In the overall context of sustainable development, shipping is a very powerful and positive force, making a major contribution to global trade and prosperity in a way that has only a relatively small negative impact on the global environment.
Shipping – which transports 90 per cent of global trade – is, statistically, the least environmentally damaging mode of transport, when its productive value is taken into consideration. The vast quantity of grain required to make the world’s daily bread, for example, could not be transported any other way than by ship. Moreover, set against land-based industry, shipping is a comparatively minor contributor, overall, to marine pollution from human activities.
IMO’s original mandate was principally concerned with maritime safety. However, as the custodian of the 1954 OILPOL Convention, the Organization, soon after it began functioning in 1959, assumed responsibility for pollution issues and subsequently has, over many years, adopted a wide range of measures to prevent and control pollution caused by ships and to mitigate the effects of any damage that may occur as a result of maritime operations and accidents.
These measures have been shown to be successful in reducing vessel-sourced pollution and illustrate the commitment of the Organization and the shipping industry towards protecting the environment. Of the 51 treaty instruments IMO has adopted so far, 21 are directly environment-related or 23, if the environmental aspects of the Salvage and Wreck Removal Conventions are included.
The Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) is IMO's senior technical body on marine pollution related matters. It is aided in its work by a number of IMO's Sub-Committees.