'Weak governance' at UN shipping agency criticised by Transparency International

By agency reporter
April 8, 2018

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) is at risk of unresolved conflicts of interest due to shortcomings in its governance, according to preliminary key findings of a new study by Transparency International.

Private shipping-industry concerns could have undue influence over the policymaking process at the IMO, concluded the anti-corruption organisation. This could undermine the UN agency’s ability to effectively regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from maritime trade. According to a report by the European Parliament, the shipping industry could contribute up to 17 per cent of global CO2 emissions by 2050 if left unregulated.

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 3 April 2018 raises serious concerns:

  • Journalists indicate 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 (52 per cent) is registered in only five states - Panama, Liberia, the Marshall Islands, Malta and the Bahamas – many of which are known as tax havens for ships. Together, these five states contribute 43.5 per cent of the total funding from the IMO’s 170 member states. These countries potentially have exaggerated weight in the IMO policymaking processes, particularly when no mechanism exists to protect against undue influence. 
  • Governments are able to appoint employees of corporations, including shipping companies, to their delegations, and they have dominated some delegations. These private-sector delegates can determine their government’s position on IMO policy and are not subject to conflict of interest rules nor to a code of conduct. 

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. The IMO itself is not responsible for who 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 Programme 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.”

Transparency International has urged the IMO to establish a stronger governance framework. It says 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.

There should be no delay on action to combat climate change. The Intersessional Working Group on GHG Emissions from Ships meeting in London today should set ambitious targets for reducing emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, and begin taking measurable action now.

 “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. “The IMO has an integral role in helping the shipping industry meet UN Sustainable Development Goal 13 on climate change, and Goal 14 on oceans. Ultimately, it must reform its governance structure to promote transparency and ensure the voices of citizens – alongside industry – are heard.”

* The summary report is available here.

* Transparency International https://www.transparency.org/

[Ekk/4]

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.