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Looking ahead with optimism and realism - Shipping and the environment

6th City of London biennial meeting

November 9, 2010

6th City of London biennial meeting
Looking ahead with optimism and realism
Tuesday, 9 November 2010
Shipping and the environment
Keynote address by
E.E. Mitropoulos, Secretary-General, IMO

Chairman, dear Costas, Secretary-General Emeritus, fellow speakers, distinguished guests and media representatives, ladies and gentlemen,
 
It is, once again, a pleasure for me to speak at this biennial event, which has become something of a landmark in the City of London calendar. I trust you have found our facilities here at IMO Headquarters to your liking; my good friend Costas Grammenos has, as ever, organized a thought-provoking programme and I am delighted that we have been able to host such an august gathering.  Costas, congratulations on the success of the meeting and many thanks for your outstanding services to shipping.
 
This final session focuses on shipping and the environment – and aptly so, since, despite the current global economic downturn, it seems inevitable that, overall, demand for shipping services will continue to rise, over time, in line with the world’s population. In good times and bad, hundreds of millions of people all over the world rely on ships to transport the great multitude of commodities, fuel, foodstuffs, goods and products on which we all depend. The global economic outlook may currently be uncertain but one thing of which we can all be fairly sure is that, no matter how global markets may contract, expand or otherwise metamorphose, there will always be a demand for ships and shipping.
 
Yet, for many people shipping, together with the huge range of related activities in the maritime sector, does not register a particularly strong echo on their personal radar. The very nature of shipping makes it something of a “background” industry.  For most people, most of the time, ships are simply “out of sight and out of mind” – until, of course, an accident occurs and the world’s TV screens and newspapers are full of harrowing images of distressed wildlife and environmental damage.
 
Yet, despite this, shipping has a good story to tell with respect to the environment – about how it carries more than 90 per cent of world trade safely, securely, efficiently and at a fraction of the environmental impact and cost of any other mode of bulk transportation.
 
To serve effectively maritime trade on the one hand and safety, security and environmental concerns on the other, requires a fine balance to be achieved. IMO, in partnership with the shipping industry and in consultation with environmental groups, is charged with developing and maintaining an international regulatory framework that allows just such a balance to be achieved and maintained – a framework that is developed, debated and adopted, often in this very room, and within which efficient, clean, competitive and commercially successful shipping operations can take place.
 
Environmental issues have been high on the agendas of both IMO and the shipping industry for some time now; but that was not always the case. When the Convention establishing IMO was adopted in 1948, marine pollution was regarded as little more than a local problem. Some areas, notably those near ports and on major shipping routes, had experienced occasional oil pollution, but it was not generally thought of as a matter of international concern.
 
By the 1950s, world trade was growing and oil pollution was rising. When IMO became operational, in 1959, the big boom in international oil trade was just around the corner. Within less than two decades, the world tanker fleet had increased tenfold in tonnage and tankers themselves had grown in size by the same amount.  The gradual increase in the size of tankers, in particular, has been successfully reflected in the names successively used to denote them: from “supertankers”, when they passed the 47,000 deadweight tons mark; to “mammoth ships”, when they surpassed the 100,000 ton mark; to “giant tankers” at the range between 130,000 to 200,000 deadweight tons; to “Very Large Crude Carriers” for the above 200,000 deadweight ton ships; to, eventually, “Ultra Large Crude Carriers” for those exceeding 300,000 deadweight tons.
 
One result of all this was an alarming increase in pollution of the seas, especially oil pollution, which was caused not only by tanker accidents but also as a consequence of routine shipping operations, such as the cleaning of cargo tanks.
 
But it was the Torrey Canyon disaster of 1967 that focused the attention of the world on the real danger to the environment posed by the growth in tanker traffic. The Torrey Canyon ran aground while entering the English Channel and spilled her entire cargo of 120,000 tons of crude oil into the sea. This resulted in the biggest oil pollution incident ever recorded at that time, and raised serious questions about the adequacy of measures then in place to prevent oil pollution from ships.
 
IMO wasted no time embarking on a multi-faceted, ambitious programme of work, which gradually culminated successfully in the adoption, in 1973, of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, now known universally as MARPOL. Today, albeit much expanded, amended and updated, the MARPOL Convention remains the most important international treaty instrument covering the prevention of pollution by ships.
 
MARPOL has six separate annexes, which address all forms of vessel-source pollution; it sets out regulations dealing with pollution from ships by oil; by noxious liquid substances carried in bulk; by harmful substances carried by sea in packaged form; by sewage; by garbage; and with the prevention of air pollution from ships. There can be no doubt that, in conjunction with a variety of other measures, MARPOL has laid the foundation for substantial and continued reductions in pollution from ships and, this, despite a massive increase in world seaborne trade.
 
Looking beyond MARPOL, IMO’s work to regulate and control shipping’s environmental impact has, in recent years, covered a remarkably broad canvas, embracing everything from the topics I just mentioned to a number of other issues, such as the microscopic aquatic life-forms that can be transported around the world in ships’ ballast water and deposited in alien local ecosystems, where they can cause immense damage.
 
On this latter topic, our work led to the adoption, in February 2004, of the Ballast Water Management Convention, and is still continuing today. Another significant milestone for the protection of the marine environment was reached in March 2006, with the entry into force of the 1996 Protocol to the 1972 London Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, which provides a modern and comprehensive agreement on protecting the marine environment from dumping activities and whose parties are busy to consider such modern issues as ocean fertilization and capture and storage of carbon dioxide in sub-seabed geological formations. Other IMO, environment-related, conventions deal with issues such as the use of harmful anti-fouling paint on ships’ hulls; preparedness, response and co-operation in tackling pollution from oil and from hazardous and noxious substances; the right of States to intervene on the high seas to prevent, mitigate or eliminate danger to their coastlines from pollution following a maritime casualty; and ship recycling.

There is also a comprehensive regime in place to ensure proper compensation for the victims of oil pollution, which, again, was prompted by the Torrey Canyon disaster I mentioned before.
 
But, perhaps the most significant challenge to our environment today, is the preservation of the earth’s atmosphere. IMO and the shipping community at large have been working, and continue to do so, towards combating atmospheric pollution, as well as limiting or reducing emissions of greenhouse gases from ships.
Atmospheric pollution is addressed in Annex VI of MARPOL, which was adopted in 1997 and set, for the first time, limits on sulphur oxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from ships’ exhausts; prohibited deliberate emissions of ozone-depleting substances; and put a global cap on the sulphur content of fuel oil. In 2008, IMO adopted amendments to Annex VI, which entered into force in July of this year, providing for further reductions.
 
With regard to the emission of greenhouse gases from shipping, the Organization is in the final stages of developing a robust regime to regulate shipping at the global level.
 
Although international maritime transport is the most energy-efficient mode of mass transport and only a modest contributor to global CO2 emissions (2.7 per cent in 2007), further improvements in energy efficiency and emission reduction are being actively sought, since, as I said earlier on, sea transport is predicted to continue growing significantly, in line with world trade. IMO’s work on measures to enhance ships’ energy efficiency and thereby control and reduce GHG emissions has evolved and developed over several years. It consists of three distinct ‘building blocks’: technical and operational reduction measures, development of which is at a very advanced stage, and market-based measures, on which the Organization has also done a great deal of work and which are being pursued in accordance with a work plan set to culminate in 2011.
 
The control of GHGs from shipping has been a complex and difficult task from both a conceptual and a technical perspective and, in my view, there can be no denying that the development of technical and operational measures is a substantial achievement worthy of considerable praise.
 
But the political aspects of this issue have proved just as difficult, if not more so, for our Member States. How should these measures be applied, and to whom? Should they be mandatory or voluntary? If mandatory, should they be introduced as amendments to an existing instrument or form a new, stand-alone one? All of these questions have vexed the membership of IMO and it has not yet been possible for them to reach consensus on them. 
 
Making decisions by consensus has been the hallmark of IMO’s success and I am determined to continue my efforts to ensure that this happens in the case of GHG emissions as well – no matter how hard the challenge appears to be. 
 
In addressing the issue I draw confidence from my firm conviction that the industry and its regulators share common aims in this respect. This is a quest on which we are jointly embarked and in which success will produce a “win-win” situation. After all, improvements in vessel efficiency will result in lower fuel consumption, from which everybody benefits. I, therefore, feel encouraged that, even in this, we will be able to make a genuine difference. 
 
As I said last month at the opening session of our Marine Environment Protection Committee, “On climate change, the question we put to ourselves should not be what others should do about it and the planet.  It should rather be what we can, and should, do about it.  We are all in this together and, together, we should seek a successful way out.”  A note of caution here:  As I said, I feel very encouraged by the unequivocal, strong support of the industry. 
 
However, I do not want to see things happening that might turn the industry away from the work we are doing because of excessive, disproportionate measures that might end up with making shipping liable to “double taxation” or seeking a contribution from it not proportionate with its degree of responsibility in the world total of GHG emissions.
 
At the same time, we should together consider what action we should take to introduce in our regulatory regime any lessons we will be able to learn from the Montara offshore oil platform in Australian waters in August 2009 and the spill resulting from the Deepwater Horizon sinking in the Gulf of Mexico in April of this year; and, should we identify that there is a vacuum in the regime, to move to fill it without delay.
 
***
 
Ladies and gentlemen, there is today, quite rightly, a clamouring concern for our environment and a genuine fear that, if we do not change our ways right now, the damage we will inflict on our planet will render it incapable of sustaining – for future generations – the way of life we have grown accustomed to over the better part of the past century and the beginning of the new.
 
The environmental credentials of every country and every industry are now under sharper scrutiny than ever before. The pressure is mounting for every potential polluter, every user of energy and every conspicuous contributor to global warming and climate change to clean up their act and adopt greener practices. Shipping, quite rightly, is no exception to such scrutiny and pressure.
 
As the speakers you are about to hear will doubtless confirm, the maritime community as a whole (Governments and industry alike) is responding to current and emerging environmental challenges seriously, proactively and decisively, motivated by its own green agenda, its genuine and ever-present aspiration to serve the best interests of the marine and atmospheric environment and its own duty of care for the planet we inhabit and the seas and oceans that sustain us.
 
Let us put aside any partisan interests and think of what is in the best interests of all.  We cannot let our planet down and we do not have the right to harm the future of our children and their children.
 
Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you.