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TIN news:        Far out in the Pacific Ocean, the tiny Republic of the Marshall Islands has taken on a vital role in international shipping, with its flag flying over the third-largest number of ships in the world.
 
So when the nation’s foreign minister showed up at a recent meeting of the International Maritime Organization and proposed limiting the amount of climate-warming gases that the shipping industry could emit, he caused a stir.
 
“It’s a matter of survival for us,” Tony de Brum, the minister of foreign affairs, said by telephone. The Marshall Islands consist of low-lying coral atolls that could be swamped by rising sea levels associated with climate change. “We cannot address climate change without looking at all the components that are contributing to the problem of emissions,” Mr. de Brum said.
 
The Marshall Islands’ call for greenhouse gas reduction targets for shipping failed to win approval at the I.M.O., which is a United Nations agency that establishes rules for international shipping. But it has reinvigorated the debate about how to control carbon pollution from shipping, which accounted for about 2.8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions between 2007 and 2012, according to a report last year by the I.M.O. Emissions from the sector are projected to rise anywhere from 50 percent to 250 percent by 2050 under “business as usual” scenarios, the report found.
 
Scrutiny of shipping is growing. In April, the European Union approved a regulation, scheduled to take effect in 2018, that will allow it to collect information on the energy use and greenhouse gas emissions from large ships docking in its ports.
 
“What’s been agreed at E.U. level is enormously important,” partly because it has been difficult to enact regulations on the shipping industry, said John Maggs, a senior policy adviser with Seas at Risk, an environmental group based in Brussels.
 
The European Union does not cover international shipping in its greenhouse gas cap-and-trade system.
 
The shipping industry resisted the European Union rule, saying that it would reveal proprietary information about ships and their cargo. (The I.M.O. is also working on greenhouse gas reporting rules, which the industry says will be less intrusive.) More broadly, shipping officials maintain that their industry is already highly efficient, compared with other forms of transportation, and contend that measures are in place to increase the energy efficiency of ships.
 
“Shipping is still the servant of world trade, which is expected to increase as the world’s population continues to grow,” said Simon Bennett, director of policy and external relations at the International Chamber of Shipping, in an email. “This is why the establishment of absolute reduction targets for shipping would be wholly inappropriate.” His group hopes that ships’ greenhouse gas emissions will fall 50 percent by 2050.
 
Energy-efficiency rules passed in 2011 at the I.M.O. will mean ships built after 2025 must be designed to emit 30 percent less carbon dioxide per mile than ships built between 2000 and 2010.
 
Shipowners and builders can take measures to increase energy efficiency. Currently many large ships are steaming across the ocean more slowly than their engine capacity allows, which saves fuel, though experts say that could change as demand, which has been lagging, picks up. The designs of ship parts like the propeller, the hull and the engine are likely to become more efficient, according to Tristan Smith, a lecturer at the Energy Institute at University College London.
 
Most ships run on diesel, but the world’s first container ship capable of running on liquefied natural gas will make its inaugural commercial voyage around mid-October, between the United States and Puerto Rico. (The ship is also capable of running on diesel, according to TOTE, the company that owns the ship.) Ships may also be able to make partial use of wind power, a harkening back to the sails of yore, or other alternative fuels.
 
But as the shipping industry grows, reining in emissions will be difficult. “Further action on efficiency and emissions can mitigate emissions growth, although all scenarios but one project emissions in 2050 to be higher than in 2012,” the I.M.O. report last year said.
 
The issue will reverberate at the major global climate meetings in Paris in December, as well as at climate meetings in Bonn, Germany, that began this week, said Bill Hemmings, the program manager for aviation and shipping at Transport & Environment, an environmental group. Officials, he said, will be asking, “ ‘Where is the pledge for international shipping, and where is the pledge for international aviation?’ They haven’t got one. They’re the two elephants in the room, but they’re not in the room.”
 
At the I.M.O., the Marshall Islands’ proposal to limit greenhouse gas emissions received support from many European nations, but the powerful opposition included Brazil, China, India and Russia, according to Mr. Maggs. Mr. de Brum plans to bring up his proposal again next year, and observers called the Marshall Islands’ effort significant.
 
“It’s the first time that one of their major players has come to them with a key message on a need for change,” said James Corbett, a professor at the School of Marine Science and Policy at the University of Delaware.
 
Only Panama and Liberia have their flags on more ships than the Marshall Islands. Being a “flag nation” can be an important source of income for poor countries, but the system has also generated concern about inadequate regulations in some flag countries.
 
Asked whether the I.M.O. was likely to agree to limit greenhouse gas emissions, Lee Adamson, the agency’s head of public information services, said in an email, “It’s impossible to speculate on that; it’s entirely up to the members to decide.”
 
For the Marshall Islands, the clash between shipping and stopping climate change has recently been thrust into the spotlight by accidents involving drilling rigs registered to the nation. The Marshall Islands’ flag flew over the Deepwater Horizon, the drilling rig operated by BP that exploded catastrophically in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. It also flew above the Kulluk, the drill rig used by Royal Dutch Shell to search for oil in the Arctic until it ran aground in 2012.
 
Asked whether the Marshall Islands plans to stop issuing its flag to drill ships, Mr. de Brum said only that his nation would seek a universal solution. “If one refuses to register a particular vessel or platform in one registry, they simply jump to another registry,” he said.
 
“There has to be a global effort,” he said. “It cannot be something that Marshall Islands can unilaterally do.

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