Why the IMO has every right (and obligation) to make the polluter pay


The internationally accepted “polluter pays” principle gives the IMO a green light to take fast action on a market-based mechanism to tackle the shipping industry’s staggering greenhouse gas emissions, says a new white paper from Environmental Defense Fund Europe and Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.

Emissions from shipping comprise nearly 3% of anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHG) released worldwide and those emissions are currently on track to increase. But shipping was not explicitly addressed in the Paris Agreement, and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has only taken early steps toward reducing international shipping’s climate impact.  

A recent white paper from Columbia University’s Sabin Center points to the “polluter pays” principle as a the clearest path towards the IMO’s adoption of a market-based mechanism to reduce international shipping emissions.

The “polluter pays” principle is a doctrine of international law which holds that whoever produces pollution should cover the costs their pollution imposes on others. It has been broadly cited and accepted since 1972 as the basis for action by the OECD, the European Union and the IMO itself.


What exactly should the IMO do now?

The white paper shows that the IMO can and should take action on enforcing a price for carbon emissions. Of equal importance is the need to create clarity of how that money will be collected and redistributed to offset impacts across projects on water and land. 


Read the white paper in full for more about the polluter pays principle and eight other international law principles that grant and shape the IMO’s right to act fast to curb shipping emissions.


For more information on EDF Europe’s shipping program, contact:  Aoife O’Leary +44 7526092615 / aoleary@edf.org