Eighth City of London Biennial Meeting - "Striving for Stability in a Highly Uncertain World"

Eighth City of London Biennial Meeting
18 November 2016
"Striving for Stability in a Highly Uncertain World"
By Kitack Lim, Secretary-General
International Maritime Organization

Ladies and gentlemen,

Rarely has the overall title for a conference or seminar been as appropriate or timely as that which Professor Grammenos and his team have chosen for this one. As events all over the world this year have emphasized so strongly, this is indeed a highly uncertain world.

As shipping grapples with finding ways to survive and prosper in the current climate, perhaps the only real certainty is that the road ahead will be challenging. We all know that shipping is a cyclical industry, but today it is under greater commercial pressure than it has been for a very long time. And, while some sectors have been hit harder than others, the overall picture has not been a good one.

Let me say at the outset, I am not a market forecaster, and neither does IMO get involved in the economic or business side of shipping. Furthermore, I see that you have a number of renowned experts in those areas speaking during the course of this event, so I will restrict my comments to areas somewhat closer to home.

At IMO, our mission is to promote safe, secure, environmentally sound, efficient and sustainable shipping. And we do this in two ways. First, we develop and adopt a global regulatory regime for shipping that embraces the highest practicable standards of maritime safety and security, efficiency of navigation and prevention and control of pollution from ships.

And, second, we back this up with an extensive programme of technical assistance and capacity building, to ensure that, once adopted, the standards can be implemented evenly and effectively.

It is this framework of IMO standards and regulations that enables shipping to operate safely, securely, cleanly and efficiently.

Why is it so important for shipping to be regulated globally? Because global regulations apply equally to all participants. They do not allow anyone to gain an advantage either by cutting corners or by imposing unilateral requirements. They create a level playing field. And, perhaps most importantly, they ensure 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.

These are important principles. Everybody suffers if they are undermined, not just the shipping industry but the billions of people all over the world who depend on it.

I spoke a few moments ago of challenges; and perhaps the fundamental challenge that we, as a regulatory authority, and you, as industry representatives, face is to ensure that shipping can remain sustainable while meeting the increasingly stringent demands of global society in terms of safety and environmental performance.

The world is no longer prepared to accept services or industries that are simply cost-effective. We now demand them to be safe, green and clean, as well as efficient.

This is a journey that we have been embarked upon for some time, and you only have to look at the significant improvements in casualty and pollution figures from ships over several decades to see that, together, we have had considerable success in this regard.

Yet, still, we seek further improvements. In the environmental arena, we are making good progress in a number of vital areas.

We have achieved successful and solid progress in relation to the reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions from shipping. Building on the ground-breaking technical measures already in place, we have most recently adopted mandatory requirements for ships to record and report data on their fuel consumption, and a 'roadmap' towards a comprehensive strategy on the reduction of GHG emissions from ships, with a commitment for an initial strategy to be developed by 2018.

These achievements, I believe, truly reflect the Organization's strong commitment to contributing to the ambitious and important goals of the Paris Agreement – and that IMO continues to lead in delivering on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping.

Indeed, this tangible progress was reported to the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, in Marrakech, Morocco, earlier this month.

Furthermore, in a landmark decision for both the environment and human health, IMO Member States agreed at the last MEPC held last month to set 1 January 2020 as the implementation date for a significant reduction in the global cap on the sulphur content of the fuel oil used by ships, from the 3.5% limit currently in place to a significantly lower limit of 0.5%.

Predictions have suggested this may prevent many thousands of premature deaths – and it will certainly do much to boost shipping's reputation as an industry with good environmental credentials. And, from the industry's perspective, the decision provides the much-needed clarity that had been called for almost universally, enabling the shipping and refinery industries to start planning for implementation right away.

With regard to ballast water management, I hope that the entry into force of the Ballast Water Management Convention in September next year will serve as a strong incentive for governments that have not yet ratified it to do so as soon as possible, to ensure universal participation in its implementation. I have urged all the interested parties to work together to achieve a pragmatic implementation schedule – and the adoption of revised guidelines for the approval of ballast water management systems by IMO will no doubt boost confidence in the robustness and reliability of the treatment technologies.

While IMO's environmental work may have been capturing headlines recently, we never forget that maritime safety was the main reason why, back in 1948, the founding fathers of IMO felt the need to establish an international body to develop a global regulatory system for international shipping. And today, despite the fact that IMO has expanded its remit into many other areas, maritime safety still remains at the heart of what we do, and why we exist.

Today, we need to approach ship safety in a more holistic and rounded way than ever before. The ships of the future must be able to meet far-reaching goals and functional requirements to fulfil the safety and, increasingly, the environmental expectations of society – which are growing ever more demanding. The ships of the future must provide a sustainable response to the needs of society, industry and global trade and be operated within a framework that encourages a safety and environment culture beyond mere compliance with statutory requirements.

A central theme of our continuing work in this respect is to ensure that advances in technology are properly and effectively reflected in the regulatory regime.

I believe technology really does hold the key to a safer and more sustainable future for shipping. I am not suggesting there will be one single breakthrough that will solve our problems at a stroke. But what I think we will see is real progress brought about by the cumulative effect of marginal gains in all areas of maritime safety.

Thanks to the opportunities afforded by new technology, shipping is, potentially, on the brink of a new era. If we think of the technologies emerging around fuel and energy use, automation and vessel management, materials and construction and so many other areas, we can envisage new generations of ships that bring step-change improvements in all the areas that IMO regulates.

The world must invest in technology. Technology and engineering, must become the driving forces to take maritime safety to new levels.

Ladies and gentlemen, looking ahead, it is clear that IMO, and shipping, need to change and to adapt. Shipping will have to continue to adjust to the increasingly demanding expectations of its customers, and of society as a whole, with regard to safety and environmental performance. This, incidentally, may also drive changes in the global fleet, encouraging older vessels to be phased out gradually, promoting new and more efficient ship designs and streamlining vessel operations.

Many of these new expectations are reflected in the regulatory regime developed and adopted by IMO. This in itself may sometimes feel like an unnecessary burden to the shipping industry. But never forget that IMO represents the collective views and decisions of its 171 Member Governments; and they represent the billions of ordinary people, all over the world, who rely on shipping every day of their lives, whether they realize it or not.

So, when IMO regulates about issues like emission reductions, ship design and construction, cleaner fuel, ballast water management, container safety and so on, the overarching objective is to ensure that the people of the world can continue to enjoy the benefits of shipping, in a manner that fully meets modern expectations.

I think that's something everyone benefits from.

Thank you.