Shipping and aviation heading for 3°C says UN chief

October 28, 2021

UN chief António Guterres says current aviation and shipping efforts are inadequate

“Let’s be honest…current commitments are not aligned with the 1.5°C goal of the Paris agreement. In fact, they are more consistent with warming way above 3°C.”

These were the scathing words of UN chief António Guterres on the eve of the COP26 summit in Glasgow, when he urged shipping and aviation to do more to cut their emissions.

Aviation and shipping each account for roughly 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and that share is growing. And because emissions from these sectors are often released outside of national borders, governments have failed to address them.

However, contrary to industry claims, a new legal analysis, commissioned by T&E, shows that shipping and aviation are in fact subject to the Paris Agreement and must therefore be included in countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). 

Industry groups like the International Chamber of Shipping claim that these sectors are not subject to Paris because they are not specifically mentioned. But unlike the Kyoto Protocol, the central pillar of the Paris Agreement is a temperature goal. Parties are obligated to implement “economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets”, that is, to control anthropogenic emissions so that global warming is limited to well below 2°C. 

A failure to address all anthropogenic emissions – including shipping and aviation – would therefore violate the central aim of the Agreement, according to the analysis.

Jacob Armstrong, shipping officer at T&E, said: “This should dispel the misconception that aviation and shipping emissions are not subject to the Paris Agreement. With COP26 coming up, governments must include shipping and aviation emissions in their national climate targets. This is what they signed up for in the Paris agreement.”

To date, governments passed the responsibility to manage global shipping and aviation emissions on to international organisations like the International Maritime Organization (IMO) or the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and largely ineffective agreements such as the latter’s carbon offsetting scheme, Corsia.

T&E says the EU must ensure policy measures that address aviation and shipping emissions are consistent with its long-term climate goals.

Armstrong concluded: “For aviation this means abandoning the weak offsetting scheme Corsia [ICAO’s offsetting scheme] in favour of ambitious carbon pricing and fuel mandates. In shipping, this means tightening the FuelEU initiative to mandate only zero- emission fuels after 2050 as well as ensuring that funds from the new maritime carbon pricing scheme go towards speeding up the deployment of clean shipping fuels.”

A group of countries will pledge at COP26 to achieve net zero aviation emissions by 2050, a leaked document shows. But the declaration will identify ICAO as the forum to achieve it. T&E said this is a backward step.

Jo Dardenne, T&E aviation manager, said: “ICAO has failed time and again to get effective climate action off the tarmac. Governments will happily agree to a long-term target but won’t regulate to achieve it. Committing to include all aviation emissions in their national targets would be a much better way to start actually reducing pollution.”

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