal coal mines. We can’t possibly do both.

Iain McCalman, Professorial Fellow, Sydney Environment Institute, University of Sydney

I applaud the Australian Government’s plan to improve Great Barrier Reef water quality by reducing the pollution caused by sewage, chemical fertilisers and silt dumping. But when it comes to preserving the long-term health of the reef and its region, these policies go straight to the periphery of the matter.

Instituting such remedies while at the same time supporting massive increases in coal mining – with their attendant need for port expansions, channel dredging, and container ship congestion – seems bizarre at best. These much-trumpeted new water policies deliberately ignore the dire long-term threats to the reef that are contained in the now unutterable words “climate change”. They are akin to investing in cures for a patient’s skin diseases while ignoring their cancer symptoms.

The global warming and climate instability resulting from the greenhouse gases that we pump into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels will continue, with mounting frequency, to cause our reef waters both to warm and to acidify. Only a few degrees of water heat beyond normal turns reef-growing corals into bleached white skeletons; and the carbon dioxide-altered water chemistry also causes their limestone skeletons to dissolve gradually, as if immersed in carbonic acid.

If all this were not enough, more frequent and more ferocious cyclones – like the one that has just devastated Vanuatu – will bash the reef’s increasingly brittle skeletons to pieces. We might have cleaner waters, but we won’t have a reef.

No wonder our late great poet Judith Wright once wrote in exasperation that if the Barrier Reef could think, it would fear us. We offer gifts with one hand and wield clubs with the other.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

The Reef is fine – except it’s not

Posted on March 24, 2015 at 09:26 by Rashini Suriyaarachchi

The Australian government is running a PR campaign to convince the world that the Great Barrier Reef is fine – most recently inviting international journalists to take a guided tour of the Reef. With a 50% decline in coral cover since 1985, we reckon there are some important parts of the story they’re leaving out. Here’s what they’re not telling you about our Reef.

Right now, eyes from all around the world are turning to the Great Barrier Reef. In June this year, UNESCO will decide whether or not to place this natural treasure on its official ‘in danger’ list. This is the perfect moment for the Australian government to reject plans for destructive coal port expansions along the Reef. Instead, they’ve opted to launch a global public relations campaign to convince the world the Reef is just fine.

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Where in the world is all the water? 8 facts about coal and water

Posted on March 22, 2015 at 10:06 by Greenpeace Australia Pacific

Why do we so rarely talk about coal’s impact on already scarce water resources in Australia and around the world? This World Water Day, let’s take a good look at one of the most important questions facing the human population right now: Where is all the water? The global water crisis is the biggest looming Continue reading →

Sending the power of hope to Vanuatu

Posted on March 17, 2015 at 17:32 by Matisse Walkden-Brown

  Last week was a scary, sad and sickening wake-up call for many Pacific Islanders. Here at Greenpeace’s Pacific headquarters in Fiji, we were on full alert from Monday, as Cyclone Pam’s name began being muttered around the region. Water bottles were filled, phones and computers were charged, candles were bought, windows were locked and Continue reading →