Man in red coat looking through binoculars

Why observer status matters

Published: 25 November 2021

Did you know that alongside its work at the International Maritime Organization (IMO), BIMCO has observer status at the London Convention/London protocol, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the International Oil Pollution Compensation (IOPC) Funds? In fact, the observer role is one of the backbones of BIMCO’s work. Here’s why it matters.

What is observer status and why is it crucial?

Across the United Nations, and in other Inter-Governmental Organisations (IGOs), there is a practice of inviting knowledgeable organisations (Non-Governmental Organisations, commonly called NGOs) to participate in the discussions. There are different methods and levels of engagement, but such involvement is based around two common principles. The first is that the IGO can obtain information or expert advice from those with specialised knowledge to support its decision making. The second is to enable the NGOs, who often will be directly impacted by the actions of the IGO, to express their points of view. It is crucial in the support of our goals to provide the basis for transparent and non-discriminatory standards for the shipping industry; a level playing field. From the BIMCO London office, in close proximity to the IMO, we use our technical voice in the international policy making arena. Reduction of Greenhouse Gas emissions from shipping, together with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, set the strategic agenda of the IMO and we will provide expert advice in pursuit of feasible and practicable solutions. Maritime safety and security are also high on our agenda as we drive the development of guidelines and standards that improve safety, security, and efficiency of shipping.

What does observer status mean in our day-to-day work?

At BIMCO, we spend a significant amount of time reading through papers and preparing for meetings as an observer. Our reason for doing that is to make sure that we understand any potential changes and respond accordingly to promote a level playing field for our members. We can also submit proposals after discussing them with our committees. Last year, we submitted more than 50 papers to the IMO. Being directly involved in the negotiations gives a deep understanding of upcoming changes and we can thus provide information that can help members in their decision making. Depending on the organisation, being an observer can mean different things. At the IMO for example, BIMCO has special consultative status which gives us access to the full breadth of IMO meetings – covering everything from the environment and safety to the human element and legal aspects. We participate via the submission of documents on matters of importance to the industry. Through attendance at meetings, we both monitor discussions for topics of interest and also make interventions. This allows us to offer comprehensive information to our members about technical issues which are based on the latest regulatory developments; essentially, we provide in-depth knowledge of what is being discussed, so that we can help prepare our members for changes, develop appropriate contracts and clauses and support their decision making. When the meetings are concluded, we report on developments to our members and, where relevant, provide them with an exclusive webinar to highlight the main topics, outcomes and what it all means.

Reaching wider

Observer status at the IOPC Funds – in support of a global regime for compensation for victims of oil pollution

BIMCO strongly supports the international liability and compensation regime for oil pollution damage and is an observer at the IOPC Funds. The core membership of BIMCO includes more than 50% of the world’s tanker fleet, so BIMCO takes part in the IOPC Funds meetings to provide industry input and monitor deliberations and decisions of the Funds which potentially have implications for its membership. The missing link needed to complete the international liability and compensation regime is the 2010 Protocol to the International Convention on Liability and Compensation for Damage in Connection with the Carriage of Hazardous and Noxious Substances by Sea, 1996 (the 2010 HNS Convention). BIMCO strongly supports the Convention which, when in force, will provide a regime of liability and compensation for damage caused by HNS cargoes transported by sea, including oil and chemicals. The regime will be composed of two tiers – the first to be covered by compulsory insurance taken out by shipowners who would be able to limit their liability and the second to be paid by the HNS Fund made up of contributions from receivers of HNS.

The London Convention/London Protocol observer status – revealing the impact

Management of the marine environment is becoming increasingly complex, driven by more diverse users combined with greater awareness of not just environmental protection. In addition, the role of the ocean in climate change mitigation is becoming more important. Because of our observer role, we will be able to provide members with the latest developments and how these might impact our members’ businesses going forward, as well as ensuring that their concerns are fed back. As an example, the Parties to the London Convention and London Protocol hold a Science Day as part of their Scientific Group meetings each year to broaden their shared scientific understanding of a topic in a more informal setting. In 2021 the topic for science day was "Experience with comparative risk assessment for decommissioning of platforms and the disposal of vessels". In 2019, it covered practical and achievable monitoring techniques for topics such a microplastics and underwater noise. The Science Day therefore provides an opportunity for BIMCO members to learn about a number of emerging topics.

UNFCCC observer status – Raising awareness about shipping

It is increasingly important that shipping is properly represented in high-level climate negotiations and in the international arena. For these reasons, it is crucial that BIMCO highlights initiatives which our members are involved in and the role they are playing in reducing the climate impact of shipping. This could be by applying state-of-the-art management of biofouling as highlighted at BIMCO’s official side event at the Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, UK.

As the attention given to shipping is growing, this provides a tremendous opportunity to continue to raise awareness about how crucial shipping is – both within and outside of our industry.  That means that it is also an opportunity to call on influential stakeholders to show what shipping is doing to improve sustainability, discuss what is needed in terms of the regulatory environment and talk about the finance and research and development needed for the industry to transition. BIMCO’s observer status at various organisations is therefore a crucial task – for the benefit of our members and the industry as a whole.

Facts about Observer Status – keeping track of conventions, protocols, and funds

What is the London Convention/London Protocol?

The Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter 1972, called the London Convention for short, is one of the first global conventions to protect the marine environment from human activities and has been in force since 1975. Its objective is to promote the effective control of all sources of marine pollution and to take all practicable steps to prevent pollution of the sea by dumping of wastes and other matter. Currently, 87 States are Parties to this convention.

In 1996, the London Protocol was agreed to further modernise the convention and, eventually, replace it. Under the protocol, all dumping is prohibited, except for possibly acceptable wastes on the so-called "reverse list". The protocol entered into force on 24 March 2006 and there are currently 53 parties to the protocol.

The London Protocol provides a framework for parties to effectively prevent pollution of the sea caused by dumping or incineration at sea of wastes and other matter, and by activities including carbon capture and storage in sub-seabed geological formations and marine geoengineering activities such as ocean fertilisation. The London Protocol takes a precautionary approach and prohibits all dumping of wastes at sea, except for those on a list of wastes that may be considered. However, any wastes on the list must be assessed and given a permit before being dumped at sea.

The London Protocol is one of the key pillars of marine environment protection together with the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and Regional Seas Conventions. Its objectives include protecting and preserving the marine environment from all sources of pollution.

A growth in sectors of the blue economy combined with an increasing need to understand and protect the marine environment means there is a need to take a truly holistic view with all sea-based users working much more closely together to address what are big societal issues. It is important that views of the shipping community and BIMCO members are conveyed in these discussions.

What is the UNFCCC?

The UNFCCC is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It entered into force on 21 March 1994. Today, it has near-universal membership. The 197 countries that have ratified the convention are called Parties to the Convention. The ultimate objective of the convention is to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations "at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human induced) interference with the climate system." It states that "such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened, and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.”

Since the early days of the climate change convention, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been actively involved, attending sessions and exchanging views with other participants including delegates. It is recognised that this involvement allows vital experience, expertise, information and perspectives from civil society to be brought into the process to generate new insights and approaches. Furthermore, the access and participation of observers to the process promotes transparency in this increasingly complex universal problem. Such participation flourishes in an atmosphere of mutual trust which acknowledges respect for others and their opinions and takes into account the nature of intergovernmental sessions.

What are the IOPC Funds?

The International Oil Pollution Compensation (IOPC) Funds are two intergovernmental organisations (the 1992 Fund and the Supplementary Fund) which provide financial compensation for oil pollution damage resulting from spills of persistent oil from tankers. The funds were originally set up some five decades ago and have evolved over many years to the international liability and compensation regime in place today.

At the meetings of the IOPC Funds which took place on 1 - 5 November 2021, the Governing Bodies of the Funds elected Mr Gaute Sivertsen of Norway as the Funds’ new Director.

BIMCO strongly supports the international liability and compensation regime for oil pollution damage and is an observer at the IOPC Funds. The core membership of BIMCO includes more than 50% of the world’s tanker fleet. BIMCO therefore takes part in the IOPC Funds meetings to provide industry input and monitor deliberations and decisions of the funds which potentially have implications for its membership.

Beverley Mackenzie


Dr. Bev Mackenzie

Head of Intergovernmental Engagement

London, United Kingdom