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IMO's website frontpage - UN agency pushes for clean shipping



The IMO's General Secretary is Kitack Lim. Under his leadership this UN agency is pushing forward on shipping emissions reductions, via MARPOL amendments discussed in May of 2019.



The IMO has set targets for zero emissions shipping by 2100, with interim stages. They have not acknowledged the role of autonomous ships in their COLREGs, collision prevention regulations.

In 2018 historic targets were agreed within International Maritime Organization (IMO) to cut the total net global GHG emissions from international shipping by at least 50% by 2050, to reduce carbon intensity by at least 40% by 2030 compared to a 2008 benchmark and to completely decarbonise shipping by the end of the century.


The consensus among many industry experts is that LNG is a method by which ship owners can cut their emissions by 20% while also cutting or reducing other emissions, including NOx, SOx and particulates to near zero levels.

This is a tough call, but is achievable with a move to renewable energy combined with a gradual phasing out of fossil fuels, though at first with shipping adding solar panels and small wind turbines, or sails, to supplement dirty power sources. Such moves will require flexible thinking on the part of operators, inevitably with strict enforcement, should the existing fleet be patched instead of replaced. We still remember the VW chipping cheat, to beat emissions regulations for their cars.



Dumping waste at sea MARPOL regulations



Other solutions involve hydrogen and fuel cells, ammonia, and investigations into other cleaner burning super-fuels. In the end it boils down to cost and sustainability, with competition for hydrogen from land vehicles, likely to erupt for convenient load levelling and energy storage, most especially for trucking & heavy haulage. Where land vehicles cannot hoist sails or sprout solar arrays for propulsion, but ships can.

Presently shipping accounts for around 2.5% of global GHG emissions and although ships are becoming more efficient, due to increasing global trade this contribution is increasing. These emissions are more than any EU state and if the sector was a country, it would rank as the sixth highest in the world. In 2015, shipping accounted for 13% of overall EU greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector.

In the UK, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency helps with the development of international standards and policy for shipping through the International Maritime Organization.








Resolution A.1037(27) Adopted on 22 November 2011  (Agenda item 7) 

Heightened environmental consciousness 

2.6 The enhancement of a sustainable environmental policy for the shipping industry remains a high-profile matter. The heightened concern at the impact of global shipping activities on the environment has given further impetus to efforts by the Organization to increase awareness, promote corporate social responsibility by the shipping industry and develop sustainable and environmentally conscious means of minimizing the negative impacts from shipping, such as those aimed at reducing atmospheric pollution; addressing climate change through enhanced energy efficiency for ships and other measures; ensuring the preservation of ecosystems and biodiversity; and preventing the introduction of polluting substances from ships into the marine environment. Concern for the environment has also extended to concerns over the safest and most effective measures for the recycling of ships, which IMO is also addressing. 

The challenge for IMO, in line with the global emphasis on sustainable development goals (SDGs) 13 and 14 is to: 

1. be proactive in identifying shipping activities and incidents that could have an adverse impact on the environment and, therefore, in developing corresponding preventive measures; 

2. contribute to international efforts to reduce atmospheric pollution and address climate change

3. develop effective preparedness and response strategies for shipping incidents in order to mitigate their impact on the environment; and 

4. make new ships more environmentally friendly by implementing the "cradle to grave" concept for new ships, whilst further facilitating practicable solutions for the recycling of existing ships.




Kitack Lim, Secretary General of the IMO





The International Maritime Organization (IMO), known as the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organization (IMCO) until 1982, is a specialised agency of the United Nations responsible for regulating shipping. The IMO was established following agreement at a UN conference held in Geneva in 1948 and the IMO came into existence ten years later, meeting for the first time in 1959. Headquartered in London, United Kingdom, the IMO currently has 174 Member States and three Associate Members, hence the G20.

The IMO's primary purpose is to develop and maintain a comprehensive regulatory framework for shipping and its remit today includes safety, environmental concerns, legal matters, technical co-operation, maritime security and the efficiency of shipping. The latter is our main concern, as it affects global warming.

IMO is governed by an assembly of members and is financially administered by a council of members elected from the assembly. The work of IMO is conducted through five committees and these are supported by technical subcommittees. Other UN organisations may observe the proceedings of the IMO. Observer status is granted to qualified non-governmental organisations. Thus the IMO effectively control who sees what, whereas, according to SDG 16 and 17, politics and policy making partnerships at this level should be completely transparent to make a strong institution. We would urge them to work on this aspect of operations to avoid criticism, where they are doing a fine job in difficult circumstances.

The IMO is supported by a permanent secretariat of employees who are representative of the organisation's members. The secretariat is composed of a Secretary-General who is periodically elected by the assembly, and various divisions such as those for marine safety, environmental protection and a conference section.



IMO's HQ on the banks of the River Thames in London




International Maritime Organization
4, Albert Embankment
United Kingdom

Tel +44 (0)20 7735 7611
Fax +44 (0)20 7587 3210










IMO's senior management committee




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