Greenland: Roundtable discussion with local authorities and stakeholders, Ilulissat

IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim

Visit to Greenland

Roundtable discussion with local authorities and stakeholders, Ilulissat

27 August 2019

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure, indeed a privilege, to be here today. It is a rare opportunity for me to visit the world's largest island.  Visiting island countries always serves to remind me how important IMO's work to protect and preserve the global environment and the safety of shipping really is.

As I am sure you are aware, IMO is the specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for setting global standards for the safety, security and environmental performance of international shipping.

Since it was created more than 70 years ago, IMO Member States have adopted over 50 international instruments covering nearly all aspects of international shipping – including ship design, construction, equipment, crewing, navigation, operation and disposal.

As a result, shipping today is cleaner, greener, safer and more secure than ever before.

Why is this important? Because 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.

The strength of IMO regulations is that, generally, they apply to all ships.

But ships which operate in the harsh Arctic and Antarctic regions are exposed to many unique risks. 

This is why their safety, and the protection of the pristine environments around the poles, have always been on the agenda for IMO. And why many relevant requirements, provisions and recommendations have been developed over the years. 

The most important, and comprehensive, of these is the Polar Code, which entered into force on 1 January 2017 and was rightly seen as a historic milestone in the Organization's work.

It covers the full range of design, construction, equipment, operational, training, search and rescue and environmental protection matters relevant to ships operating in the waters surrounding the two poles. 

Perhaps the most important thing to remember about the Polar Code is that it goes over and above all the other global, safety and environmental regulations that apply to international shipping. The Polar Code builds on global measures to provide an additional layer of protection for the Polar regions.

There is no doubt that the Polar Code is making operating in these waters safer, helping to protect the lives of crews and passengers – and minimizing the impact of shipping activity on this fragile environment. 

But there is still a need for further cooperation and collaboration in a number of areas. The maritime infrastructure must be further developed and strengthened.

Navigational charts, search and rescue facilities, a comprehensive network of icebreaker support, port reception facilities and the provision of Maritime Safety Information all need to be addressed by the shipping community, in parallel with the implementation of the Polar Code.

And the application of the Polar Code to, in particular fishing vessels, also needs to be further addressed. Operating in polar waters is no less challenging for these vessels – indeed it may be more so, given their size. Indeed, the IMO is expected to adopt a resolution encouraging Polar Code requirements to be implemented on smaller vessels, including fishing vessels, operating in polar waters, later this year. IMO Member States are also actively engaged in considering black carbon emissions from ships in the Arctic and extending the ban on carrying heavy fuel oil – which currently applies in Antarctic waters – to the Arctic, too.

IMO's work to protect Polar Waters should be seen against the background of broader efforts to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from shipping on a global basis and thereby combat climate change.

IMO is tackling this in two ways. Through our initial strategy adopted last year, we now have a definite policy commitment for drastic reduction 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, and working towards phasing out GHG emissions from ships as soon as possible in this century.

At the same time, we are supporting this regulatory effort with several practical initiatives and projects. These are designed to stimulate and support the development of new technologies and better operational practices, while also building capacity and expertise, especially in developing countries.

Ladies and gentlemen,

earlier this year IMO was granted Observer status at the Arctic Council.

This will allow IMO to build on the existing cooperation with the Arctic Council and to engage in close collaboration on a range of issues related to shipping in the Arctic. For example, IMO attaches particular interest in the Council's work on search and rescue, pollution response and maritime safety, as well as in the protection of the marine environment.

IMO already has a strong record of collaboration with the Council's working groups on several issues and I have no doubt this will continue and grow, much to the benefit of all concerned.

Increased maritime activity has an obvious potential for significant impact on the indigenous peoples and communities of the Arctic who depend on the marine environment for food; and for whom hunting, fishing, and other traditional ways of life are central to the survival of their culture.

Arctic indigenous peoples contribute to the work of IMO through their national delegations, and I have demonstrated my support for their unique issues by regularly meeting with their representatives. I am convinced of the importance and the value of listening to indigenous peoples, and I will always do what I can to ensure they have a voice.

Ladies and gentlemen,

protecting the unique polar environments and ensuring that human interventions in those regions are sensitive and appropriate is a significant challenge – but one in which we must all play our part.

Whether we like it or not, shipping activity in Polar regions is increasing. But there is one thing everyone should agree on: if ships are going to come, they should be safe, the people on board them should be protected and their impact on the environment should be as small as possible.

IMO has a powerful track record of delivering real, practical measures to achieve those objectives and I look forward to strengthening and intensifying those efforts in the future.

Thank you.