Shipping and aviation: Missing pieces in the climate puzzle

It’s not clear who is responsible for cutting greenhouse gases from ships and planes, after they were left out of a Paris climate deal

International transport emissions are not mentioned in a Paris climate deal (Flickr/ Phil Norton)

International transport emissions are not mentioned in a Paris climate deal (Flickr/ Phil Norton)

By Megan Darby

Who will regulate greenhouse gas emissions from ships and planes? It’s an open question, not answered by the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Responsible for around 5% of global emissions and growing, the two sectors are not covered by the 187 national climate plans submitted.

Nor were they mentioned in the deal struck on Saturday, even to pass the baton to the UN’s shipping and aviation bodies.

Earlier this week EU climate commissioner Miguel Arias Canete said he was “very concerned” at slow progress on tackling aviation emissions. “If nothing happens we will have to enforce measures,” he added with a hint of menace.

Text urging countries to pursue “concrete measures” through the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) was dropped in the second week of Paris talks.

Observers say the EU pushed hard to reinsert it, backed by countries including Mexico, Canada and South Korea, but the US was not onside.

Report: UN shipping chief warns against emissions cap

Despite the omission, ICAO and IMO chiefs are now promising to play their part in achieving the overall goal – holding global warming “well below 2C”.

Koji Sekimizu, head of the IMO, said: “The absence of any specific mention of shipping in the final text will in no way diminish the strong commitment of IMO as the regulator of the shipping industry to continue work to address GHG emissions from ships engaged in international trade.”

It was something of a shift in tone since September, when he warned an emissions cap would “artificially limit” the sector’s growth.

Back in May, the forum rebuffed a plea from Marshall Islands foreign minister Tony de Brum to consider an emissions target.

Instead, its environmental committee is mired in detailed discussions on collecting ship fuel use data. Without further action, the sector’s emissions are projected to increase 50-250% by 2050.

The committee meets again in April, when campaigners hope to see a post-Paris impetus for action.

If the IMO doesn’t step up, the European Community Shipowners’ Associations fear the EU will hit them with unilateral regulation, potentially putting them at a competitive disadvantage.

“No regional solution could ever guarantee global emission reductions nor a global level playing field for shipping,” said the trade group’s Patrick Verhoeven.

Report: Green skies for aviation industry behind schedule

The aviation sector, by contrast, has an aspirational goal – carbon-neutral growth from 2020 – but not yet the mechanism to achieve it.

ICAO’s Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu said: “Every State and every global industrial sector must now redouble their efforts toward achieving substantial progress on emissions reduction if the COP21 legacy is to be achieved, and the civil aviation community is no exception.”

He described the Paris pact’s silence on aviation as a “vote of confidence” in the sector’s progress to date.

Andrew Murphy, analyst at Brussels-based NGO Transport & Environment, was not convinced: “There were various reasons why the text was not in there, but I don’t think anyone was praising ICAO.”

The big test comes in September, when government representatives are set to agree a market mechanism to meet the post-2020 goal. That could involve paying for tree-planting to offset increases in emissions.

Lobbyists at Air Transport Action Group said Paris provided “key building blocks” for that to happen, including support for the use of forestry for offsets.

More importantly for James Beard, aviation specialist at WWF, the Paris deal signalled emissions from all sectors need to fall, not just plateau.

He said: “It is impossible to overstate the significance of the increased ambition that this agreement put forward – and if there is one thing that we need from ICAO more than anything else, it is increased ambition.”

VIDEO: Michael Gill from the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) explains what actions the industry  is taking to cut its carbon footprint

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