Climate radar misses ships and planes
LE BOURGET, France — Any deal at the COP21 summit that cuts greenhouse gas emissions enough to avoid potentially dangerous levels of global warming is going to have to rope in two big polluting industries — shipping and aviation.
Both ships and planes are regulated by separate United Nations organizations, and aren’t formally part of the U.N.-led climate talks. The two industries are economic powerhouses, making some countries reluctant to enact expensive regulations.
The dilemma can be felt on the Marshall Islands, a Pacific country made up of over 1,100 low-lying islands and less than 53,000 people. The islands are at the risk of disappearing beneath rising oceans, which is why they are at the forefront of a push to include a phrase in this year’s global climate deal that requires all industries, including international shipping and aviation, to set targets for cutting their emissions.
But the Marshall Islands also run the world’s third-largest ship registry, after Panama and Liberia. So the challenge to the shipping industry may undermine its own economy.
The country has made a calculation that the preservation of its islands outweighs the economic cost.
“Ultimately, this is a matter of survival,” Tony de Brum, the Marshall Islands’ foreign minister, said at a COP21 side event Saturday. “A sector in which we not only have a big stake but which we rely on for our connection to the world … It is very clear that in our quest for a 1.5 degree Celsius world, we need all countries and all sectors to commit to meeting the emissions reduction challenge.”
Pressure to include maritime and aviation
The European Union has backed the Marshall Islands’ push, with the European Parliament calling in October for the two industries to start taking steps to curb their emissions by the end of 2016. But many developing countries are resisting.
The Paris agreement, which needs to be finalized at the end of this week, can’t specifically set new targets for the shipping and aviation industries. The summit is being held under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), while the industries are overseen by two other U.N. agencies, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
But if the COP21 deal mentions shipping and aviation in the section mitigating further emissions, it will require the two U.N. organizations to set sector-wide emissions reduction targets similar to the pledges that some 185 governments made in the run-up to the climate summit.
“We need to be careful, because these bodies are independent, they’re not controlled by the UNFCCC, but it does need to give some kind of signal” — Anna Lindstedt, Sweden’s lead negotiator.
For the shipping industry, a green shift would involve increasing energy efficiency, reducing speeds and shifting to renewable energy and new alternatives to gasoline and other traditional fuels, said John Maggs, senior policy adviser at the NGO Seas at Risk.
For the U.N. maritime organization to start the process, it needs a clear indication from the COP21 process, he said. “It means decarbonization and it means reductions in emissions far greater than anything that’s being entertained at the IMO at the moment.”
The draft Paris deal released Saturday afternoon includes an option to direct the U.N. aviation and maritime organizations to “pursue the limitation or reduction” of emissions, “with a view to agreeing concrete measures addressing these emissions, including developing procedures for incorporating emissions from international aviation and marine bunker fuels into low-emission development strategies.”
The text has to strike a tricky balance, Anna Lindstedt, Sweden’s lead negotiator, said in an interview. “We need to be careful, because these bodies are independent, they’re not controlled by the UNFCCC, but it does need to give some kind of signal.”
Even the option of including the two organizations in the draft may not be rigorous enough. For it to have an effect, it needs to make clear that the industries have to adapt to a world that aims to keep global warming at less than either 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius, Maggs said.
“The limitation language has got to go,” he said, which means a tougher standard of “reduction” of emissions would have to apply.
And with a number of divisive issues still to be resolved in final week of negotiations, there is some concern that the option could be offered up to opponents as a bargaining chip.
The size of a country
The aviation industry is responsible for five percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, followed by shipping with nearly three percent, putting them on par with emissions from the U.K. and Germany, according to the NGO Transport & Environment.
If unchecked, their emissions are expected to rise by as much as 270 percent by 2050, giving them a global share of close to 40 percent, it added.
The IMO noted last week that it has adopted the only legally binding energy efficiency measures for a global industry, requiring that ships built in 2025 be 30 percent more energy efficient than those in 2015.
The ICAO, likewise, said it is already taking “concrete actions” to reduce emissions, making its air traffic management and aircraft technologies more efficient and introducing alternative fuels. It plans to consider a market-based measurement scheme and adopt a new CO2 certification standard at its next general assembly in 2016.
Others, however, counter that neither the IMO nor ICAO has set clear emissions reduction targets, which would give the industries a long-term signal on the direction they need to take.
The Danish Shipowners’ Association would like the EU’s monitoring, reporting and verification rules for shipping to be lifted to the international level, Maria Bruun Skipper, the group’s director, said at the side event on Saturday.
“Clearly, we want to see as much of an emission reduction as possible” — James Fletcher, Saint Lucia’s minister for sustainable development, energy, science and technology.
“We would like the UNFCCC to send a clear message to the IMO governments that they should commit themselves to regulate the industry as well,” she said, adding that the IMO can then work out the technical details.
The EU has a similar economic interest in setting international regulations for aviation, because it is one of the only regions to have already imposed limits, by including all airlines in its Emissions Trading System in 2008. China’s Shanghai pilot trading system includes domestic aviation, and the government has said its national system will do the same from 2017. New Zealand’s trading system includes kerosene from domestic flights.
For many developing countries, however, the concern is that emissions reduction targets could deal economic blows to important industries. In shipping, 70 percent of the global fleet flies flags from countries that are not on the U.N.’s 1992 list of wealthy countries.
And while the Marshall Islands has chosen to push for the environmental solution, rather than the economic one, Saint Lucia is being more cautious about penalizing flights into the Caribbean island.
“Clearly, we want to see as much of an emission reduction as possible,” James Fletcher, Saint Lucia’s minister for sustainable development, energy, science and technology, said in an interview. “However, we don’t want what happens to be at the detriment of our tourism industry.”
Andrew Restuccia contributed to this article.