IMO urged to open up climate deliberations

Campaigners cite treaties on public involvement in environmental decision making to encourage greater transparency at IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee.

The IMO is violating international standards on transparency and citizens’ access rights, according to a new report from climate lobbying firm Opportunity Green. The report notes that public participation and access to justice in environmental decision making is a legal requirement both for states who have ratified the Aarhus Convention or the Escazú Agreement, and for international organisations.


The authors argue that the transparency of IMO’s deliberations fail to meet the Almaty Guidelines, produced by parties to the Aarhus Convention to govern the conduct of international bodies. The failings include not publishing all submissions from member states, low public access to deliberations and restrictions and media (and social media) participation. The Marine Environment Protection Committee is singled out for remaining “mostly inaccessible to the public”.


Opportunity Green Legal Manager Carly Hicks told Fathom that public funding for IMO, via member state contributions, could also create an obligation for the organization to be transparent and accountable to people of all members states.


“The lack of scrutiny and the resultant influence of unambitious industry at the IMO is such that UN Secretary General António Guterres predicted in 2021 that the IMO’s current strategy for greenhouse gas reductions puts the sector on a pathway of above 3°C global warming,” said Hicks.


While IMO’s opacity and reporting restrictions have long been a source of discontent, there has been considerable progress in recent years. MEPC meetings can now be watched online as well as on-site by registered journalists, with most (not all) submissions available online and a press team that provides daily updates from meetings. At MEPC79 last week, press briefings from a senior MEPC member were held at the start and close of the deliberations.


Hybrid participation is a source of frustration even for some member state delegates. Those participating remotely cannot vote in secret ballots, for example the election of IMO council members, resulting in disenfranchisement at a crucial period for environmental regulation. The organization’s hybrid working principles are due to be reviewed next year after a rapid introduction during the first COVID lockdown period.


IMO has made efforts to improve accessibility for delegates. It recently established a voluntary fund to finance attendance of delegates from least developed countries and small island developing states.

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