“IMO’s current panorama, perspective and global challenges”

Piracy is one the major challenges facing shipping globally

By Kitack Lim, IMO Secretary-General

On behalf of IMO, I would like to thank Mexico for its long and continuing commitment to the Organization, which befits a country with such a vibrant maritime transport infrastructure. Geography has given you the good fortune of two long coastlines, serving two of the world’s great oceans, and you have grasped this opportunity to establish maritime trade links with partners in every corner of the world.

Before I look at some of the key issues facing IMO in a bit more detail, I’d like to set the scene by talking in more general terms about the importance of shipping in the world today, and the wider importance that that confers on IMO’s work.

For me, one of the most important things to always remember is that billions of people all over the world rely on shipping in their everyday lives – even though they may not realize it. As the most cost-effective and fuel-efficient way to carry goods, shipping forms the backbone of world trade.

Shipping is, therefore, an essential component of any programme for future sustainable economic growth. But, at the same time, shipping itself needs to be sustainable – and this means shipping activities have to be balanced with the oceans’ capacity to remain healthy and diverse in the long term.

A major part of IMO’s role is to ensure that shipping continues to make its contribution to the global economy without upsetting that delicate balance. National governments all over the world have an obligation to create a regulatory framework that allows that to happen. And they do it through IMO. At IMO, governments turn that obligation into something more tangible. They turn it into a regulatory imperative.

Through IMO, the Organization’s Member States, civil society and the industry itself are working together to ensure that shipping makes a continued and strengthened contribution towards a green economy and sustainable growth.

And we can see the success of this process in the 50-plus international instruments adopted by IMO which, together, create a regulatory framework that ensures shipping is safe, secure and environment-friendly.

As an organization, IMO can be justifiably proud of its record of steering the industry, through regulation, to being ever safer, greener and cleaner. I won’t list all those achievements here – we simply do not have time – but just think of crude-oil washing, inert gas systems and double-hull construction for tankers; tight control of sewage and garbage discharges from all ships; all the myriad navigational rules that have so drastically reduced collisions and groundings – the list goes on.

More recently, IMO’s efforts have resulted in measures to reduce the levels of harmful sulphur, nitrogen and greenhouse gases in ships’ exhaust emissions are both hugely beneficial to the environment – which has to sustain the world’s growing population – and to human life and human health itself.

Let me turn now to some of these issues in more detail; and I’ll start with perhaps the two most important environment-related issues – reducing harmful emissions and dealing with invasive species.

One thing they have in common is that, despite a huge amount of progress, both represent “unfinished business”.

If we look at emissions first, it is important to remember that IMO has already developed and adopted a raft of measures designed to control emissions from the shipping sector. Thanks to IMO, international shipping was the first industry to be subject to global, mandatory, energy-efficiency measures designed to address greenhouse gas emissions.

But the work has continued and steps are being taken for further measures to be considered. The mandatory collection and reporting of fuel-oil consumption data for ships of 5,000 gross tonnage and above will provide a firm statistical basis for an objective, transparent and inclusive policy debate in the MEPC. And IMO Member States have told the world they will produce a comprehensive strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from ships, beginning with an initial strategy to be adopted next year.

Make no mistake, the whole world will be watching IMO next year, and looking for something of real substance, a strategy that will stand up to detailed and rigorous public scrutiny. Next year really will be a time when the world will expect the IMO Member States to deliver.

Still on emissions, let me once again underscore my appreciation for the IMO Member States’ decision to confirm 2020 as the implementation date for the compulsory reduction in the sulphur content of ships’ fuel-oil globally. This is something we can be really proud of as an Organization and an excellent example of IMO’s regulatory work having a profound and beneficial impact far beyond the shipping industry.

Moving to ballast water management, it was also a source of great encouragement that, in July, the MEPC was able to adopt a practical and pragmatic implementation schedule for ships to comply with the IMO Ballast Water Management Convention. The Convention will enter into force in just under three weeks’ time and, when it does, it will mark an important step towards the eradication of an issue that has been recognized as a major ecological threat for more than 30 years.

Greenhouse gas emissions, the sulphur content of ships fuel and ballast water management are just three recent examples of how IMO is responding to the challenges of environmental stewardship. You could also add to them the adoption of the Polar Code, our involvement with the Global Partnership for Marine Litter and our leadership role in projects like GloMEEP, GloFouling and the GMN initiative – all designed to help countries, particularly in the developing world, to build the capacity to tackle these vital issues for themselves.

Thanks to the opportunities afforded by new technology, shipping is on the brink of a new era. The technologies emerging around fuel and energy use, automation and vessel management, materials and construction and so many other areas, will lead to new generations of ships that bring substantial improvements in all areas that IMO regulates.

Indeed, I believe technology and the use of data hold the key to a safer and more sustainable future for shipping. This is also paramount for one of the core works of IMO: safety.

But technological advances present challenges as well as opportunities, so their introduction into the regulatory framework needs to be considered carefully. We need to balance the benefits against safety and security concerns, the impact on the environment and on international trade, the potential costs to the industry and, not least, their impact on personnel, both on board and ashore.

So how we incorporate new technology into the regulatory framework is a key issue for IMO. On the agenda of the Maritime Safety Committee, for example, you will find future-orientated items such as cyber security, e-navigation, the modernization of the maritime distress and safety communication as well as the rapidly emerging prospect of autonomous vessels.

On the latter, a major step was taken at last Maritime Safety Committee meeting when it was agreed to initiate a scoping exercise to determine how the safe, secure and environmentally sound operation of Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships might be introduced in IMO instruments whilst highlighting the need to take into consideration the human element aspects of any future regulation.

It is absolutely right and proper that IMO should take a proactive and leading role in these issues, given the rapid technological developments surrounding them that are so much in evidence today. Indeed, IMO regulations for shipping can provide a tangible focus for development of innovative, game-changing technical solutions. In response to IMO regulations, new technologies have already brought significant beneficial changes in the way ships are designed, constructed and operated, contributing to a more interconnected and efficient global supply chain.

And recently the philosophical shift away from prescriptive regulation in favour of goal-based standards will both encourage further innovation and, at the same time, ensure that ships are constructed so that, if properly maintained, they should remain safe for their entire economic life.

A significant milestone was also achieved at the last session of the Maritime Safety Committee when it was confirmed that the initial verification audit of ship construction rules for oil tankers and bulk carriers submitted by 12 classification societies had been successfully concluded. This completes the first step of concrete actions after several years of hard work towards the implementation of GBS rules that more suitable for technological development within the IMO regulatory framework.

One of the great strengths of IMO regulations regime is that they are global – and apply equally to all. This ensures that ships have to comply with the same rules and technical standards wherever in the world they operate and regardless of which flag they fly. If properly implemented, no one can gain an advantage, either by cutting corners or by imposing unilateral requirements.

Implementation is, of course, the responsibility of the IMO Member States; but the Secretariat plays its part, too, with mechanisms such as the Member State Audit Scheme and the extensive technical cooperation programme.

With its emphasis on assisting developing countries, IMO’s technical cooperation programme can be seen as central to the Organization’s response to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This Agenda calls for action by all countries to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development by 2030 worldwide – and the SDGs are seen as an opportunity to transform the world for the better and leave no one behind.

As part of the United Nations family, IMO is actively working towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the associated SDGs. Indeed, most of the elements of the 2030 Agenda will only be realized with a sustainable transport sector supporting world trade and facilitating global economy – and aspects of the Organization’s work can be linked to most of the individual SDGs.

With our newly developed Strategic Plan of the Organization, which is expected to be adopted at the next session of the IMO Assembly in November 2017, the IMO will be in a position to establish direct links between our strategic directions and tangible actions to demonstrate our contribution towards the implementation of the 2030 SDG agenda.

Which brings me back to where I started these remarks – to the billions of people all over the world who rely on a safe, secure and clean shipping industry. Shipping provides a dependable, low-cost means of transport, facilitating commerce and helping create prosperity among nations and peoples, thereby helping to lift people, all over the world, out of poverty.

And IMO helps ensure shipping is able to do this. IMO’s evolving global regulatory framework supports technological drive and encourages innovation which enables the industry to thrive while still serving society’s changing demands and expectations.

Being a speech delivered by Kitack Lim, IMO Secretary General in at a seminar in Mexico in August 22, 2017.

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