Insight Conversation: Kitack Lim, IMO

The International Maritime Organization adopted its Initial GHG Strategy in 2018, envisaging a reduction in the carbon intensity of international shipping as well as a cut in total annual greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping by at least 50% by 2050 compared to 2008. Today, a revision of the strategy is being pursued, with signals indicating a strong commitment to navigate towards a carbon-neutral future.

IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim was recently interviewed by S&P Global Commodity Insights Senior Editor Surabhi Sahu on shipping’s decarbonization challenges and opportunities, progress made so far at the 78th session of the Marine Environment Protection Committee, and other issues impacting the shipping industry amid COVID-19.

IMO Secretary General Kitack Lim

What are the your thoughts on the outcome of MEPC 78 and what was the most significant milestone it achieved?

Personally, I was very encouraged by the progress at MEPC 78. There is a strong commitment to finalize the revision of the initial strategy at MEPC 80 and increase the levels of ambition, while considering the needs of developing states.

I am seeing support for the ongoing work on candidate mid-term measures. Work on the development of guidelines on lifecycle GHG/carbon intensity guidelines for marine fuels also continues.

Above all, member states at the MEPC reiterated their recognition of the need to account for the possible negative impact of measures on others, in particular developing countries.

A key specific outcome was the finalization of the set of guidelines to support the implementation of the carbon intensity measures – the short-term measure which enters into force on Nov. 1.

On other matters, the MEPC approved draft amendments to MARPOL Annex VI to designate the Emission Control Area for sulfur oxides and particulate matter for the Mediterranean Sea. This is a significant step to addressing air pollution for coastal communities around the Mediterranean Sea.

The MEPC adopted guidelines to support recent amendments to the International Convention on the Control of Harmful Anti-fouling Systems on Ships; adopted draft amendments to MARPOL Annex V to make the Garbage Record Book mandatory also for ships of 100 gross tonnage and above and less than 400 gross tonnages; and agreed to develop mandatory goal-based requirements for marking of fishing gear.

The global maritime industry is intensifying efforts to curb its carbon footprint. What roadblocks exists, and how far is the industry from accessing a cleaner fuel of choice or a mix of cleaner fuels of choice that is viable for shippers?

The transition to low- and zero-carbon fuels is challenging but we can already see promising progress.

Research and development is crucial, as the targets agreed in the IMO initial strategy will not be met using fossil fuels. There is a need to make zero-carbon ships more attractive and to direct investments towards innovative sustainable technologies and alternative fuels.

We need to ensure that no one is left behind in this process. The transition presents opportunities – particularly for developing countries as future suppliers of alternative fuels.

We must recognize that the transition to a decarbonized maritime sector cuts across all aspects of shipping – from the supply and use of fuels to safety matters, port operations and training of seafarers.

We must ensure the just and equitable transition recognizes the need for skills and technology development in developing countries.

Do you think that the Russia-Ukraine crisis has come as a shot in the arm for decarbonization efforts as the rest of the world may attempt to boost output including that of cleaner fuels to become energy self-sufficient?

Of course, geopolitical issues have an impact on all of us and on the maritime sector. The impact of the current crisis in the Black Sea region on shipping is not only energy supplies but also transport of commodities and seafarers.

We are working with other UN partners, industry, and the littoral states to mitigate the challenges related to our mandate.

Would prevailing record-high bunker prices enhance the likelihood of the shipping industry to consider a switch to alternative fuels?

It is evident that cost can be an incentive for change. However, as mentioned, the push to decarbonize is already set in the IMO GHG strategy.

What does the IMO think about the EU’s “Fit for 55” package? How does this stack up against IMO’s GHG-related rules?

IMO and the EU are both committed to the reduction of GHG from shipping. European Union States are all Member states of IMO.

IMO is the global forum for discussing regulations impacting international shipping. IMO has a remit to develop and adopt international shipping regulations. All member states are encouraged to bring proposals related to decarbonizing of international shipping to IMO. We need a global solution to a global challenge.

Unilateral or regional action can jeopardize the process of developing and adopting and implementing international regulations for global shipping.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought about various challenges in the shipping industry, including massive disruptions in supply chain as well as logistical nightmares and crew change hurdles. Do you think that the worst is over or are there more bottlenecks ahead?

There have now been more than two years of extraordinary sacrifices and challenges for the entire world due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Seafarers have been especially affected, and their well-being continues to be a high priority.

The IMO Secretariat continues to work tirelessly to deal with those challenges by means of a multi-pronged approach, including policy development, direct interventions by our Seafarer Crisis Action Team and interagency and industry partnerships.

New high-level initiatives are commencing within the UN, where an ad-hoc UN interagency task force and a joint action group have been established with participants from the International Labor Organization, the World Health Organization, the International Civil Aviation Organization, IMO, and relevant social partners. The task force will review the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the world’s transport workers and the global supply chain, including on seafarers’ fundamental rights and on the shipping industry in general, and suggest solutions.

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