Analysis: Aviation and Shipping Emissions after Copenhagen

The outcome of the Copenhagen summit proved extremely disappointing as regards international aviation and shipping emissions. Although more discussion amongst countries on bunker fuels at the UNFCCC occurred in the past three months than during the last ten years, it proved impossible to bridge the continuing differences.

Sketch of some documents (default image for news

[mailchimp_signup][/mailchimp_signup]The final draft text of the bunkers working group secured no consensus and no mention whatsoever was made concerning bunkers in the Copenhagen Agreement – save a single reference to innovative sources of finance which could be construed as including bunkers.

The conference failed to act on the question of setting global sectoral targets for international aviation and maritime emissions because there was neither agreement on whether the UNFCCC or ICAO/IMO should set them, nor the level of cuts required. A number of developing countries signaled that the EU's proposed 10% cut for aviation and 20% for shipping over 2005 levels was too steep. Australia, beset with political difficulties with its green legislation at home, never followed through with specific numbers on its call for Copenhagen to set the cap. Norway sided with the US, Canada, Japan and potentially Australia in proposing no mention of targets in Copenhagen, calling instead, in a weak formulation, for medium and long term goals to be set in ICAO and IMO.

The EU ended up largely isolated even though the IMO went on record in the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) that it could live with targets set at Copenhagen. At one point during a side event, even Norway acknowledged this possibility.

In the last draft negotiating text prepared by the Canadian and Venezuelan co-facilitators, the EU targets re-emerged.

The US position, well known before Copenhagen, was that it wanted no mention at all of bunkers at Copenhagen ostensibly out of a concern not to see the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) injected into bunker discussions. The US subsequently opposed any linkage between bunker market-based measures and sources of climate finance and ended up siding with China, India, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sudan and latterly Venezuela, Argentina and Cuba.

The major expectation on bunkers at Copenhagen was to resolve the competing principles of equal treatment of aircraft and ships (ICAO and IMO) and the UNFCCC principle of common but differentiated responsibilities governing climate negotiations. China, India, Saudi Arabia and a number of other key developing countries had made it very clear in prior ICAO and IMO meetings that discussion of potential market based measures – their global scope and application - could not be progressed pending the outcome of the Copenhagen negotiations. It was four days into the Copenhagen meeting before the bunkers drafting group met – and only after considerable pressure had been exerted on the Chair of the Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA) group to agree to such a meeting proceeding under the LCA umbrella of 'other issues'.

Several draft texts then circulated within the closed Group proposing that all Parties should address bunker emissions reductions (rather than only Annex 1, or industrialised, countries as provided for in Kyoto Protocol Article 2.2) but that revenues from such measures should flow to developing countries. But the Norwegian version supported by the USA, Canada and Japan contained no reference at all to the finance issue. It turned out later that the United States was blocking any mention whatsoever of climate finance in the bunkers context.

Early in the second week, the Norwegian and Singaporean Environment Ministers sought to develop their own draft text which might be acceptable to Parties. It differed little from Norway's original watered-down resolution, excluded mention of targets (goals were mentioned but goals are not targets) or of setting them in Copenhagen and still failed to gain a consensus. In the final days involving Ministers, a draft prepared by the Canadian and Venezuelan LCA co-facilitators also failed to gain support. This draft had the EU targets re-inserted.

What are we left with after Copenhagen?

Firstly, a heightened profile for bunkers and the potential for revenues from global measures to play a major role in climate finance at some stage in the future. But set against this is a sense of renewed unclarity and uncertainty re bunker fuels. They were not even mentioned in the Copenhagen Agreement save indirectly in the reference to alternative sources of finance.

ICAO and IMO will proceed to discuss further the issues at their upcoming meetings in 2010 but without any formal guidance or timelines on the key issues from Copenhagen that they claimed was needed to enable them to progress bunker issues. Bunkers also remains in the LCA track of the UNFCCC presumably to be discussed further in Bonn in May 2010.

Important questions remain.

The last draft on bunkers which did not gain a consensus at Copenhagen, referred to all Parties addressing bunkers through global measures. Will this formulation take precedence over Article 2.2 of Kyoto?

Will ICAO and IMO seriously address the question of targets? Target setting is not on the IMO agenda. ICAO made clear at its Copenhagen side event that it believes the 2% fleet efficiency improvement aspirational goal is a target in itself – possibly to be supplemented by some version of IATA's carbon neutral growth in 2020 concept.

Copenhagen made no progress on the question of global measures versus CBDR. Norway tried to spin the issue by saying that the question was soluble but only in IMO (and ICAO) not Copenhagen. On the contrary, Copenhagen represents a failed opportunity to use the wider negotiations to resolve the issue and interpret CBDR in the bunkers context as applying to the disbursement of revenues not the global application of measures.

Developed countries did not press the issue because they were divided: Norway, USA, Japan, Canada versus the EU, with Australia lost somewhere in the middle.

Developing countries were equally divided: China, India, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and South Africa et al versus a good number of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) mainly in Africa (notably Malawi) and Small Island States – though some in this latter group were not vocal because of concerns – justified or otherwise – that they would ever see the money. Singapore played a spoiling role on bunkers in the Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

IATA is trumpeting the Copenhagen Accord as an endorsement of global measures and a vindication of its own position on emission reductions. It is neither.

Parties remain just as divided on equal treatment of operators and the divisions within ICAO on this issue run deep. On the eve of the High Level Summit at Copenhagen the aviation industry came out with a flurry of statements professing support for global measures but warning that environmental taxes could destroy the industry. And the US industry body ATA, announced that it was suing the EU over its inclusion of foreign carriers in the EU ETS.

Such scare tactics, equating taxes with emissions reductions make clear IATA's true intentions. We may well see a coalition of the willing on aviation now emerging out of the Copenhagen aftermath. The only problem is that some are more willing than others and, as with Norway, any attempt to gain wider support comes with a price: ambition and environmental integrity.

Meanwhile, aviation emissions continue to grow and the industry's reputation continues to decline. No amount of double page colour ads in the International Herald Tribue on the eve of climate summits will stop that.

The shipping industry's call for global measures and even target setting at Copenhagen was more genuine. But even though there are clear proposals before the IMO for a global levy or emissions trading, the chances of early progress in the light of Copenhagen do not look promising. The new European Commission and Parliament must be looking seriously now at introducing unilateral legislation to control emissions from ships calling at EU ports.