US special climate envoy John Kerry has likened global decarbonisation efforts to D-Day, telling industry leaders they are in a unique, if intimidating, position in fighting an existential threat to humanity.

Giving the closing address at Nor-Shipping’s Ocean Leadership Conference on Tuesday, he said the International Maritime Organization’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) must pass more ambitious emissions cut targets at a meeting next month in London.

“Not a lot of people, public or private sector, get asked or are given the opportunity to bring a whole planet back from the brink. You are. We are,” he said.

“It’s a daunting task, I know it, but this is no ordinary moment, folks. The mission now is to get more serious. It’s to pick up the pace, to enhance global ambition, hold everyone accountable and to recognise the benefits of what comes with this transition.”

Beginning on 3 July, the MEPC will discuss moving its emissions-slashing goals from 50% by 2050 (from a 2008 baseline) to zero by 2050.

Several of the world’s largest economies favour the proposal, but pushback has come from developing countries that worry it will hamper their ability to grow.

Still, there is increasing optimism that the measure will pass. IMO secretary general Kitack Lim told TradeWinds on Monday that he expects “a good outcome” at the meeting.

At the Ocean Leadership Conference, Kerry said the threat facing humanity from global warming is similar to the threat posed by Nazi Germany during World War II.

Tuesday was the 79th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Nazi-occupied France, when tens of thousands of soldiers poured out of landing craft and onto the beaches at Normandy.

Fight for the future

“Obviously, the threat we face today is different in so many different ways, but make no mistake, just as that was a fight for the future as much as anything we’ve ever faced,” the former US secretary of state said.

“It depends on the choices we make. Right now is a decisive decade. Right now it has the potential to be more serious in its consequences if we don’t make the right choices.”

He said shipping is an important player in decarbonisation efforts, as it is the eighth-largest carbon emitter in the world.

“That’s why we’re here,” he said. “We can’t get the job done in terms of meeting the Paris targets of holding the earth’s temperature increase to 1.5C unless shipping is at the table in a big way.”

Kerry described shipping as the backbone of the global economy and the most globalised industry he could think of.

“This represents the greatest economic opportunity the world has experienced since the Industrial Revolution,” he said.