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IMO takes the lead on sustainability


1 September 2012


Rio+20 is the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. At this event, International Maritime Organization secretary-general Koji Sekimizu announced that in 2013 his organisation would focus on its leadership role in environmental and sustainable stewardship. Here, he outlines what this decision entails and its potential impact.


The meaning of 'sustainability', and the necessity of achieving it, is gradually becoming widely acknowledged and understood by the public worldwide. What was once an aspiration is now an expectation.

Indeed, sustainability has become a strong driver for growth. New industries have developed as a result, and the quests for energy efficiency and alternative sources of power have inspired a renaissance in technological development and innovation.

Green boost for maritime sustainability

The maritime industry makes a significant contribution to sustainable development economically, socially and environmentally. It facilitates global commerce, and the generation of wealth and prosperity among nations, creating a wide variety of jobs onboard ships and ashore, with beneficial effects, both direct and indirect, on the livelihoods of others.

Establishing a sustainable maritime transportation sector is essential to the development and growth of the world's economy. Indeed, without shipping, we cannot think about the future of the global economy. In terms of the economy, international shipping transports about 90% of global trade to communities all over the world. Dependable and low cost, the maritime industry is the most efficient and cost-effective method of international transportation for most goods.

"The maritime industry makes a significant contribution to sustainable development economically, socially and environmentally."

Shipping is a lifeline for trade and the manufacturing industry, and is not discretionary: it is indispensable and essential for growth and sustainable development. Socially, shipping supports and sustains a wide range of wealth-creating and poverty-alleviating activities in both developed and developing countries. It provides job opportunities, with more than 1.5 million people employed as seafarers, the majority from developing nations. If the world's economy continues to grow, we will need more highly trained and qualified seafarers - to meet that demand, we must provide more than 50,000 seafarers every year.

Related activities such as shipbuilding, repair and recycling provide more jobs to people in developing countries, and have contributed towards the achievement of the UN's Millennium Development Goals. Shipping is also continuously improving its environmental performance through the International Maritime Organization's (IMO) measures. Accident rates and the leakage of oil and harmful substances into the marine environment are continuously declining, and we have now established 14 Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas with stringent protective measures.

A global regime for greener and safer ship recycling, and a mechanism to stop invasive species through ballast water were firmly established. We are looking for global implementation as soon as possible. Global standards to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and fuel consumption have been developed, and the shipping industry is promoting their application from next year.

IMO regulatory framework

Shipping is an essential component of any programme for sustainable development. The world relies on a safe, secure and efficient international shipping industry, and this is provided by the comprehensive regulatory framework developed and maintained by the IMO. It provides a blueprint for countries to develop their maritime transport infrastructure in a safe, efficient and environmentally sound manner.

Through its technical cooperation activities, the IMO helps build capacity to enable developing countries to participate fully in maritime activities. This generates wealth, jobs and economic activity not only in the maritime sector, but also in other areas that rely on maritime trade for access to global markets.

"The IMO helps build capacity to enable developing countries to participate fully in maritime activities."

But it is also important we highlight the huge contribution already being made by shipping and by the IMO towards greater sustainability, showcasing the many positive and proactive steps that are being taken to ensure that shipping continues to serve the needs of an expanding global population, while becoming greener, and more environmentally friendly, efficient and effective.

Through the IMO, the organisation's member states, civil society and the shipping industry are already working together to ensure a continued and strengthened contribution towards a green economy and growth in a sustainable manner. Now is the time to identify more precisely the elements that must be addressed if the objective of sustainable maritime development is to be achieved in the long term.

Through the IMO, the development and implementation of global standards covering maritime safety, environmental protection, maritime security and the facilitation of maritime traffic, will underpin green and sustainable shipping, and confirm the organisation's ability to provide the appropriate institutional framework for sustainable maritime development. These include supporting technical and operational measures to increase energy efficiency based on:

  • the need to limit and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from ships
  • the promotion of new technology for safety, environmental protection, security, clean energy and the efficient operation of ships
  • continued support for education and training to secure the continuous supply of quality seafarers and maritime experts
  • improved maritime security, which embraces the application of international measures for maritime security, antipiracy measures, and law-enforcement mechanisms for maritime zone and supply-chain security
  • the enhancement of maritime traffic management in straits and sea areas of significant importance for maritime navigation, and the realisation of the Marine Electronic Highway concept
  • the improvement of maritime infrastructure, including aids to navigation, search and rescue, and port facilities, and through technical cooperation, to ensure availability of proper maritime infrastructure in all parts of the world.

Next step: World Maritime Day 2013

To achieve sustainable development in shipping, it is important to establish a coordinated and integrated approach to maritime policies. With more than half the world's population living near the coast, the importance of integrated coastal zone management, including port development and the protection of coastal and marine resources, is also crucial to sustainable development.

" With more than half the world’s population living near the coast, the importance of integrated coastal management is crucial to sustainable development."

Agenda 21, which was announced at the UN Conference on Environment and Development (Earth Summit) in Rio in 1992, included a set of recommendations related to shipping and the role of the IMO. The IMO's responses have been both multifaceted and robust. Since then, the shipping industry and the IMO have made significant progress in environmental protection.

I see the promotion of sustainable shipping and maritime development as one of the major priorities of my tenure as IMO secretary-general and am therefore extremely pleased that the IMO Council agreed to my suggestion that the theme for the World Maritime Day 2013, and the focus of the IMO's work in 2013, should be 'Sustainable Development: IMO's contribution beyond Rio+20'.

Through this theme, the IMO's leadership for environmentally sound shipping will be extended to the wider context of more sustainable development and a greener world economy.