IMO commitment to environmental protection

From 1959, the IMO has actively taken responsibility to issues caused and related by pollution by marine industry. The Organization is playing a key part in supporting the development of regulations to prevent marine pollution and introduces technologies and specifics as defined by the UNCLOS:

  • Article 1. “(4) “pollution of the marine environment” means the introduction by man, directly or indirectly, of substances or energy into the marine environment, including estuary, which results or is likely to result in such deleterious effects as harm to living resources and marine life, hazards to human health, hindrance to marine activities, including fishing and other legitimate uses of the sea, impairment of quality for use of sea water and reduction of amenities;” (UNCLOS: A Commentary 1995, 53).
  • Article 196 “States shall take all measures necessary to prevent, reduce and control pollution of the marine environment resulting from the use of technologies under their jurisdiction or control, or the intentional or accidental introduction of species, alien or new, to a particular part of the marine environment, which may cause significant and harmful changes thereto.” (UNCLOS: A Commentary 1995, 75)

Maritime Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) is the IMO committee in charge of addressing the environmental issues for the IMO. This Committee is supported by Sub-Committees sometimes shared with the Maritime Safety Committee. Also, the MEPC sets up working groups that deal with various items of its agenda (e.g. ballast water, air pollution, GHG emissions, etc.). The Committees and its working groups are supported by the IMO Secretariat that deals with all related administrative aspects.

The MEPC may issue circulars and resolutions as well as draft resolutions to be adopted by the Assembly. The MEPC meets three times over two years (twice 1 st year and once second year). During the MEPC sessions, various working groups or correspondence groups may be established to address particular issues. All States represented at the IMO may participate to discuss the issues related to pollution prevention and control as well as industry representatives and NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations). Decisions are normally reached through consensus but if there is a need for voting, only Parties to relevant Convention (e.g. MARPOL Annex VI, Ballast Water Management) are eligible to cast their votes.

The IMO’s Marine Environment Division supports the MEPC and deals on a daily basis with relevant environmental issues but above all supports the working of MEPC and other IMO divisions in related areas. Today, the IMO regulations cover the whole ship’s pollution risks, specifically dealing with the following Conventions:

  • MARPOL Convention Dealing with various types of pollutants.
  • Anti-Fouling System Convention, entered into force in 2008, prohibits the use of harmful organotin compounds in anti-fouling paints used on ships and establishes a mechanism to prevent the potential future use of other harmful substances in anti-fouling systems. Antifouling systems to be prohibited or controlled are listed in the Convention.
  • Ballast Water Management Convention entitled “International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments (BWM)” (IMO 2004). Was adopted in 2004 and awaits at this point in time (2015) ratification by enough member states. It aims to prevent the spread of harmful aquatic organisms from one region to another, by establishing standards and procedures for the management and control of ships' ballast water and sediments.
  • Hong Kong Convention entitled “International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships” (IMO 2009). was adopted in 2009 and awaits at this point in time (2015) ratification by enough member states. It aims at ensuring that ships, when being recycled after reaching the end of their operational lives; do not pose any unnecessary risk to human health and safety or to the environment.
  • London Convention entitled the "Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter 1972" (IMO 1972) deals primarily with dumping waste into marine environment and has been in force since 1975. Its objective is to promote the effective control of all sources of marine pollution and to take all practicable steps to prevent pollution of the sea by dumping of wastes and other matter. The IMO Conventions relating to the prevention of marine pollution relating to ship operations is presented as follows. (Ziarati et al, MariFuture, Development Papers 2018-2019).

Figure 4. The IMO’s Marine Environment Division key activities

As stated above, the latest Conventions adopted on 8th September 2017 entered into force are the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments, 2004, and the Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships, entered into force 15th May 2011. The 1973 International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) integrated the issue concerning the air pollution by ships in the Convention’s adoption of the 1997 Protocol creating the MARPOL Annex VI. The IMO and its member States recognize the importance of the environmental protection which became over the years a major item of concern for the Organization.

The IMO shows a strong willingness to address the issue of the climate change by promoting innovative regulations in the framework of the UN discussion on GHG emissions. This disposition has been demonstrated through the adoption of various instruments during MEPC 62 in 2011 and the intensive discussions on developing further technical and operational measures such as data collection system for ships as part of wider MRV (Monitoring, Reporting and Verification) debate. While taking part in the Climate Change debates at the UN, IMO will proceed in parallel with its own programme of work (Ziarati et al, MariFuture, Development Papers, 2018-2019).