Copenhagen – What about ships and planes?

Including aviation and shipping is a critical component of the Copenhagen treaty. Left Foot Forward looks at the options and financing propositions.

Twelve years ago when the Kyoto Protocol was signed and sealed, two global industries – aviation and shipping – were excluded from the treaty. It was argued that the nature of these sectors meant it was too difficult to assign particular emissions to particular countries. Instead, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) were tasked with providing a solution.

In the years since, emissions from these industries have more than doubled so that together they now emit more each year than Germany. Emissions are also growing so fast that they are projected to double or even triple again by 2050, which would swallow up much of the world’s permitted carbon budget.

The IMO and ICAO have not passed a single binding rule since Kyoto and ending the special treatment is a goal at Copenhagen. Indeed, the refrain often heard from Government ministers as they sought to defend the third runway at Heathrow is that the better option was to push for a strong “global deal” on emissions.

So with the last round of talks before Copenhagen now over, what is the likely solution for emissions from ships and planes? The suggestions generally revolve around the introduction of a global ‘cap and trade’ scheme for aviation, and a levy on international shipping.

Left Foot Forward looks at the main ideas being considered:

  1. Australia has proposed IMO and ICAO effectively be stripped of their powers to deal with this, and that the UN Climate process (UNFCCC) instead be put in charge of setting targets and rules. They have not suggested what the targets might be but it would be sensible for ministries with climate expertise (i.e. those at Copenhagen) who work out what to do rather than the transport ministries represented at ICAO and the IMO.
  2. Europe has proposed that the IMO and ICAO should stay in charge but suggested they be given a deadline and work towards cutting airplane emissions by 10 per cent on 2005 levels, and shipping by 20 per cent. Set against 1990 levels, this looks like a +36 per cent increase for aviation, and a +37 per cent increase for shipping. (Given that the rest of the European economy is legally bound to cut its emissions by 20 per cent on 1990 levels, these industries would again get a free ride under this scenario which has no resemblance to the scientific imperative.)
  3. Two countries with huge shipping fleets, Japan and Norway, have together with the US and Canada proposed the IMO and ICAO should once again be sent away to come up with something, and have not suggested any targets or set any timeline for sorting it out. This is the weakest option being discussed.
  4. Bangladesh and 50 other countries in the Least Developed Countries block are proposing that a flat air ticket tax be imposed on passengers in the wealthiest countries as a means to raise money for adaptation in poor countries while simultaneously discouraging flying. Although this is supported by much of the developing world, it has very little political traction. Instead, there seems to be a growing recognition behind the scenes that a global approach but one that ensures exemptions for the most vulnerable is a more likely outcome. Botswana has been at the forefront in arguing that the poorest should not be hit as hard as the wealthiest nations if a global outcome were to come out of Copenhagen.

Aviation and shipping (known as ‘bunkers’ in this arena) have long been considered ‘peripheral’ issues in UN climate talks. However, the capacity for emission-cutting measures to raise funds for adaptation and low-carbon development in the poorest countries has thrust ‘bunkers’ right up the agenda.

France, Germany and the UK are now said to be getting enthusiastic since internal analysis by the European Commission suggested that €25 billion euros a year could be raised from these sectors with negligible impact on the cost of individual air tickets. Raising funds this way would be a predictable and long-term solution and would go some way towards solving the finance question, which is critical to unblocking the negotiations. Sadly though, nothing currently on the table reflects the scientific imperative to reduce emissions from these areas. This only underlines the case for national measures like limiting airport expansion.

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