The European Union released a report last week claiming that the global shipping industry may account for 17 percent of global GHG emissions by 2050 (it already accounts for 2.4 percent). If the industry were a country it would be the sixth largest polluter. But because it isn't a country, and the industry as a whole lacks meaningful regulation, the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCS) countries are putting forth to validate their emissions cuts don't account for the shipping industry. That responsibility falls to the International Maritime Organization, a UN body with regulatory authority but little capacity to impose new rules on the world's existing shipping fleet.
The original draft of the Paris Agreement included some language that would address shipping emissions, but the latest draft has dimmed the prospect of regulating the notoriously elusive industry. At best it might implore the IMO to create GHG emissions reductions targets. Putting the industry on notice that its emissions will be a concern going forward is better than nothing, but certainly a disappointment to climate activists. Ben Adler's take:
There are many ways in which regulations could bend the industry’s emissions curve downward. The most obvious would be stricter and more broadly applied fuel-efficiency standards. The IMO could also set speed limits, as ships emit less when moving slower. Alternative fuels could be researched and deployed. Also, ships use a lot of electricity for on-board operations, and that could be generated using sources other than oil, as cargo ships are big enough to support solar panels or even wind turbines.The IMO, despite having commissioned a report that demonstrates the scope of the problem, has yet to take action. Critics suggest that bureaucratic inertia and coziness with the shipping industry could be to blame. So it may need a push.Precisely because it is so central to economic activity, shipping is a touchy subject for the international community to tackle. As a small island nation, the Marshall Islands is as economically dependent on shipping as anyone. More so, in fact: 6.1 percent of the world’s ships (by tonnage) are registered in the Marshall Islands and provide a major source of its tax revenue. That’s why it’s afraid to act alone to regulate ships. If it were the only country to impose new rules on ships flying under its flag, the ships would just register elsewhere. But the Marshall Islands isn’t afraid to push for strong global rules that would be the same for ships registered in any country. Whatever risk to its economy that might pose, it pales in comparison to climate change.