In the last-chance saloon, aviation and shipping drop the ball

By Bill Hemmings, aviation and shipping director

WHAT WE LEARNED IN 2016: 2015 ended with big promises from the UN aviation and shipping bodies, ICAO and the IMO, that they’d finally act to rein in their sectors’ substantial and growing climate impact. It has been almost 20 years since they were first tasked with doing so by the Kyoto Protocol, and 2016 would be their last chance.


Unfortunately ICAO let the ball drop not once, but twice, in 2016. First when it agreed the first ever CO2 efficiency standard, but one that won't kick in until 2028. And a second time when they agreed a global market-based measure for aviation emissions, but one that will only offset a maximum one-fifth of aviation emissions, doesn’t have rules as to what offsets can be used, doesn’t address aviation’s substantial non-CO2 effects and isn’t mandatory until 2027 (they say).

Some argue these are important first steps, and represent a high level of ambition for developing countries which have never before acted on climate change. While this may be true, it’s also true that the clear ambition of the whole industry and many governments is that this deal will be the end, instead of the beginning, of climate action in aviation and that now any other policy, like the ETS, should be ended. This is clearly not acceptable.

When it comes to dropping balls, it almost seems like the IMO tries to keep up with ICAO. The global maritime regulator failed earlier in April to make meaningful progress to regulate shipping CO2 emissions. In October, furthermore, the IMO adopted, to fanfare from the industry and climate laggards, a roadmap for a global CO2 measure. Not surprisingly, the roadmap envisages that the IMO will not agree on a global CO2 target and abatement measure until after 2023 – seven more years of delay. While other parts of the global economy are making efforts to reduce their carbon footprint, giving a free pass to shipping is not only unfair but also risks undermining efforts in other sectors. In October, the IMO also failed to strengthen the global CO2 standard for ships (EEDI) which, almost everyone agrees, does not drive ship energy efficiency.

But in 2016 we also learned that the IMO can sometimes deliver global deals, after it agreed that new stringent 0.5% sulphur standard for marine fuels will be implemented in 2020 and will not be delayed to 2025. This means at least 200,000 lives will be saved between 2020-2025 and that shipping took one more step on its long journey to reduce its harmful environmental and climate impact.

The Commission has disappointingly lacked any ambition, outsourcing the issue entirely to ICAO and the IMO. Thankfully we’ve learned that the European Parliament is prepared to step up and ensure all sectors of the European economy contribute to Europe’s climate goals. The year ended with the Parliament’s environment committee voting to retain aviation and include shipping in a reformed EU ETS. Let's hope that ambition catches on in 2017.