Europe and China stand by climate action on aviation and shipping

The EU and China have reacted to US president Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the Paris climate accord by agreeing to cooperate to ensure aviation and shipping play their part in tackling climate change. T&E has welcomed the agreement, but fears the US withdrawal will slow down progress in shipping. Such a worrying sentiment was felt within the shipping industry, too.

Ever since the 1997 Kyoto Protocol gave the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) responsibility for tackling emissions from aviation and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) similar responsibility for shipping, there has been very little progress to address the climate impact of air and sea transport.

But ahead of an EU-China summit in Brussels earlier this month, Lloyd’s List reported both parties agreed they would cooperate with the "highest political commitment" within ICAO and the IMO to combat climate change. The summit came immediately after President Trump’s decision on the Paris accord and apparently faltered over bilateral trade and tariff issues, but it is not believed these will affect the partnership on fighting climate change.

The IMO’s latest greenhouse gas emissions reduction plan envisages a seven-year period to collect data on the industry’s climate impact after which it might agree action. But MEPs have proposed to include shipping in the EU emissions trading system – under a Maritime Climate Fund – from 2023 if the IMO fails to agree by then a global measure to reduce shipping emissions.

Meanwhile, ICAO is currently working out the details of a voluntary scheme that would allow airlines in participating countries to offset – but not reduce – aircraft emissions from international flights, starting in 2021. It would only apply to emissions above 2020 levels.

T&E’s shipping director Bill Hemmings said: ‘It’s good news that China is continuing the commitment to fighting climate change that it showed when Barack Obama was US president, but despite its willingness to cooperate with Europe, the US withdrawal does make the agreement of a carbon limit for shipping more challenging. The EU proposal for a Maritime Climate Fund is a good insurance policy in case the IMO can’t reach agreement on a deal, and now makes even more sense given President Trump’s decision.’

The main shipping industry federation, the ICS, told a United Nations Conference in New York earlier this month that the industry would be happy with a commitment to keep total CO2 emissions from shipping below 2008 levels for the next 33 years and then look to cut emissions from 2050 by a percentage to be agreed by the IMO.