The UN agency responsible for cutting shipping emissions to combat climate change has been accused of operating like a secretive closed shop. The charity Transparency International has condemned six countries, including the UK and the US, for opposing moves to open the International Maritime Organization to public scrutiny and hampering moves to combat climate change.
The IMO regulates global shipping and is coordinating a ban on high-sulphur shipping fuel by 2020. The Guardian reported that the IMO has allowed what critics call an “emissions cheat” system to be installed onboard ships to dodge the clean fuel regulations. But the system is likely to lead to pollutants being dumped at sea instead of stored in facilities on land, according to critics.
In April 2018, the IMO’s parine environment protection committee set a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from shipping by at least 50% by 2050 compared with 2008, consistent with the goals of the Paris agreement. The global shipping fleet is rushing to meet the 2020 IMO deadline to reduce air pollution by forcing vessels to use cleaner fuel with a lower sulphur content of 0.5%, compared with 3.5% as currently used. The move comes after growing concerns about the health impacts of shipping emissions. A report in Nature this year said 400,000 premature deaths a year are caused by emissions from dirty shipping fuel, which also account for 14m childhood asthma cases per year.
The IMO set up a working group to tackle accusations earlier this year from Transparency International that it is secretive and disproportionately influenced by the private shipping industry and an unequal influence of certain member states. Transparency International said it was concerned that moves by the UK, the US, the Cook Islands, Marshall Islands, Panama and the United Arab Emirates could hamper reform at the UN agency and damage moves to tackle climate change and clean up the shipping industry. Last month these countries criticised moves to make the UN agency more transparent. They said “further expansion of access to information” about the agency “could lead to outside influence”, according to Transparency International.
Rueben Lifuka, the vice-chair of Transparency International, said: “Unfortunately the IMO is far too susceptible to disproportionate influence from private interests and certain member states, meaning that there could be obstacles to meeting the targets for emissions reduction set earlier this year. The agency needs to move towards a more open and transparent way of operating, with greater opportunities for public scrutiny and civil society engagement. The stakes are too high for the entire planet for the IMO to continue to operate as a closed shop.”