It’s plane to sea: COP21 should address international aviation and shipping

International aviation and shipping account for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The aviation sector already emits as much as Germany, and emissions are set to triple by 2050. Similarly, shipping currently contributes almost 3% of global emissions—a number projected to grow between 50 and 250% by 2050. To date these sectors have largely passed under the radar in terms of compliance with global emissions targets and reductions. But many see COP21 as a prime opportunity to set ambitious emissions targets for these sectors in line with the limiting the global temperature increase to below two degrees Celsius.

The Kyoto Protocol exempted aviation and maritime “bunker fuels” from emission reduction commitments. Article 2.2 directed Annex I parties to “pursue limitation or reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol from aviation and marine bunker fuels, working through the International Civil Aviation Organization [ICAO] and the International Maritime Organization [IMO], respectively.” This left responsibility for international aviation and maritime bunker fuels with UN Specialized Agencies—the ICAO and IMO—rather than with individual countries. Many think these agencies have dropped the ball: while other sectors are decoupling from carbon emissions, aviation and shipping are consuming an increasing share of the global carbon budget.

Source: Creative Commons, Flickr

A recent Business Green article highlights how the ICAO and IMO’s “progress has been slow.” Since the 1997 Kyoto summit these organizations have only implemented “a handful of measures” focused on emissions. In 2011, the IMO adopted energy efficiency design standards for new ships, but new ships are already exceeding these standards. While the IMO is working on developing a global data collection system for monitoring ship emissions, the organization resists calls for an overall emissions target. Meanwhile, the ICAO has set a target for “carbon neutral growth” by 2020, but has thus far not released details about how the organization plans to achieve this target. This slow progress is causing pressure to mount as the Paris climate negotiations approach.

A new paper from the New Climate Economy points to the huge potential for fuel efficiency gains in the aviation and shipping sectors. Improved efficiency would provide two-fold benefits: cut costs and reduced emissions, by as much as 0.9 Gt CO2e annually by 2030. With economic and environmental benefits alike, it makes sense that aviation and shipping should be at the table in upcoming global climate negotiations.

The most recent draft of the UN’s negotiation text highlights “the need for global sectoral emissions reduction targets for international aviation and maritime transport” and the need for parties to work through the ICAO and IMO “on developing global policy frameworks for meeting these targets.” Whether this language will last through the final agreement has yet to be determined. For now aviation and shipping remain the two “elephants in the room” at COP21.