Planes and Ships: In the Midst of Copenhagen Climate Gloom, A Glimmer of Hope

Nov 5, 2009

Reporting from Barcelona, Spain

Chances for an international climate change treaty in December are crumbling, but advocates see a glimmer of hope in regulating emissions from planes and ships for the first time globally, helped by a new financing proposal.

Discussions are on the table to create a revenue stream from emissions trading in the aviation and shipping sectors — tens of billions of dollars annually that could finance climate protection measures in poor countries.

An analysis by Brussels-based Transport and Environment determined the revenue from global measures to address the sectors' bunker fuel emissions, often referred to in policy talks as "bunkers", could represent "a significant part of the overall mitigation and financing solution the world requires from Copenhagen."

"If we get a deal on this, we'd be killing two birds with one stone," Peter Lockley, head of transport policy at WWF-UK, told SolveClimate. "We would be solving a big source of emissions and boosting [climate] financing for developing countries."

That deal is inching closer.

On Thursday at the Barcelona climate talks, "there was a breakthrough," Lockley said, "with a number of developing countries clearly articulating their wish for finance from international aviation and shipping, and the EU welcoming their proposals."

Emissions from aviation and shipping are responsible for 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. International shipping releases 870 million tons of CO2 each year — more than the UK and Canada. Emissions from aviation exceed 730 million tons each year — up more than 45 percent since 1990.

Left unmitigated, the total figures are projected to double or triple by 2050, according to an analysis by 10 organizations.

"Bunkers" were not tackled by the Kyoto Protocol's climate framework in 1997 for one main reason: Nations couldn't agree on how to divvy up responsibility for cutting aviation and shipping emissions, since the CO2 is spewed into international waters and air.

Since then, the industry has agreed to the idea of adopting a global "sectoral approach." Meaning, specific airlines or shipping companies, not governments, would be responsible for cutting their emissions. They still haven't come up with a way to execute it, though.

Nations are still heavily involved in the negotiations, and rifts abound. Developing countries are "very protective of their industries," Paul Steele, director of Aviation Environment for the International Air Transport Association (IATA), told SolveClimate in Barcelona. They want rich nations to do the heavy lifting, he said.

Hurdles Remain

The powerful IATA, which represents 94 percent of scheduled international air traffic, wants "some form of economic instrument" but not at the expense of the aviation industry.

If revenue from emissions trading goes to poor nations, it "should help aviation development in those countries," Steele said.

Using the funds "to help poor nations adapt to climate change does not help aviation," he added.

CO2 Reduction Cuts

The proposal from IATA calls for "carbon neutrality" from 2020. Emissions would peak in 10 years, stabilize and then plummet. Until then, aviation emissions would be allowed to grow.

Estimates by Transport and Environment put that growth at 3 to 5 percent per year, "undermining hard won cuts in other sectors," the organization says.

The 2020 target is "ambitious in the framework of the aviation industry," Steele said. "And it's not like we haven't be doing anything."

According to IATA, the industry improved fuel efficiency by 70 percent between 2001 and 2008, and that's expected to surge. Last month, IATA members pledged to improve their fuel efficiency by 1.5 percent a year through 2020. At the same time, they urged governments to throw more financial support to the development of cleaner burning biofuels for aviation.

"Technology has the best prospects for reducing aviation emissions," Steele said. The organization's technology roadmap identifies technologies that could reduce emissions 20 to 35 percent per aircraft, including new engine architecture and less energy-consuming lighting.

For advocates, the 2020 target is a problem. "We're not anti the planes getting cleaner," Lockley says. But some see the 2020 peak as a way for the aviation industry to grow its emissions as fast as possible before it have to trim back.

The shipping industry, which is less homogenized than aviation, has not come up with targets. Big sections of the industry have, however, put detailed proposals on the table.

"These have a lot more flesh on them than anything we have seen from the airlines," Lockley said.

Despite the hurdles, Lockley claims "there is finally a push where there was once only pull." He is hopeful that there will be a "good enough signal" from Copenhagen that a legally binding deal on bunkers is on the way.

For its part, IATA says progress in Barcelona "remains to be seen" and it's "too early to tell" if advances on final negotiating text for an international bunkers framework is possible by Copenhagen.

 

See also:

The Shipping Industry's Pollution Problem Part I: Low-Hanging Fruit

The Shipping Industry's Pollution Problem Part II: A Lack of Authority

The Shipping Industry's Pollution Problem Part III: Off The Hook

California Fights Shipping Pollution As International Shippers Push Back

(Photo: vox_efx / CC BY 2.0)

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