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IMO urged to curb influence of private sector to reach climate goals

Governance structure flaws could hinder IMO's ability to deliver on its GHG reduction objectives, warns report.

The International Maritime Organization's (IMO) headquarters in London. Image credit: Andrew Bowden Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Updated on 03 Jul 2018 08:13 GMT

A new report by anti-corruption NGO Transparency International (TI) suggests there are a number of governance structure flaws that could hinder the International Maritime Organization's (IMO) ability to deliver on its own climate goals in reducing carbon emissions.

The document, entitled 'Governance at the International Maritime Organisation: The case for reform', outlines several key policy issues and recommendations that the IMO would need to address in order to meet international standards for transparency, accountability, and integrity.

Central to the report is TI's call for the IMO to curb the influence of private sector lobbyists and flag states in tax havens; and remove reporting restrictions, so that journalists can cover what delegates say in meetings.

TI goes on to urge the IMO and its member states to take the following immediate actions:

- Ensure decision-making processes are transparent and reflect the public interest by developing rules for the appointment of member state delegations and third-party representatives.

- Engage in open dialogue with civil society, industry and other key stakeholders to improve transparency and remove current restrictions on journalists covering IMO meetings and speakers.

- Ensure decision-makers are subject to robust integrity rules by expanding the mandate of the Internal Oversight and Ethics Office to detect and investigate potential breaches in the code of conduct and provide subsequent sanctions, if necessary, or refer to national authorities, as appropriate. In addition, extend the IMO's whistleblowing and complaint policies to include member state representatives.

Changes 'essential' to reach climate goals

TI stresses that these changes are "essential" for the IMO to honour its environmental and climate mandates and reach a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) of at least 50 percent by 2050.

In its current set-up, TI suggests the "poor policies" of IMO "put global climate goals at risk", and that the organization is "at risk of severely under-delivering on its targets".

The report points to "several specific flaws" in the IMO's governance structure, including a disproportionate influence of private industry over the IMO and an unequal influence of certain member states in the policymaking process.

In addition, the UN agency is said to suffer from an increase in privately operated registries in states that serve as tax havens and a lack of delegate accountability.

"In order for the IMO to meet its ambitious goals to reduce shipping emissions, several things need to change," said Rueben Lifuka, TI's vice chair. "Our biggest recommendation is to transform the IMO's accountability policies, which are currently hindering policymaking and leaving the agency susceptible to private influence. While the IMO's initial strategy adopted in April is a big step forward for the international shipping sector, more must be done to ensure the agency meets its targets."

April's summary report

The new report comes three months after TI released its preliminary report findings, which warned that private shipping companies and the five top ship registry nations could have undue influence over the policymaking process at the IMO.

In the summary report, TI pointed out that the IMO does not regulate the way governments appoint their delegations. TI noted that governments are therefore able to appoint employees of private companies to their delegations who are then able to determine their government's position on IMO policy - without being subject to conflict of interest rules or a code of conduct.

Citing Brazil as an example, TI explained that the South American country appointed five 'advisors' from Vale S.A - a multinational company with substantial shipping interests - to its national delegation at the IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 71) meeting in July 2017.

TI also mentioned that eight of the 12 representatives of the Marshall Islands at MEPC 71 were employees of a private shipping registry, International Registries Inc (IRI) Group, which is contracted by the Marshall Islands to manage its registry.

The report also warned that Panama, Liberia, the Marshall Islands, Malta and the Bahamas - which together contribute 43.5 percent of the total funding from the IMO's 170 member states and make up 52 percent of the world's registered commercial fleet - "potentially have exaggerated weight in the IMO policymaking processes, particularly when no mechanism exists to protect against undue influence".

TI's study also stressed that NGOs with consultative membership of the IMO "can face expulsion if they criticise the agency or report on country views", and "journalists indicate that they are unable to report freely on IMO meetings".

Report methodology

For this report, TI says it adapted an existing methodology, 'Global Climate Finance: An anti-corruption and governance mapping and assessment toolkit', developed under the Climate Governance Integrity Programme. It uses nine indicators to provide a qualitative analysis of the governance strengths and weaknesses of the IMO.

IMO Council

The new 38-page document has been released in advance of the IMO Council's 120th session, which began on Monday and is due to finish on Friday.

So far, 12 countries - including Australia, Canada, Liberia and Spain - are said to have come out in support of its main findings.

To view and download the latest TI report, please click here.

Related Links:

Shipping firms could have undue influence over IMO policymaking: Anti-corruption report
ICS backs IMO's zero-emission strategy in new publication
IMO agrees historic deal to cut carbon in shipping sector

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