Who’s making the decisions at MEPC?

More than 20% of member state delegates at the last Marine Environmental Protection Committee meeting represented external interests including fossil fuel companies and environmental lobby groups.

As maritime policymakers gather in London ahead of a  critical Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) meeting at IMO headquarters, analysis by Fathom World reveals the extent to which climate targets could be swayed by special interests. At the last MEPC meeting in December (number 79), more than 200 out of 855 delegates representing full IMO member states were from organisations outside the control of national governments.


Member state delegations each have a voting right in IMO decision-making, so being a part of the delegation represents direct influence on how that country votes. As next week will bring key votes on shipping’s emissions reduction targets and strategy, those influences will help decide whether IMO can achieve the more ambitious targets that many are hoping for.


Ana Laranjeira, Shipping Manager at Opportunity Green, an NGO that lobbies for greater transparency, said: “There can’t be fairness in the IMO decision-making process if only some get to have a seat at the table. Unfortunately at the IMO too many seats are reserved for industry, and not enough for those representatives of climate vulnerable countries for whom an ambitious GHG Strategy is not only a goal but a lifeline.”


Of 202 delegates with external interests, typically referred to as advisers or observers but sometimes grouped alongside government officials as representatives, 55 represent shipowners or shipowner interest groups. This is in addition to the 16 delegates sent by the International Chamber of Shipping, eight from Intertanko, 17 from the Cruise Line International Association, five from BIMCO and several other interest groups that have been afforded separate, non-voting observer status. Another 42 delegates from class societies sat on national delegations, separate to a 15-strong observer delegation from the International Association of Classification Societies.


National delegations hosted a further 32 delegates from the technology sector, including suppliers and consultants as well as dedicated lobby groups and research institutes. Given the technical nature of the solutions to pollution and climate change, a voice in policymaking is a clear commercial advantage to those organisatons. While direct involvement from fossil interests was relatively low, at 14 delegates, their level of representation on some national delegations is noteworthy. Brazil, for example, had advisers from Petrobas and Transpetro, alongside four executives from mining company Vale.



There are legitimate reasons for these organisationsto have an input in policy decisions. In the case of class societies, for example, their role as recognised organisations (ROs) conducting surveys and inspections on behalf of flag states means close coordination is required. They also bring domain knowledge that may be lacking in governmental delegations. But where public interest rulemaking can have an impact on the business of shipowners, class or technology providers, their involvement is open to misuse.


In many cases interests are far from transparent. Across many countries there are a range of quasi non-governmental organisations involved in research or export promotion, which are coordinated by alliances of political and commercial actors. The Marshall Islands delegation boasts twelve deputy commissioners of maritime affairs, including a former secretary general of Intercargo.


Laranjeira also highlighted accessibility to the IMO discussions as an obstacle to fair policy making. “The IMO made a step forward by setting up a fund to support climate vulnerable countries in participating at the IMO. However, contrary to the generosity of member states in allowing industry a seat on their delegations, only two states have donated to the trust fund to date. If the IMO is serious about decarbonising shipping, ensuring the attendance of those countries that are already suffering the devastating impacts of climate change is absolutely essential.”


It is unclear how many of the registered participants physically attended the last MEPC meeting, or logged on remotely to participate.


The number of registered participants for MEPC 80 where key decisions regarding the decarbonisation strategy for the industry are being thrashed out is up by 30% with the secretariat warning of limited spaces in the main committee room and other spaces being made available.


Registered media representatives are permitted to follow proceedings in the main plenary committee room, but are banned from any working groups, just as they were excluded from the intercessional working groups.


The IMO consists of 175 member states and three associate member states. There are also 66 intergovernmental organisations which have observer status with IMO; and  85 international non-governmental organisations in consultative status with IMO.


MEPC 79 in numbers:


Total registered attendees: 1,121

Member state delegates: 855 (including 201 with identified external interests)

Intra-governmental bodies and agencies: 40

Organisations with observer status: 226

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