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UN Shipping Agency Slammed for Stalling Climate Action

UN Shipping Agency Slammed for Stalling Climate Action
J Nastranis 09 April 2018

NEW YORK (IDN) – Transparency International has criticised the United Nations shipping agency for delaying action on climate change. The global anti-corruption organization warns in a new study that the private shipping companies' concerns are impacting the policymaking process at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), undermining its ability to effectively regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from maritime trade.

IMO creates "a regulatory framework for the shipping industry that is fair, effective, universally adopted and implemented." According to a report by the European Parliament, the shipping industry could contribute up to 17 percent of global CO2 emissions by 2050 if left unregulated.

Therefore, the IMO has an integral role in helping the shipping industry to meet the targets set out in the UN Sustainable Development Goal 13 on climate change and Goal 14 on oceans, as well as the targets of the Paris Agreement.

The Berlin-based Transparency International's study, which will be published in full in May 2018, assesses three dimensions of the IMO's governance structure: transparency, accountability and integrity. A summary report released on April 3 raises serious concerns.

It voices journalists' concern that they are unable to report freely on IMO meetings. Non-profit organisations with consultative membership of the IMO can face expulsion if they criticise the agency or report on country views, for example.

The majority of the world's commercial fleet, comprising 52 per cent of the entire flotilla, is registered in only five states: Panama, Liberia, the Marshall Islands, Malta and the Bahamas. Many of these are known as tax havens for ships while the European Union recently classified the latter three as tax havens.

The report notes that the IMO does not publish its financial regulations and adds that the finance mechanism, which relies on contributions from its 170 member states, is unbalanced. In 2016, ten states provided 64 percent of all contributions, which was 35 percent of the IMO's total income. These were (in descending order) Panama, Liberia, Marshall Islands, Singapore, Malta, Bahamas, UK, China, Japan and Greece.

Contributions are calculated using an unpublished formula that includes a "flat base rate with additional components based on ability to pay and merchant fleet tonnage".

Eight of the top ten contributors currently occupy elected positions on the IMO council including four states which operate open registries (Panama, Liberia, Malta and the Bahamas). In an open registry (also known as a flag of convenience or international registry) the shipowner does not need to be of the same nationality as the country where the ship is registered. When the IMO was established in 1958 only 13 percent of ships were flagged under open registries but that figure has grown to approximately 75 percent today.

The report informs that the provision of funding does not necessarily equate to a council seat or to influence within the council. Yet the IMO lacks mechanisms to provide public assurance that the states which fund the IMO are not simply buying influence.

The report however notes that even in the absence of a comprehensive access to information policy, transparency about the IMO's administration is high, and that information about the remit, powers and rules of procedure of its assembly, council and committees is easily accessible. But the specialised UN agency itself is not responsible for those whom the member states appoint to their delegations.

"The IMO was assigned the task of limiting and reducing emissions from shipping under the Kyoto Protocol back in 1997," said Brice Böhmer, coordinator of the Climate Governance Integrity Program at Transparency International.

"However, it took until 2016 for the IMO to even agree on a roadmap towards an initial strategy, due in 2018, and a revised strategy, due only in 2023. A well-functioning organisation's governance structure should enable decisive action, but the governance flaws identified by our research suggests that this is not happening at the IMO because policy-making could be overly controlled by private companies."

Against this backdrop, Transparency International is calling on the IMO to establish a stronger governance framework. The agency should engage in a transparent process of open dialogue with its external stakeholders (including civil society and industry), to improve transparency, ensure decision-making processes reflect the public interest, and apply robust integrity rules and measures.

"A guiding principle of UN system is that member states must represent citizens' interests. At the IMO, this could end up being undermined by corporate participation in the place of nation states," said Rueben Lifuka, vice chair of Transparency International and an environmental consultant. [IDN-InDepthNews - 09 April 2018]