Press Release

Australia calls for tough stance on aviation, shipping and climate change

June 11, 2009

Bonn, Germany – In an attempt to break the political deadlock preventing action on international aviation and shipping emissions, Australia has called for reduction targets for these sectors to be agreed at the Copenhagen climate talks in December. In an indictment of the failure of the UN bodies responsible over the twelve years since the Kyoto protocol was adopted, Australia is effectively calling for the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to be stripped of their responsibility for developing and implementing reduction targets. Environmental groups have welcomed the move and called on the European Union to support it.

Since Kyoto, aviation and shipping emissions have grown rapidly while many other sectors have reduced theirs. Australia’s move follows recent scientific reports [1] suggesting that if aviation and shipping emissions continue unchecked they could grow by 2050 to represent 50% or more of the total greenhouse gas emissions permissible worldwide to keep global warming below 2 degrees.

Greenhouse gas emissions from aviation and shipping were left out of national reduction targets when Kyoto was adopted in 1997, with responsibility handed instead to ICAO and the IMO. But both organisations have so far failed to act. ICAO, spurred on by IATA, the aviation industry lobby, as well as several developing countries, has spent nearly twelve years actively blocking progress in the aviation sector. The IMO has produced reports but has come to no agreement on action.

Australia is calling for the UNFCCC climate talks process to take charge of the sectors and set a framework and targets at Copenhagen with a view to agreeing new treaties for each sector by 2011, effectively bypassing ICAO and the IMO.

Australia’s proposal goes further than the European Union, which also wants the Copenhagen process to set sector targets but only urges ICAO and the IMO to speed up their work.

Last week, ICAO’s special committee on climate change (the GIACC) published its so-called “action plan” for aviation emissions. It recommended short and medium term non-binding fuel efficiency ‘aspirational goals’ of 2% per annum – the same result the industry is already achieving without regulation. But this will not even offset expected growth in air transport of 5% per year.

On Tuesday, British Airways boss Willie Walsh was quoted in the UK’s Guardian newspaper as saying: “I don’t think ICAO has done enough and I don’t think they will be able to influence decisions at Copenhagen.” [2]

Bill Hemmings, of Transport and Environment (T&E), said: ‘’reading between the lines of Australia’s measured statement, the meaning is clear: industry-dominated ICAO and IMO have manifestly failed to deliver progress in the last twelve years and now its time for environment ministers to take over ahead of the Copenhagen climate deal. They should set genuine reduction targets and take real action for these two fast-growing sectors.’’

Last year, in view of ICAO’s inaction, the EU agreed plans to bring aviation into its Emissions Trading System in 2012, but continues to hesitate about shipping. It is quite clear that global solutions are urgently needed for both sectors if climate goals are to be reached.

EU Finance Ministers acknowledged this week that revenues from global measures to control aviation and shipping emissions could play an important role in assistance to developing countries to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.

“The inclusion of emissions from international aviation and shipping in the Copenhagen agreement can be a crucial source of funds to protect vulnerable countries from the consequences of climate change” said Pete Lockley of WWF, adding that “Australia must also think about how it can address the concerns of the most remote and vulnerable countries.”

John Maggs of Seas At Risk, said “the EU should now step up and support the new approach suggested by Australia to ensure that the Copenhagen negotiating process finally takes the action that ICAO and IMO have failed to deliver over the last twelve years.”


Released on behalf of:

  • Transport and Environment
  • WWF
  • Germanwatch
  • Seas At Risk
  • Sustainable Population Australia



[1] Lee, D.S., et al., Aviation and global climate change in the 21st century, Atmospheric Environment (2009)

– Second IMO GHG Study 2009, Update of the 2000 IMO GHG Study, Final report covering Phase 1 and Phase 2, London (April 2009)