Speaking in Salvador, Brazil, at the third Parallel Event to celebrate World Maritime Day formally and officially outside of IMO's London base, Secretary-General Efthimios E. Mitropoulos has made a call for a new ethical mindset if the world is to tackle effectively the current environmental challenges with which it is now faced.
The event, held on September 14, took the form of a technical forum in which leading figures from the maritime community in Brazil took the opportunity, in the presence of representatives from several IMO member countries, to outline, from their perspective, the steps that had been taken in support of the theme for this year's World Maritime Day, "IMO's response to current environmental challenges." Speakers from Argentina and the United States of America were also present at what was an international event of significance.
Speaking at the opening of the forum, Mitropoulos drew attention to the considerable progress that had been made by shipping over many years to reduce its negative impact on the environment in a host of different arenas. IMO, as the specialized agency of the United Nations with the responsibility for creating the industry's regulatory framework governing such matters, has been both a focal point and a driving force for such efforts.
In particular, he mentioned IMO's work to regulate and reduce oil pollution; the use of harmful anti-fouling paint on ships' hulls; preparedness, response and co-operation in tackling pollution from oil and from hazardous and noxious substances; and the right of States to intervene on the high seas to prevent, mitigate or eliminate danger
to their coastlines from pollution following a maritime casualty. IMO has also put in place a series of measures designed to ensure that the victims of pollution incidents can be financially compensated.
The issue of ship recycling has also become a growing concern, not only from the environmental point of view but also with regard to the occupational health and safety of workers in that industry. IMO is currently developing a new mandatory instrument providing legally-binding and globally-applicable ship-recycling regulations for international shipping and recycling facilities, which is due for adoption in the 2008-2009 biennium. And, in May of this year, IMO adopted a new Convention on the removal of wrecks that may present either a hazard to navigation or a threat to the marine and coastal environments, or both.
Mitropoulos spoke too of what is perhaps the biggest threat to our planet today, atmospheric pollution and the associated phenomenon of climate change. He outlined the considerable work that had already been undertaken by IMO and the shipping industry itself to reduce shipping's already minor contribution, overall, to harmful atmospheric emissions and went on to speak about the continuing work that the Organization is currently undertaking to ensure further reductions can be made.
In concluding the event, Mitropoulos drew attention to the unusual environmental pressures borne by the host country Brazil, as both a rapidly industrializing country experiencing dynamic economic growth, and as the guardian of unique environmental assets such as the Amazon rain forest.
"Historically," he said, "the march to full economic development has been partly at the expense of the earth's resources, to the extent that the fine natural equilibrium on which we all depend is now under threat. It will fall to countries like Brazil, and the other emerging economic powerhouses, to take a lead and find ways of ensuring that future growth and expansion takes full account of what we now know about the fragile state of the planet."