Is the leviathan changing course?

The formation of a new partnerships and projects department within the IMO is an effort to link funds with innovation and R&D. It is also an outreach effort focused more on carrots instead of sticks. Craig Eason spoke to the head of the new department Jose Matheickal about its objectives and goals.

The main regulator for shipping, the International Maritime Organization, is seeking a more collaborative approach with industry and society as the sector faces a new wave of environmental regulations in the coming decades. A new division in the IMO is set to begin linking regional and global environmental research, particularly into low carbon shipping technologies, with various international development funds and projects.

This new partnerships and projects division will also help focus existing IMO work assisting member states adopt agreed international conventions into national laws to encourage quicker adoption globally. Head of this new department is Jose Matheickal, who was instrumental in earlier outreach projects such as the IMO led Globallast project (which was credited with helping some member states, particularly developing countries, bring the ballast water convention into national laws and develop the capabilities to enforce them, particularly under their port state requirements.

The new department will have three main functions according to Dr Matheickal who spoke to Fathom World (In the Aronnax Podcast) in one of his first interviews since assuming the post and working on how it will help develop innovation in shipping. These functions revolve around finding donor funds through more structured outreach, building partnerships with other UN agencies as well as the private sector – and here Matheickal points to the recent creation of the Global Industry Alliance – and promoting innovation through facilitation.

Changing the path of the IMO

Since its formation and first meeting in 1959 the IMO has been the designated UN body that sets and oversees safety, liability and environmental regulations. It’s role and structure is set out in the IMO Convention which led to its formation. And like most UN bodies it is the organization’s member states that send representatives to various meetings to develop these international rules, and are then expected to put those agreed rules into their national laws to influence their own (flagged) vessels, as well as vessels entering their ports. (Some of the organisations main conventions such as the safety of life at sea convention, and the early marine pollution prevention conventions actually predate the formation of the IMO)

This new partnerships and projects department is a clear move to develop carrots instead of strengthening sticks when it comes to regulatory compliance. Many of the existing efforts of the IMO tend to go unreported, with a focus being only on the regulatory impasse found when governments send politically focused representatives to those IMO committee meetings.

There already exists a number of outreach projects from within the secretariat, such as Globallast, Glomeep (for energy efficiency) and the GIA, as well as Glofouling, which is a focus on linking industry and the IMO as the issue of hull fouling gets readdressed. But there are also funds, such as the $10m from the European Union which helped the IMO establish five  maritime technology cooperation centres, and the funds from Norway that have been used to help countries like India and Bangladesh upgrade ship recycling and waste handling facilities to be safer and greener, and the GreenVoyage-2050 which is one of the growing number of efforts looking at demonstrating and testing GHG reduction solutions.

The new department will said Matheickal focus these projects and enrage their reach.

“For the last few years there was an increased demand from member states to increase implantation support, with capacity building, awareness raising or legal policy reforming  –  that the countries wanted to do,” said Matheickal “This was aligned with the thoughts of the sec general to     focus on the implementation side of IMO, so these two combined gave motivation to create a department where we can take  much more focused efforts on partnership building, resource mobilisation and implementation.”

Bringing Industry into the discussion

And while the IMO has to be technology agnostic, providing platforms for change rather than focusing on a specific company or technology, Matheickal recognises there is a need to have a close relationship with industry because there needs to be more innovation.

“This brings in two aspects, they are the final actors and they have a lot of expertise we can bring to the table, and some can bring financial resources to address common issues, so the private sector we want to increase such as the Global Industry Alliance”, said Matheickal.

“What the IMO can do with the new department is create some enabling mechanisms at the global, regional and national level where innovation is promoted and  facilitated and the right policies developed for maritime technology and innovation.”

The issue of the R&D Fund?

This then brings in industry led efforts to build funds and perform research and development.  At the end of 2019 a group of shipping company associations submitted a paper to be discussed at tone of the IMO committee meetings. IT had taken an existing idea of a research and development fund and added to it, suggesting a fund be create through shipowner contributions ($2 per tonne of bunker fuel purchased) and an independent body be established to utilise the fund to enhance efforts to find short or medium term measures in accordance with he IMO decarbonisation roadmap.

The paper should have been discussed at the next MEPC meeting but with the IMO cancelling committee meetings due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it is uncertain when it will be discussed.

Matheickal said however that the IMO is aware of the paper of course “The common interest is the same that we need support for research and development and innovation which is part of the GHG strategy. It does not matter who initiates it and supports it, it supports the IMO research and development goals.”

“If it (the R&D proposal) goes ahead,  in one way or another, how the department plugs into this has to be decided, but it will depend on how the member states decide on the IMO role in this”.

The full interview can be found on the Aronnax podcast

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