Port and Shipping Tech Conference - ‘IMO’s achievements in the field of environmental protection’

Port and Shipping Tech Conference
Naples, 27 June, institutional opening
‘IMO’s achievements in the field of environmental protection’
Speech by Koji Sekimizu, Secretary-General 
International Maritime Organization

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be with you today, as the Secretary-General of a United Nations agency, to join in Naples Maritime Week. I am grateful to the organizers for inviting me to speak on a topic that is very close to my heart – that of IMO’s achievements in the field of environmental protection.

I say it is close to my heart for two reasons; first because during my career in the service of IMO over the past 25 years, I have been fortunate enough to spend years as Director of the Marine Environment Division, which gave me the opportunity for first hand and direct involvement in many of the Organization’s environment-related projects and initiatives; and second, from a broader perspective, because I belong to a generation that has at last begun to understand that we cannot continue to treat our planet as an endless supply of resources to exploit and a bottomless pit for dumping our waste. In short, I belong to the generation that has understood that our environment is the most precious thing we have, and that our future development simply has to be sustainable.

Within that context, the role of the oceans in meeting the sustainable economic, environmental and social goals of the global community has also, at last, begun to be widely recognized and understood. Our seas and oceans support our society in so many different ways. They provide raw materials, energy, food, employment, a place to live, a place to relax and, not least, the means to transport about 90% of global trade.

It has been widely documented that the global marine environment and its resources have been degraded and over exploited at an ever increasing rate and scale. But I am of the opinion that this is not due to the increased volume of shipping. On the contrary, I am a strong believer and advocate that the impact of shipping on the environment has not been overly detrimental; and that the industry can share a history of genuine environmental concern and a steadily improving performance in pollution prevention and environmental protection.

Of course, the environmental agenda has been driven in no small part by a strong regulatory imperative. And, as the United Nations international regulatory body for the industry, IMO has been, and continues to be, the focal point for, and the driving force behind, efforts to ensure that shipping becomes greener and cleaner. 

IMO became operational in 1959 and, since then, has established a long track record of facing the successive regulatory challenges that have arisen as the industry itself has developed and evolved over the years. When the Organization was founded, safety was its sole operational field. Soon afterwards, environmental concerns became a part of IMO’s mandate. Originally, the main issue was oil pollution. Over the years, a series of now-familiar technical innovations were introduced by IMO that have done much to make tanker operations progressively safer and cleaner: notably load-on-top, segregated ballast tanks, clean ballast tanks, crude oil washing, double-hull construction and enhanced survey programmes. 

And, as well as these environmental regulations introduced by IMO, let us also recall that shipping’s improved record, particularly for accidental oil spills, can also be attributed to the increased focus on the implementation of safety measures, such as the introduction of mandatory traffic separation schemes (since the 1970s), as well as improved training for seafarers and the introduction, in the 1990s, of the mandatory International Management Code for the Safe Operation of Ships and for Pollution Prevention – the ISM Code. 

IMO has produced an extensive set of measures to regulate the environmental impact of shipping. More than 20 international conventions have been adopted, as well as fourteen Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas, in which special protective measures are mandated, have been designated and a comprehensive regime for liability and compensation has been established.  

Time does not permit me to go through all IMO’s achievements in this respect and I do not think you want to hear a list or a history lesson. But I am sure you agree that we have seen significant developments at IMO, particularly during the past 25 years.

The maritime industries represent a very sizeable industrial sector. But the success and growth of these industries should not be achieved by threatening the very element that sustains them, supports them and gives them life – the sea. The search for growth in the maritime industry is a balancing act. Achieving this balance will depend on achieving what, as I mentioned a few moments ago, has become known as sustainable maritime development.

One of the main outcomes of the 2012 ‘Rio+20’ Conference on sustainable development was the agreement, by States all over the world, to launch a process to develop sustainable development goals. The Rio+20 outcome document, entitled The Future We Want, resolved to establish an inclusive and transparent intergovernmental process that is open to all stakeholders with a view to developing global sustainable development goals to be agreed by the United Nations General Assembly.

It was in view of this that, immediately after Rio+20, I initiated work on sustainable maritime development. As a first step, I established an internal mechanism to engage with our industry partners in developing the concept of a Sustainable Maritime Transportation System, something that would include not just the operation of ships, but all the activities that are vital to support shipping.

At the World Maritime Day Symposium in London last year, we introduced a new concept for such a Sustainable Maritime Transportation System. We stressed at the time, and continue to stress today, that all the many and varied groups that currently participate so effectively in the regulatory process at IMO will have to actively engage in policy debates in various sectors if the future development of the maritime transport system is to be sustainable.

The port sector is, of course, an essential component of the transport system. As the title of this conference so clearly reflects, ports and ships cannot be treated separately. Both shipping and ports must be thought of, not as separate entities, but as interlocking components, and the harmonization of regulations and policies for both ports and shipping is something we should strive for. 

Traditionally, IMO’s sphere of influence has not extended very far into the port area. Security has been the most notable exception to this, with the ISPS Code – the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code – making mandatory requirements for both ships and port facilities, as its name suggests.

However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the business of devising standards for international shipping – IMO’s traditional role – can, and does, impinge, to a great extent, on the ports and the cities that serve international shipping. This almost always works to the benefit of both sides. Ports, for example, providing reception facilities for certain categories of shipboard waste; and ships being required to reduce their harmful emissions, particularly in Emission Control Areas which are close to coasts and coastal hinterlands.

At IMO, in the past, there have been a number of attempts to formalize discussions on the ship-port interface and we have made some genuine progress. However, more recently, discussions on this subject have slipped from the top of the agenda at IMO.

But now, under the concept of the Sustainable Maritime Transportation System, I think the time is right to revive our previous efforts to address these issues. The ship-port interface needs a higher profile in international forums.

As a specialized agency of the United Nations, IMO is the global standard-setting authority for the safety, security and environmental performance of international shipping. Its main role is to create a regulatory framework for the shipping industry that is fair and effective, universally adopted and universally implemented. In so doing, it creates a level playing field so that ship operators cannot address their financial issues by simply cutting corners and compromising on safety, security and environmental performance. This approach also encourages innovation and efficiency. 

Over the years, the Organization has extended its scope in order to address new challenges that have emerged from shipping and in response to the changing expectations of global society – such as the demands for clean air, biodiversity and the reduction of CO2 emissions.  

A key element in IMO’s transition has been from a purely technical body to one in which wide-ranging policy issues increasingly have a bearing on its work and can affect its ability to operate as the global standard setter. 

One of the clearest examples of this was the adoption of the mandatory technical and operational measures designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from shipping.

Global policy issues, such as the debate on climate change, affect IMO’s main function to deliver technical standards for shipping. Therefore, IMO continues to monitor and respond to developments within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, even though we have taken our own action to ensure energy efficiency for ships. Just as households all over the world are finding that embracing energy efficiency is beneficial, so should those benefits be available to the shipping industry, too.

Our main challenge at the moment is to ensure that measures already adopted, such as the Ballast Water Management Convention, the Hong Kong Convention on the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships and the energy efficiency measures for ships, are fully and effectively implemented. This is our theme for 2014, but it will continue to be of paramount importance in the years ahead.

In the future, I expect environmental regulations to be a driver or a catalyst for a whole new generation of more efficient ships. One valuable side-effect of this will be to hasten the exit of inefficient existing ships from the global fleet and thereby help restore a better balance between supply and demand. Ships will, of course, need to comply with all appropriate IMO environmental regulations, including those covering ballast water, sulphur and energy efficiency regulations. Beyond that I predict that more alternative fuels, such as LNG and onshore power systems (cold ironing) will be used by shipping. On the port side, development of bunkering services for LNG as fuel must be accelerated, while low sulphur fuels must be supplied at competitive terms.

Ladies and gentlemen, to conclude; mankind must continue to develop. But what we now understand is that our development in the future must take full account of finite and diminishing resources and a fragile environment – including oceans and seas.

IMO has been regulating the environmental impact of shipping for decades. But, in the modern context, its environmental work has never seemed so relevant.

And, in the years to come, it will take on an even greater importance as sustainable development becomes not just what we would like to achieve, but a necessity on which our future will depend.

Changing environmental expectations are, in my view, both a challenge and an opportunity for the shipping industry. The ships of the future must provide a continuous response to the needs of society, industry and global trade and must be operated within a framework that encourages a culture to promote green technology that goes beyond mere compliance with statutory requirements.

The concept of sustainable development is now firmly established as the most important objective of all. Through its regulatory programme for the environment, IMO is helping to ensure shipping makes its own contribution towards this objective – sustainable development.

Thank you.