Guest Article #22

Climate change: a challenge for IMO too!

For some time now, it has clearly been acknowledged that increases in global temperatures are altering the complex web of systems that allow life to thrive on earth. From the human perspective, difficult issues such as poverty, economic development and population growth are additional factors that make the problem even more complex and complicated. As Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his address to the UN Conference on Climate Change in Bali, in 2007, this is “the defining challenge of our age.”

Climate change affects everybody. By the same token, responsibility for finding the right solution cannot, realistically, be laid at the door of any particular country or groups of countries. We are, perhaps as never before, all in this together. Successfully addressing climate change will be far from easy but the consequences of failing to do so are too dire to contemplate.

At the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the UN agency charged with the regulation of safety and security of shipping and the prevention of pollution from ships, we are, among other environment-related issues, energetically pursuing the limitation and reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from international shipping.

To this effect, we have adopted “CLIMATE CHANGE: A challenge for IMO too!” as the theme for our 2009 World Maritime Day, in recognition of the intense focus this topic is receiving within the Organization this year; and, we have established an ambitious action plan and are working towards the development and adoption of a robust regime that will regulate shipping at the global level thus contributing to the deceleration of climate change.

More specifically, we have developed an Energy Efficiency Design Index for new ships; a Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan; best practices for fuel−efficient ship operations; and an Energy Efficiency Operational Indicator.  Following a recent session of our Marine Environment Protection Committee, these have already been circulated for use on a trial basis, until they are refined, as necessary, in March 2010, with a view to facilitating decisions on their scope of application and enactment.

To complement these measures, which are reasonably expected to deliver significant GHG emission reductions, we are progressing discussions on relevant market-based mechanisms.

The complexity of the issue as to the most efficient and effective market-based instrument is exacerbated by the need to provide convincing answers, not only to the question “which of the schemes proposed is the more politically palatable,” but also which one stands the best chance, once selected and implemented, of achieving its main purpose. Which instrument(s) will benefit the environment by helping to stem climate change by involving all countries of the world (developed and developing alike), and at the same time cast shipping as an environment-conscious industry, whose credentials continue to include those of being the most energy-efficient and environment-friendly mode of transport − an industry determined to form part of the solution to the climate change problem, and not contribute to its creation and persistence?

Our work on this hugely important topic stems from our member States' genuine concerns for the environment, and not only because the Organization has a mandate, through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – the UNFCCC – and its Kyoto Protocol, to pursue the limitation or reduction of GHG emissions from ships.

The Kyoto Protocol has left the regulation of GHGs from shipping to IMO. But the first commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012 and will be followed by the outcome of the Copenhagen Conference in December 2009. IMO will be reporting to that Conference and I am confident that, following the good progress made by the Organization to date, we will have a positive outcome to convey to the global community – which, in turn, should continue to entrust IMO with the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping operations.

The community as a whole must deliver realistic and pragmatic solutions: but these are difficult and complex issues, not just from the technical and economic standpoint but from a political perspective too. There are sensitive connotations, particularly for developing countries, and that is something that has to be duly acknowledged

The message is clear: if we are to succeed in combating climate change, we must all play our part, working together. If the problem pays no heed to man-made borders, then neither can the solution.