By Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organisation, Kitack Lim

INTERNATIONAL TRADE AMONG the nations and regions of the world is nothing new. Indeed, the history of the world is one of exploration and trade by sea.

As the world became more developed, proximity to raw materials and to markets began to shape the world’s economy and the major trade patterns and shipping routes.

Eventually, the great seaborne trades became established: grain, coal, iron ore, oil, and, in the mid-twentieth century, containerised goods.

Today, international trade has evolved to the point where almost no nation can be fully self sufficient. Every country has to sell what it produces and acquire what it lacks: none can be dependent only on its domestic resources.

International shipping transports more than 80 per cent of global trade to peoples and communities all over the world. Shipping is the most efficient and cost-effective method of international transportation for most goods; it provides a dependable, low-cost means of transporting goods globally, facilitating commerce and helping to create prosperity.

The world relies on a safe, secure and efficient international shipping industry – and this is provided by the regulatory framework developed and maintained by IMO.

Based here in London, IMO is a specialised agency of the United Nations. We are the global standard-setting authority for the safety, security, environmental performance and facilitation of international shipping. Our main role is to create a regulatory framework for the shipping industry that is fair and effective, universally adopted and implemented.

IMO has regulated the safety, security and environmental aspects of international shipping for the past 60 years. More than 50 international instruments adopted by IMO cover all aspects of international shipping – including ship design, construction, equipment, crewing, navigation, operation and disposal.

IMO measures are developed and adopted by its Member States, who are served in this respect by the Secretariat, made up of international civil servants. The Member States send their representatives, in many cases maritime attachés or similar appointees from their diplomatic representation in London, to a series of technical meetings held throughout year. It is here that the detailed work is done, to establish universal standards for shipping and ensure they are kept up to date.

Complying with IMO standards can be challenging for the shipping industry. But nothing truly worthwhile is ever easy. IMO’s greatest achievement has been to create a level playing field, through global regulations uniformly implemented, so that ship operators cannot simply cut corners.

As part of the United Nations family, IMO is actively working towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the associated Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Indeed, most of the elements of the 2030 Agenda will only be realised with a sustainable transport sector supporting world trade and facilitating the global economy.

While SDG 14, which deals with the oceans, is central to IMO’s remit, aspects of the Organisation’s work can be linked to all individual SDGs – addressing climate change, dealing with bio-diversity, creating decent work and helping to support sustainable communities are just a few examples.

SDG 5, concerning gender equality, is particularly important for us this year, as it underlies our 2019 World Maritime Day theme – empowering women in the maritime community. IMO has been running a highly successful campaign to promote women in the maritime sector for more than 30 years. Of course, much more work remains, and it needs the whole of the maritime community, including IMO’s Member States and the maritime industries, to come together and commit to ensuring that women truly are empowered.

I should also mention the Organisation’s work to help deliver SDG 13, on climate action. Tackling climate change is a key element of IMO’s strategic plan for the period to 2023. In 2013, shipping became the first global industry to be subjected to legally-binding energy efficiency requirements, when IMO regulations for both new and existing ships entered into force.

And in 2018 IMO adopted an initial strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping. This means Member States have now committed to a complete phase-out of GHG emissions from ships, a specific linkage to the Paris Agreement, and clear levels of ambition – including at least a 50 per cent cut in emissions from the sector by 2050.

I cannot stress enough how important IMO’s working mechanisms are in political and diplomatic terms. IMO cannot simply issue directives. It needs to bring its Member States together in consensus.

When an organisation has more than 170 Member States with a wide range of shared and differing viewpoints, this is not easy to achieve. But that is exactly what regularly happens at IMO, and all those involved deserve great credit.

These achievements would not be possible without the diplomatic community in London. The Member State representatives drive IMO’s meetings and processes by providing a permanent link between the IMO and Member Governments situated all across the world. IMO would not be able to make that much progress on major policy issues without the countless formal and informal gatherings of diplomats that happen at IMO between the official IMO meetings.

The importance of cooperation between IMO and the diplomatic community has been highlighted by having been bestowed with the Diplomatmagazine 2018 Award for Distinguished Contribution to Diplomacy in London. Receiving this fantastic award, which was voted on by the diplomatic community in London, confirmed IMO’s respected standing within this community. Knowing that the diplomatic community firmly stands behind its mission and vision encourages IMO to continue to work on the future trends, developments and challenges that will affect the maritime community, and by extension the global community, in the years to come.

Through IMO, the Organisation’s Member States, civil society and the shipping industry are already working together to ensure shipping delivers a continued and strengthened contribution towards a green economy and growth in a sustainable manner. The promotion of sustainable shipping and sustainable maritime development is one of IMO’s major priorities.

The world is no longer prepared to accept services or industries that are simply cost effective. Society now demands them to be green and clean and energy-efficient – as well as safe, of course. Through IMO, governments ensure that shipping is responding to that challenge.

Shipping must meet the increasing demands of its customers, and of society as a whole, with regard to environmental performance. It must continually adjust to new expectations.

Energy efficiency, new technology and innovation, maritime education and training, maritime security, maritime traffic management and the development of the maritime infrastructure: the development and implementation, through IMO, of global standards covering these and other issues will underpin IMO’s commitment to provide the institutional framework necessary for a green and sustainable global maritime transportation system, a system fit for the future.

As an organisation, IMO can be justifiably proud of its record of steering the shipping industry, through regulation, to being ever safer, greener and cleaner – and sustainable.



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