MCST – a project to build a Research Centre to empower Pacific transport decarbonization

What is the MCST?

MCST is a project to build and operate a Pacific country-owned and-focused world-class Centre of Excellence as a research engine to empower the long-term decarbonization of Pacific transport and the advocacy of the Pacific in related international fora and negotiations. Our vision is to provide high quality research and support to our island governments and communities and to be the vehicle of choice for research and provision of high-level scientific, technical and policy advice to RMI and regional governments on matters connected with national efforts to reduce emissions in the transport sector.

MCST is an advanced approach to decarbonization situating country and community at the center with external experts on-tap, not on-top, prioritizing long-term capacity development based on education and research and committed to a paradigm-level transition commensurate with a 1.5-degree agenda that recognizes the need for bespoke Pacific transport solutions.

MCST is primarily a knowledge portal and a network of leading researchers at home and globally committed to change through applied research and education. We seek to act catalytically. We draw inspiration from successful indigenous models of change agents such as the Parties to the Nauru Agreement and the Micronesian Conservation Trust. We operate on an ‘all willing partners welcome’ approach.


Despite transport being the region’s largest fuel user, in 2011 it was determined at regional level to prioritize renewable electricity generation as the ‘low hanging fruit’ and subsequently transport lagged significantly behind other energy sectors in priority, policy, investment, capacity development, education, training and research. This is irrational given transport is the region’s largest energy user and emitter and shipping, both domestic and international, our absolute lifeline. Over $2billion regionally has been allocated to electricity programs, a fraction on transport!

In 2012 Pacific researchers based at the University of the South Pacific, combined with leading researchers in the international academy and NGO community to fill the obvious education and research vacuum in this field. With shipping the region’s highest priority transport sector, this became the projects focus. The resultant network established under the Sustainable Sea Transport Research Program (SSTRP) with partners like the Manchester Tyndall Centre, University College London, Hochschule Emden Leer, and Columbia Law School became the nucleus of MCST’s extensive research capacity today.

Our work quickly became the focus of political rivalry within the regional architecture when it was picked up the then new Pacific Islands Development Forum as a regional priority, resulting in endless jostling over issues of mandate and access to donors and resources. Unfortunately, the deepening climate crisis means that a paradigm shift of unprecedented speed and scale is now needed to decarbonize the transport sectors of our economies in-line with a 1.5-degree agenda. We have consistently argued that this demands a bespoke prioritized long-term theory of change and resultant program of work. It will not be achieved by the existing model of uncoordinated donor-driven priorities and short-term pilot projects. It must be underpinned by a long-term foundation of education and applied research. To be effective it must be independent and networked with the best researchers globally.

In 2013 RMI hosted the PIF and delivered the Majuro Declaration on Climate Leadership. Taking positive note of the emerging academic discourse, RMI government became the first Pacific country to include transport emissions reduction targets in its national commitments.

In 2014 RMI requested USP to assist in establishing a country-based research center. The first step was to prepare the MCST Framework, a 15-year program of transition designed to act as catalyst for RMI with the successful lessons learnt cascading to neighboring countries. This Framework was subsequently adopted in 2015 as National Policy, lodged with the IMO as the first SIDS national action plan exemplar and endorsed by the Micronesian Presidents' Summit.

MCST is governed by a Board appointed by RMI Cabinet and co-chaired by the Ministers of Education and Transport with a dedicated secretariat and staff. Our research network now includes leading researchers at universities in Europe, UK, US and Australia as well as CMI, University of Fiji and Solomon Islands National University as well as government agencies in Australia, Korea, NZ and the UN. We provide direct support to Pacific countries (FIJ, KIR, RMI, NAU, SAM, SOL, TON, TUV, VAN) and also to other SIDS such as Belize, Seychelles, and LDCs in Africa. MCST was an inaugural member of the World Bank’s Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, the International Wind Ship Association, and the Global Maritime Forum.

MCST is self-funding via independent donors and through commercial contracts. We were originally administered under an MOA with USP, however the needs for transparency, speed and flexibility required of a Centre of Excellence of our nature, based in the north Pacific, proved beyond the capacity of this relationship and administration has since been moved to CMI. Given the international nature of much of our work and the lessons of Covid, our team now work largely remotely under a flat management structure with researchers based in RMI, Fiji, NZ, Vanuatu, Hawaii, London, Melbourne, Seoul and Copenhagen.

What MCST does

We are a knowledge portal and repository. Our website includes an online library of relevant reference material, latest science and breaking news across the sector, links to partners and other knowledge holders and databases and research programs.

We are an active research center, working with colleagues in Korea, UK, US, Australia and Europe on new technologies and designs as well as cutting-edge legal, economic and policy research. We designed the LCST project in 2016 being administered by GIZ now delivering new shipbuilds in Korea. We are working with Korean scientists to deliver OTEC and WIG technology at Pacific scale and with the governments of Samoa and Fiji on small vessel technologies. We have developed for RMI, Rebbelib2050 – the Pacific’s first national policy framework for transport decarbonization, as well as assisting Fiji and Tonga with their national policy development and we will do likewise in Samoa and Belize this year. We have designed and are developing the most ambitious carbon pricing mechanism for any sector at IMO.

We report regularly and transparently via our website, peer-reviewed journals and books and full reports to the MCST Board and Cabinet. We have a strong record of publication in leading journals co-authored with international researchers. We host regular Bwebwenato and webinars to disseminate information and invite debate.

Since 2014 we have provided full technical, policy, legal and logistics support to the ‘6PAC+’, the alliance of Pacific high ambition states negotiating international shipping decarbonization at IMO, where the Pacific has consistently demonstrated its capacity to be catalytic to driving a 1.5 agenda. This program is the most successful example of SIDS participation in IMO history.

We provide specialist research and advice to RMI and other States on request for all aspects of the transport decarbonization agenda.

We empower a future generation of Pacific researchers and seek to partner them with the best experts in the world.

We deliver results. Ours is proudly a country-driven, Pacific-centric and multi-partner approach. We have an established record of producing high quality outputs.

Historical timeline:

MCST HISTOGRAM 2012 - 2023

MCST IMO Relationship Map (2022)

Selected bibliography

Bullock, Simon, James Mason & Alice Larkin (2022) The urgent case for stronger climate targets for international shipping, Climate Policy, 22:3, 301-309, DOI: 10.1080/14693062.2021.1991876 Corbett, Jack, Mélodie Ruwet, Yi-Chong Xu & Patrick Weller (2020) Climate governance, policy entrepreneurs and small states: explaining policy change at the International Maritime Organisation, Environmental Politics, 29:5, 825-844, DOI: 10.1080/09644016.2019.1705057

Genz, Joseph H., Celia Bardwell-Jones, Makena Coffman, Darienne Dey, Axel Defngin, Richard Feinberg, Celeste Hao, Hetereki Huke, Tromainne Joab, Tarcisius Kabutaulaka, Alson Kelen, Patrick V. Kirch, Monica LaBriola, Setareki Ledua, Ian Masterson, Alexander Mawyer, Teoratuuaarii Morris, Jerolynn Myazoe, Peter Nuttall, Foley Pfalzgraf, H. Larry Raigetal, and Shania Tamagyongfal. 2023 Voyaging in the Pacific. Volume 8 of Teaching Oceania Series, edited by Joseph Genz. Honolulu: Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai'i–Mānoa. URI https://hdl.handle.net/10125/105330

Goundar, A., Newell, A., P. Nuttall, I. Rojon, and J. Samuwai, (2017) King Canute muses in the South Seas: Why aren’t Pacific Islands transitioning to low carbon sea transport futures? Marine Policy, 81. pp. 80- 90. ISSN 0308-597X

N A de Haan, M de Haas, D F Horstmeier, D Noffke, E P W Scherpenhuijsen Rom, A A Kana, I Akkerman, P Nuttall, A Irvin, (2022) Evaluation and Adaptions to the Greenheart Project zero-emission vessel for service in the Pacific Islands, Royal Institute of Naval Architects, 2022

Holland, E., P. Nuttall, A. Newell, B. Prasad, J. Veitayaki, A. Bola and J. Kaitu’u (2014) Connecting the Dots: Policy Connections between Pacific Island Shipping and Global Carbon Dioxide and Pollutant Emission Reduction, Carbon Management, 5(1) 93-105.

Mofor, L., Nuttall, P., and Newell, A., (2015) “Renewable Energy Options for Shipping: Technology Brief”. IRENA, Bonn.

Newell, A., Nuttall, P. and Holland, E. (2015) Sustainable Sea Transport for the Pacific Islands: The Obvious Way Forward. Brief for UN Global Sustainable Development Report 2015 https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/591456-AlisonNewell Sustainable%20sea%20transport%20for%20the%20Pacific.pdf

Newell, A., Nuttall, P., Prasad, B. and Veitayaki, J. (2016) Turning the Tide: the need for sustainable sea transport in the Pacific, Marine Policy http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2016.01.009i

Newell, A. and Nuttall, P. (2020) “Experience of Small Island Developing States in the Pacific: The coronavirus disease and Cyclone Harold: Lockdown in the Pacific” in Chapter 4 of Review of Maritime Transport 2020. UNCTAD. eISBN 978-92-1-005271-9 https://unctad.org/webflyer/review-maritime-transport-2020

Nuttall P. (2012) Steering a course for the future with sticks, stones, grass and a little sharkskin: The case for revitalisation of sail technology and sailing culture as a practical sea-transport response to climate change and fossil fuel dependence/supply issues in Fiji. Journal of Pacific Studies, 32:163-175.

Nuttall P., K. Ledua, A. Newell, P. Vunaki and C. Philps (2012) The Drua Files: a Report on the Collection and Recording of Cultural Knowledge of Drua and Associated Culture, June 2012. Report prepared for the Oceanic Centre of Art, Culture and Pacific Studies, USP.

Nuttall, P., A. Newell, B. Prasad, J. Veitayaki and E. Holland (2014) A review of sustainable sea transport for Oceania: Providing context for renewable energy shipping for the Pacific. Marine Policy , 43:283-287 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2013.06.009

Nuttall, P, Newell, A., Bola, A., et al (2014) Policy and financing—why is sea transport currently invisible in the search for a low carbon future for Pacific Island Countries? Front. Mar. Sci., 15 July 2014, doi:10.3389/fmars.2014.00020

Nuttall, P., D’Arcy, P., and Philp, C. (2014) “Waqa Tabu – sacred ships: the Fijian Drua”. International Journal of Maritime History (1-24) . doi:10.1177/0843871414542736

Nuttall, P. and Kaitu’u, J. (2016) The Magnus Effect and the Flettner Rotor: potential application for Oceanic Shipping, Journal of Pacific Studies. Vol 36, Issue 2 pp 161-182

Nuttall, P. and Veitayaki, J. (2015) “Oceania is vast, Canoe is centre, Village is anchor, Continent is margin”. In H.D. Smith, et al. (eds) Routledge Handbook of Ocean Resources Management. Earthscan Publications Ltd.

Nuttall, P., Vahs, M., Morshead, J. and Newell, A. (2016) “The case for field trialing and technology/knowledge transfer of emerging low carbon maritime technologies to Pacific Island Countries” in Burton, V. (Ed) Renewable Energy: Sources, Applications and Emerging Technologies (Hardcover Edition; Chapter 8 p.159-185) Nova Science Publishers.

Nuttall, P (2018) “La Pirogue, retour vers le future. Histoire et revitalisation du patrimoine maritime du pacifique” in De Olivier Chaline (Ed) Revue d'histoire maritime N° 25, (Chapter 4, pp 49-68) Presses University Paris-Sorbonne ISBN 979-10-231-0609-1 –

Nuttall, P. (2020) “Small islands with a strong voice: Why Pacific Islands are playing a critical role in the current shipping decarbonization debate”, Article No. 46 UNCTAD Transport and Trade Facilitation Newsletter N°85 - First Quarter 2020. https://unctad.org/news/small-islands-strong-voice-why-pacific-islands-are-playing-critical-role-current-shipping

Nuttall, P., Irvin, A., Newell, A., and Bordahandy, PJ. (2021) “To tax or not tax, the case for a 1.5oC carbon price on international shipping at IMO - perspectives from the climate most vulnerable nations”. Ocean Yearbook Online, 35(1), 173-209 doi:https://doi.org/10.1163/22116001_03501007l

Nuttall, P., Newell, A., Rojon, I., Milligan, B. and Irvin, A. (2021) “Pacific Island domestic shipping emissions abatement measures and technology transition pathways for selected ship types”, Marine Policy Volume 132, October 2021,https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2021.104704

Nuttall, P., Penny, S., George, M and S. Frain (2023) “Ancient Voyaging Capacity in the Pacific: Lessons for the Future” in The Cambridge History of the Pacific Ocean Vol I, Cambridge University Press, ISBN: 9781108539227

Prasad, B., J. Veitayaki, E. Holland, P. Nuttall, A. Newell, A. Bola and J. Kaitu’u (2013) Sustainable Sea Transport Research Programme: Toward a Research-based Programme of Investigation for Oceania. Journal of Pacific Studies 33:78-95.

UNCTAD (2016) Transitioning to Low Carbon Shipping Module – Sustainable Sea Transport Solutions for SIDS: Pacific Island Countries Case Studies. Online toolkit hosted by UNCTAD (Lead researcher and author). http://unctadsftportal.org/sftftoolkit/transitioningtolowcarbonshippingmodule/

Veitayaki, J., Nuttall P., and Chand P. (2021) “Living Climate Change Impacts in Pacific SIDS: Articulating the Pacific Way in an Unresponsive World”, Ocean Yearbook Online, 35(1), 239-269 https://doi.org/10.1163/22116001_03501007l

Government Maritime Policy (lead author/advisor)

  • Fiji Green Growth Framework, Maritime Transport Chapter, 2014
  • MCST Framework – RMI National Transport Decarbonisation Framework, 2015
  • Fiji Low Emissions Development Strategy, Maritime Transport Chapter, 2018
  • Rebbelib 2050 - RMI National Transport Decarbonisation Framework (revised) 2021
  • Tongan National Maritime Decarbonisation Framework (2023- awaiting Cabinet approval)
  • Transport Priority Project Pipelines – Fiji, Kiribati, Palau, Tuvalu (2021-22)

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