IMO and the Sustainable Development Goals


United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, 193 countries adopted 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 world-wide – 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 the global economy. IMO’s Technical Cooperation Committee has formally approved  linkages between the Organization’s technical assistance work and the SDGs.

While SDG 14 - Life below water - is central to IMO, aspects of the Organization's work can be linked to all individual SDGs, as can be seen below. Click here to download the IMO SDG brochure.

The Sustainable Development Goals provide a blueprint for the transition to a healthier planet and a more just world — for present and future generations. With concrete targets, the Goals aim to end poverty and hunger, expand access to health, education, justice and jobs, promote inclusive and sustained economic growth, while protecting our planet from environmental degradation.

Action for people and planet - United Nations High Level Week

The decade 2020-2030 needs to be a decade of action and delivery on these goals. In order to achieve this, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, has asked for all world leaders to focus on the Sustainable Development Goals.

The International Maritime Organization, in line with the IMO Secretariat's SDG Strategy, is working to further raise awareness of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals and to support Member States in their efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda and make 2020-2030 a decade of action.

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End poverty in all its forms everywhere

Billions of people all over the world rely on maritime transport in their everyday lives – even though they may not realise it. As the most cost-effective and fuel-efficient way to carry goods, shipping forms the backbone of world trade. It provides a dependable, low-cost means of transport, facilitating commerce and helping create prosperity among nations and peoples. By providing improved access to basic materials, goods and products, shipping is expected to help lift millions of people out of poverty.

Shipping is an essential component of any programme for future sustainable economic growth. Through IMO, the Organization’s Member States, civil society and the shipping industry are working together to ensure a continued and strengthened contribution towards a green economy and sustainable growth.

IMO is the global standard-setting authority for international shipping. It has adopted more than 50 international instruments which, together, create a regulatory framework that ensures shipping is safe, secure and environment-friendly.

End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture

Fish is a major source of nutrition globally, and IMO is working with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to address illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. IUU Fishing is a serious issue for the global fishing sector that impacts negatively on safety, on environmental issues, on conservation and on sustainability. In addition to harming fish populations, IUU fishing creates unfair market competition for – and threatens the livelihoods of – fishers who follow sustainable practices.

In a wider context, international shipping plays an essential role in the import and export of food all around the world, ensuring that growers, producers and consumers all have access to one another. IMO measures ensure that shipping is safe, secure and environment friendly.

Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

More than a billion people live in coastal areas and this number is set to increase sharply in the coming years. IMO's conventions and other instruments not only contribute to the reduction of shipping-related pollution in the wider oceans, but also in ports and coastal regions.

For example, atmospheric emissions from ships are strictly regulated globally; and, in addition, IMO has designated a number of Emission Control Areas in which more stringent rules apply.

1 January 2020 saw the implementation of a significant reduction in the sulphur content of fuel oil used by ships. This is having a beneficial impact on the environment and on human health, particularly that of people living in port cities and coastal communities, beyond the existing Emission Control Areas.

Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

In the maritime world, education and training are vital. But their importance extends far beyond shipping itself. The safety and security of life at sea, the protection of the marine environment and the efficient movement of global trade depend on the professionalism and competence of seafarers. IMO's International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) sets global standards of competence for seafarers and effective mechanisms for enforcing its provisions.

IMO also contributes to inclusive and high-quality education by providing training activities, in particular through its technical cooperation programmes and its global maritime training institutions – the World Maritime University (WMU) and the IMO International Maritime Law Institute (IMLI).

Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

Shipping has historically been a male-dominated industry and that tradition runs long and deep. However, IMO believes that empowering women fuels thriving economies, spurs productivity and growth, and benefits every stakeholder in the global maritime community. Through its Women in Maritime programme, IMO encourages its Member States to enable women to train alongside men in their maritime institutes and acquire the high-level of competence that the maritime industry demands.

IMO supports gender equality and the empowerment of women through gender specific fellowships; by facilitating access to high-level technical training for women in the maritime sector in developing countries; and by creating the environment in which women are identified and selected for career development opportunities in maritime administrations, ports and maritime training institutes.

Ensure access to water and sanitation for all

There is enough fresh water on the planet for everyone to have access to clean water. But due to bad economics or poor infrastructure, every year millions of people die from diseases associated with inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene. Effective management of waste disposal and dumping is vital if this goal is to be achieved; the London Convention and its Protocol regulate dumping and waste disposal at sea, a key component of the overall waste-management cycle.

Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

IMO contributes to international cooperation to facilitate access to clean energy research and technology, in particular energy-efficiency and advanced, cleaner fossil-fuel technology, and promotes investment in energy infrastructure and clean-energy technology.

IMO recognizes that developing countries, in particular LDCs and SIDS, have special needs with regard to capacity-building and technical cooperation. 

Relevant IMO initiatives supporting the reduction of GHG emissions from ships and clean energy include: 

  • the IMO Integrated Technical Cooperation Programme (ITCP); 

  • the voluntary multi-donor trust fund ("GHG TC-Trust Fund"); 

  • the Global Maritime Technologies Cooperation Centres (MTCC) Network (GMN) EU supported project; 

  • the Norway supported Green Voyage 2050 project; 

  • the GHG-SMART Programme and Future Fuels and Technology for Low- and Zero-carbon Shipping Projects (FFT project) supported by Republic of Korea; 

  • the UNDP-GEF GloFouling Partnerships project; 

  • the Norway supported TEST Biofouling (Transfer of Environmentally Sound Technologies) project; 

  • the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia-supported IMO CARES (Coordinated Actions to Reduce Emissions from Shipping) Foundation Project; 

  • the IMO-UNEP-Norway Innovation Forum; 

  • the IMO-EBRD-World Bank co-led Financing Sustainable Maritime Transport (FIN-SMART) Roundtable;

  • and the NextGEN (Green and Efficient Navigation) portal and NextGEN Connect projects. 

(Read more here on these initiatives).

Another key initiative is the GMN project, formally entitled "Capacity Building for Climate Mitigation in the Maritime Shipping Industry". This enables developing countries, especially Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS), in five target regions to effectively implement energy-efficiency measures through technical assistance, capacity building and promoting technical cooperation.

Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all

Today we all depend on seafarers for most of the things we take for granted in our everyday lives. Over one million seafarers operate the global fleet – they bring both the essentials and the luxuries of life to billions of people. Shipping is essential to the world – but there would be no shipping without seafarers.

A concern for seafarer welfare, both as employees and as individuals, can be seen in IMO's continuing work on issues such as fatigue, fair treatment and liability and compensation for seafarers – not to mention the annual Day of the Seafarer, celebrated each year on 25 June, when IMO campaigns globally to give wider recognition to seafarers.

IMO also cooperates with the International Labour Organization (ILO) to address various issues concerning health services and social security protection for seafarers.

Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation

Technological advances, such as autonomous ships and developments in the port sector, are key to building resilient infrastructure and central to the effective functioning of the whole transportation sector and, therefore, a major driver for the delivery of many SDGs. Ultimately, more efficient shipping, working in partnership with the port sector, will be a major driver towards global stability and sustainable development for the good of all people. IMO contributes to SDG 9 by providing a legal and regulatory framework, capacity-building initiatives and a forum for Member States to exchange knowledge and experience.

IMO regulations for shipping provide a tangible focus for innovators and technologists to develop innovative, game-changing technical solutions. In response to IMO regulations, new technologies have brought significant beneficial changes in the way ships are designed, constructed and operated, contributing to a more interconnected and efficient global supply chain.

Investment, growth and improvement in the shipping and ports sectors are clear indications of a country or a region that is enjoying success in the present and planning for more success in the future.

By promoting trade by sea, nurturing national shipping lines and promoting seafaring as a career; by improving port infrastructure and efficiency; by developing and strengthening inter-modal links and hinterland connections; by managing and protecting fisheries, exploring offshore energy production and even by fostering tourism – maritime activity can both drive and support a growing national economy.

Improved economic development, supported by sustainable maritime development and underpinned by good maritime security, supports the Post-2015 Development Agenda and complements United Nations initiatives by addressing some of the factors that lead to instability, insecurity and uncontrolled mixed migration.

Reduce inequality within and among countries

IMO contributes to SDG 10 by providing extensive technical cooperation assistance to developing countries. While the Organization adopts international shipping regulations, it is the responsibility of governments to implement those regulations. IMO's Integrated Technical Cooperation Programme (ITCP) is designed to assist governments which lack the technical knowledge and resources that are needed to operate a shipping industry safely and efficiently.

IMO's ITCP has a mission statement to "help developing countries improve their ability to comply with international rules and standards relating to maritime safety and the prevention and control of maritime pollution, giving priority to technical assistance programmes that focus on human resources development and institutional capacity-building."

Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

Sustainable cities and communities rely on a secure supply chain. IMO's work to enhance maritime safety and security helps protect the global logistical infrastructure.

For the connections between ships, port cities and the people who live in them to be safe, resilient and sustainable, they must also be secure. IMO helps its Member States enhance maritime security, focussing on what the civil maritime industry, embracing both the shipping and port sectors, can do to protect itself and to protect global maritime trade. The emphasis is on preventive security through risk management, deterrence and threat transfer, raising global standards and setting norms for the safety, security and efficiency of ports and for port and coastal State authorities

Through its work on the facilitation of international maritime traffic, IMO also has an interest in mixed migration by sea, preventing drug smuggling, cybersecurity and prevention of stowaways.

Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

IMO contributes to SDG 12 through the reduction of waste generation, both operational waste from ships (through the MARPOL Convention) and dumping of wastes under the London Convention and Protocol (LC/LP). For garbage and several other types of waste generated on board ships, MARPOL requires port States to provide adequate reception facilities for the safe and sound management of wastes.

IMO also works to enhance technical capacities in wastewater management on board ships and in ports, and to promote recycling, cleaner production technologies and more sustainable consumption patterns.

IMO's Hong Kong International Convention, which provides a framework for safe and environmentally sound recycling of ships themselves, will enter into force on 26 June 2025.

Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

Responding to climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our era and one which IMO is working hard to tackle. In its role as the global regulator of international shipping, IMO has developed a raft of measures designed to control greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the shipping sector.

IMO continues to contribute to the global fight against climate change, in support of the UN Sustainable Development Goal 13, to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

In July 2023, IMO Member States adopted the 2023 IMO Strategy on Reduction of GHG Emissions from Ships. It revised the 2018 initial IMO strategy, putting in place enhanced targets to tackle harmful emissions. 

Thanks to IMO, international shipping was the first global industry sector to be subject to mandatory, binding energy-efficiency regulations and standards designed to address GHG emissions throughout the industry.

Emissions from international shipping are regulated by Annex VI of IMO's MARPOL Convention. They cover air pollution, energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, the London Protocol addresses carbon capture and sequestration in subsea geological formations and marine geoengineering, such as ocean fertilization, which have great potential for climate change mitigation.

Combatting climate change will continue to be a vital strategic direction for IMO, both in the short and long term. IMO will continue to develop appropriate, ambitious and realistic solutions to minimize shipping’s contribution to air pollution and its impact on climate change.

Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development

Because international shipping takes place on the world's oceans, the work of IMO, which is responsible for measures to improve the safety and security of international shipping and to prevent pollution from ships, is integral to most, if not all, of the SDG 14 targets. To be sustainable, human 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.

IMO covers all aspects of international shipping – including ship design, construction, equipment, manning, operation and disposal – to ensure that this vital sector remains safe, environmentally sound, energy efficient and secure.

Implementing and enforcing the main conventions and regulations adopted by IMO Member States actively addresses marine pollution, mainly from sea-based sources but also, at least indirectly, from land‑based sources.

IMO also supports the targets for managing and protecting marine and coastal ecosystems, not least through the establishment of Special Areas and Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas. Protecting marine biodiversity has been a key theme for IMO for many years, most notably in its work to mitigate the threat of harmful invasive species being carried around the world by ships.

To help protect maritime wildlife, IMO's work includes reduction of underwater noise from ships and adopting measures to avoid collisions between ships and marine mammals. IMO has also banned the discharge of harmful litter from ships and is part of the Global Partnership on Marine Litter, while the dumping of wastes at sea is regulated by the 1972 Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, commonly called the London Convention, and its 1996 Protocol.

Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss

Although IMO is a maritime agency, our work also contributes to some of the targets associated with Goal 15.

The main benefits of IMO's efforts to conserve biodiversity through measures to curtail the global spread of invasive alien species by ships (related to the management of ballast water and biofouling) are primarily felt in the seas and oceans – but they also have a positive impact on certain key freshwater ecosystems such as the Great Lakes and the river systems of South America.

The Organization is also part of global efforts to halt illegal wildlife poaching and trafficking, as a member of the United for Wildlife Transport Task Force, which helps to stop illegal wildlife trafficking and thereby reduce demand. IMO also works to strengthen security in ports and make it easier to spot and prevent illegal shipments.

Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

IMO facilitates the global maritime transportation system through its global regime of treaties covering myriad aspects of ships and shipping. IMO assists developing countries in building effective institutions to ensure the safe, secure and environmentally protective flow of maritime commerce.

Students from IMO's educational establishments (the World Maritime University and the International Maritime Law Institute) often provide the core institutional capacity in their home countries to successfully implement the global regulatory regime for international shipping.

Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

SDG 17 calls upon global partnerships to support the achievement of the SDGs in all countries, in particular developing countries.

IMO currently has partnership arrangements with more than 60 IGOs and more than 80 NGOs, including major global environmental organizations and bodies.

IMO actively pursues specific partnerships with its Member States and others to execute individual projects or initiatives at both regional and global level. Most of these are aimed at developing regions, which typically benefit from training events, fellowships and technical advisory missions.

IMO's Department of Partnerships and Projects has been established to promotes a culture of collaboration and innovation, creating broader engagement and partnerships with maritime and ocean-related stakeholders. This department works closely with the Technical Cooperation Division and other Divisions within IMO. 

Together, these and many other partnerships involving IMO make a significant contribution to the sustainable development of the maritime community.