On Thursday, analysts spotlighted the news that the White House and congressional Democrats were moving toward dropping corporate tax increases they had wanted to include in the bill, as they hoped to forge a deal that could clear the Senate. A spending deal without corporate tax increases would be a potential boon to profits and share prices.
LONDON — During a contentious meeting over proposed climate regulations last fall, a Saudi diplomat to the obscure but powerful International Maritime Organization switched on his microphone to make an angry complaint: One of his colleagues was revealing the proceedings on Twitter as they happened.
It was a breach of the secrecy at the heart of the I.M.O., a clubby United Nations agency on the banks of the Thames that regulates international shipping and is charged with reducing emissions in an industry that burns an oil so thick it might otherwise be turned into asphalt. Shipping produces as much carbon dioxide as all of America’s coal plants combined.
Internal documents, recordings and dozens of interviews reveal what has gone on for years behind closed doors: The organization has repeatedly delayed and watered down climate regulations, even as emissions from commercial shipping continue to rise, a trend that threatens to undermine the goals of the 2016 Paris climate accord.
One reason for the lack of progress is that the I.M.O. is a regulatory body that is run in concert with the industry it regulates. Shipbuilders, oil companies, miners, chemical manufacturers and others with huge financial stakes in commercial shipping are among the delegates appointed by many member nations. They sometimes even speak on behalf of governments, knowing that public records are sparse, and that even when the organization allows journalists into its meetings, it typically prohibits them from quoting people by name.
Homes are washing away. Much of the nation could become unlivable in the coming decade.
was almost denied a seat. International Registries, which represented the Marshall Islands on the I.M.O., initially refused to yield to the foreign minister, Mr. Woodroofe recalled.
United Nations climate meetings, countries are typically represented by senior politicians and delegations of government officials. At the maritime organization’s environmental committee, however, one in four delegates comes from industry, according to separate analyses by The New York Times and the nonprofit group Influence Map.
Representatives of the Brazilian mining company Vale, one of the industry’s heaviest carbon polluters and a major sea-based exporter, sit as government advisers. So does the French oil giant Total, along with many shipowner associations. These arrangements allow companies to influence policy and speak on behalf of governments.
Connections can be hard to spot. Luiz Gylvan Meira Filho sat on the Brazilian delegation in 2017 and 2018 as a University of Sao Paulo scientist. But he also worked at a Vale-funded research organization and, during his second year, was a paid Vale consultant. In an interview, he described his role as mutually beneficial: Brazilian officials relied on his expertise, and Vale covered his costs.
“Sometimes you cannot tell the difference. Is this actually the position of a nation or the position of the industry?” said David Paul, a Marshallese senator who attended an I.M.O. meeting in 2018.
Hundreds of other industry representatives are accredited observers and can speak at meetings. Their numbers far exceed those of the approved environmental groups. The agency rejected an accreditation request by the Environmental Defense Fund in 2018.
Industry officials and the maritime organization say such arrangements give a voice to the experts. “If you don’t involve the people who are actually going to have to deliver, then you’re going to get a poor outcome,” said Guy Platten, secretary general of the International Chamber of Shipping.
openly opposed strict emissions regulation as a hindrance to economic growth. And an informal bloc of countries and industry groups helped drag out the goal-setting process for three years.
Documents show that China, Brazil and India, in particular, threw up repeated roadblocks: In 2015, it was too soon to consider a strategy. In 2016, it was premature to discuss setting targets. In 2017, they lacked the data to discuss long-term goals.
a Cook Islands diplomat.
The I.M.O. almost never puts environmental policies to a vote, favoring instead an informal consensus-building. That effectively gives vocal opponents blocking power, and even some of the agency’s defenders acknowledge that it favors minimally acceptable steps over decisive action.
So, when delegates finally set goals in 2018, Mr. de Brum’s ambition had been whittled away.
The Marshall Islands suggested a target of zero emissions “by the second half of the century” — meaning by 2050. Industry representatives offered a slightly different goal: Decarbonization should occur “within” the second half of the century, a one-word difference that amounted to a 50-year extension.
Soon, though, the delegates agreed, without a vote, to eliminate zero-emissions targets entirely.
What remained were two key goals:
First, the industry would try to improve fuel efficiency by at least 40 percent. This was largely a mirage. The target was set so low that, by some calculations, it was reached nearly the moment it was announced.
Second, the agency aimed to cut emissions at least in half by 2050. But even this watered-down goal is proving unreachable. The agency’s own data say emissions may rise by 30 percent.
When delegates met last October — five years after Mr. de Brum’s speech — the organization had not taken any action. Proposals like speed limits had been debated and rejected.
What remained was what several delegates called the “refrigerator rating” — a score that, like those on American appliances, identified the clean and dirty ships.
European delegates insisted that, for the system to work, low-scoring ships must eventually be prohibited from sailing.
China and its allies wanted no such consequence.
So Sveinung Oftedal of Norway, the group’s chairman, told France and China to meet separately and compromise.
Delegates worked across time zones, meeting over teleconferences because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Shipping industry officials said they weighed in through the night.
The Marshallese were locked out.
“We’re always being told ‘We hear you,’” Mr. Ishoda said. “But when it comes to the details of the conversation, we’re told ‘We don’t need you to contribute.’”
Ultimately, France ceded to nearly all of China’s requests, records show. The dirtiest ships would not be grounded. Shipowners would file plans saying they intended to improve, would not be required to actually improve.
German delegates were so upset that they threatened to oppose the deal, likely triggering a cascade of defections, according to three people involved in the talks. But European Union officials rallied countries behind the compromise, arguing that Europe could not be seen as standing in the way of even limited progress.
“At I.M.O., that is as always the choice,” said Damien Chevallier, the French negotiator. “We have the choice to have nothing, or just to have a first step.”
All of this happened in secret. The I.M.O.’s summary of the meeting called it a “major step forward.” Natasha Brown, a spokeswoman, said it would empower customers and advocacy groups. “We know from consumer goods that the rating system works,” she said.
But the regulation includes another caveat: The I.M.O. will not publish the scores, letting shipping companies decide whether to say how dirty their ships are.
A Storm on the Horizon
Ms. Kabua, the Marshallese minister, is under no illusions that reclaiming the diplomatic seat will lead to a climate breakthrough.
But if it works, she said, it might inspire other countries with private registries to do the same. Countries could speak for themselves rather than through a corporate filter.
Regardless of the outcome, the political winds are shifting. The European Union is moving to include shipping in its emissions-trading system. The United States, after years of being minor players at the agency, is re-engaging under President Biden and recently suggested it may tackle shipping emissions itself.
Both would be huge blows to the I.M.O., which has long insisted that it alone regulate shipping.
Suddenly, industry officials say they are eager to consider things like fuel taxes or carbon.
“There’s much more of a sense of momentum and crisis,” said Mr. Platten, the industry representative. “You can argue about, ‘Are we late to it,’ and all the rest. But it is palpable.”
Behind closed doors, though, resistance remains. At a climate meeting last winter, recordings show that the mere suggestion that shipping should become sustainable sparked an angry response.
“Such statements show a lack of respect for the industry,” said Kostas G. Gkonis, the director of the trade group Intercargo.
And just last week, delegates met in secret to debate what should constitute a passing grade under the new rating system. Under pressure from China, Brazil and others, the delegates set the bar so low that emissions can continue to rise — at roughly the same pace as if there had been no regulation at all.
Delegates agreed to revisit the issue in five years.
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This article is part of our latest special report on Museums, which focuses on reopening, reinvention and resilience.
When Brad Carney sketched the plan for a 15,000-square-foot ground mural in downtown Reno, Nev., he wove in design elements from the area’s railroading heritage, and pulled hues and motifs from nearby buildings and landscapes, including the state flower and the famed Reno Arch.
“I wanted to make it specific and unique to its place, so that this mural couldn’t exist anywhere else,” said Mr. Carney, an artist based in Philadelphia known for his playful, large scale and brightly colored public works.
“When I design murals,’’ he added, “I like to become a vessel for a community and a neighborhood, and not bring too much of myself until I find out what they’re looking for. The point of public art, to me, is the process of involving the community.”
16 small and midsize cities across the country where artists and local residents are taking to the streets — from crosswalks to underpasses — to add new color to old blacktop and pavement with eye-catching urban art as part of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Asphalt Art Initiative. Grants of up to $25,000 are helping cities create and implement relatively low-cost public art projects to revitalize their streets and public spaces by making them more beautiful, more inviting and safer.
ReTRAC Plaza, a little used concrete and dirt space once covered in train tracks being developed as a hub for local events, Mr. Carney said, from music festivals and farmers’ markets to movie nights.
Kate D. Levin, who oversees arts programs for Bloomberg Philanthropies and was commissioner of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. And especially now, as cities reopen, “there’s a social cohesion goal that I think has only gotten more urgent,” she said. “Why not use projects like this to actually let people be involved, create a sense that public space belongs to everyone?”
The goals are to support local working artists, community groups, businesses and government on collaborative infrastructure projects to make streets safer; to activate public space in ways that are “as robust and reflective of local identity and aspirations as possible,” Ms. Levin said; and to promote community engagement, “because a streetscape isn’t theoretical, it runs through people’s lives.”
Janette Sadik-Khan, a former commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation and now transportation principal at Bloomberg Associates, the pro bono consulting arm of Bloomberg Philanthropies, which advises mayors around the world. “Streets make up more than 80 percent of a city’s public space, so they’re really the front yards for millions of Americans.”
Three cities began or completed installations in late 2020: Kansas City, Mo; Saginaw, Mich.; and Norfolk, Va. The remaining 13 are expected to finish their projects this year. Through mid-May, the cities have transformed a combined 26,000 square feet of streetscape with artwork and engaged more than 1,500 residents and 72 artists in the design and installation process.
minority artists who will design vinyl wraps for 25 utility boxes throughout downtown. Troy, N.Y. intends to beautify an underpass.
“So many U.S. cities have underpasses that, whatever the original intent, turned into real barriers, and divided neighborhoods in ways that often aren’t very positive,” Ms. Levin said, expressing hope that the art projects “can create a gateway instead of an impediment.”
Teal Thibaud, director of the Glass House Collective, a nonprofit that works in an underserved neighborhood in East Chattanooga, Tenn., said even small improvements could help spawn others, especially in an area that had received limited infrastructure investment in recent years.
The Bloomberg-funded mural, completed in April, helped beautify the area, and several grants from local foundations, which increased the overall project budget to $60,000, enhanced the area in other ways.
A new street park next to the asphalt mural that created a safe gathering space, fence art to slow traffic near the elementary school, and painted stencils on sidewalks to encourage school children and other residents to follow the safest local routes were among the projects, said Ms. Thibaud. “We’re starting to see it all work together.”
Kansas City, Mo., redesigned a busy, dangerous four-way intersection where cars rarely stopped for pedestrians, said DuRon Netsell, founder and principal of Street Smarts Design + Build, an urban design firm that focuses on walkable communities. “People were just flying through the intersection, significantly over the speed limit.”
Midtown KC Now, a nonprofit local community improvement organization.
Soon after installation, foot traffic increased, overall vehicle speeds declined by 45 percent, street crossing times for pedestrians were cut in half, noise level dropped by about 10 decibels and the share of pedestrians who said they felt safe crossing the intersection increased to 63 percent from 23, Mr. Netsell said.
Bloomberg Philanthropies and Bloomberg Associates issued the Asphalt Art Guide, a free manual with tips, checklists, and case studies of successful projects around the world to encourage more cities to develop visual art projects. In March, Bloomberg Philanthropies announced a second round of up to 20 grants, open to all U.S. cities.
“Safety doesn’t have to be mundane and boring,” Mr. Netsell said. “We’ve proven that we can make our intersections and streets much safer, but we can also make them really fun and vibrant. It’s something that all local communities can do.”