Page last updated at 03:22 GMT, Thursday, 16 July 2009 04:22 UK

UN tackles 'climate harm' ships

By Roger Harrabin
BBC environment analyst

Container ship (file photo)
The shipping industry is under fire over greenhouse gas emissions

The United Nations is discussing rules to cut the soaring emission of greenhouse gases from shipping.

The environment committee of the International Maritime Organisation is drawing up recommendations for design standards to make ships more efficient.

It includes working on operating standards so that ships save fuel.

But great progress is not expected on a demand involving a levy on fuel used by ships - something environmentalists have been calling for.

Shipping now accounts for more than 3% of annual global emissions.

That is more than the entire UK economy.

But, like aviation, it has no controls on its greenhouse gases.

With international emissions from ships rising 85% since 1990, there's a will to include the industry in the global deal on climate change at the UN's climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December.

The IMO environment committee hopes to draw up recommendations on mandatory improvements in ship design.

It also aims to frame rules on the way ships are operated, getting them to sail more slowly or more directly, for instance.

But the committee is not expected to make huge progress on a key demand from environmentalists for a levy on ships' fuel, with the proceeds going to help developing countries adapt to climate change.

This contentious issue will probably have to wait until the full meeting of the IMO in the autumn.

Observers of the shipping industry's record on protecting the environment may not be optimistic about the outcome.

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