By Aasa Christine Stoltz
OSLO (Reuters) - The International Maritime Organization aims to agree this week on steps to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the global shipping industry by making vessels more energy-efficient, officials said.
Norwegian ministers and IMO representatives said they hoped a meeting that opened in Oslo on Monday would reach agreement on design standards for new ships.
"My hope is that the foundation will be laid here in Oslo for an ambitious package of measures leading to real reductions in greenhouse gases from international shipping," Norway's Minister for the Environment and International Development Erik Solheim said in a statement.
Different studies estimate the share of world carbon dioxide emissions from international shipping at between 2 and 4 percent, comparable with that from the aviation industry.
But IMO Secretary-General Efthimios Mitropoulos told reporters the exact proportion was unclear and the Organization had decided to carry out new studies.
"That is why we have engaged scientists, to get up-to-date, concrete findings," he said.
"To obtain an exact figure on global emissions is difficult, but the emission share is relatively limited, seen in the light that shipping is the backbone of globalization, carrying out some 90 percent of world trade," an industry report said.
Because shipping operates out of sight on the oceans, it has largely avoided the intensity of criticism that the airline industry has received over emissions of CO2, the main greenhouse gas blamed by scientists for global warming.
Solheim told a news conference that shipping is environmentally friendly compared to other means of transport.
"But the volume is enormous. Global trade is increasing very much, and although that is positive, it makes the problem bigger," Solheim said.
More than 200 representatives from about 30 countries and organizations are meeting in Oslo until Friday.
A key principle is that any agreement must be applied globally and equally to all ships, regardless of the flag under which they are registered, Norwegian Minister of Trade and Industry Sylvia Brustad said in a statement with Solheim.
Technical, operational and market-based mechanisms for reducing emissions from international shipping will be discussed, the statement said.
The meeting is taking place a year before a conference in Copenhagen that will seek a successor to the Kyoto Protocol on fighting climate change, which runs until the end of 2012.
(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)