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Emissions of exhaust gases and particles from oceangoing ships are a significant and growing contributor to the total emissions from the transportation sector. We present an assessment of the contribution of gaseous and particulate emissions from oceangoing shipping to anthropogenic emissions and air quality. We also assess the degradation in human health and climate change created by these emissions. Regulating ship emissions requires comprehensive knowledge of current fuel consumption and emissions, understanding of their impact on atmospheric composition and climate, and projections of potential future evolutions and mitigation options. Nearly 70% of ship emissions occur within 400 km of coastlines, causing air quality problems through the formation of ground-level ozone, sulphur emissions and particulate matter in coastal areas and harbours with heavy traffic. Furthermore, ozone and aerosol precursor emissions as well as their derivative species from ships may be transported in the atmosphere over several hundreds of kilometres, and thus contribute to air quality problems further inland, even though they are emitted at sea. In addition, ship emissions impact climate. Recent studies indicate that the cooling due to altered clouds far outweighs the warming effects from greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) or ozone from shipping, overall causing a negative present-day radiative forcing (RF). Current efforts to reduce sulphur and other pollutants from shipping may modify this. However, given the short residence time of sulphate compared to CO2, the climate response from sulphate is of the order decades while that of CO2 is centuries. The climatic trade-off between positive and negative radiative forcing is still a topic of scientific research, but from what is currently known, a simple cancellation of global mean forcing components is potentially inappropriate and a more comprehensive assessment metric is required. The CO2 equivalent emissions using the global temperature change potential (GTP) metric indicate that after 50 years the net global mean effect of current emissions is close to zero through cancellation of warming by CO2 and cooling by sulphate and nitrogen oxides.