The road to Paris

Road-to-ParisBackground: Aviation and shipping’s emissions

In the century or so since the first commercial flight, aviation emissions have grown to account for about 5% of global warming. CO2 from shipping is about 3% of the global total. These sectors combined are equivalent to the sixth largest emitter if compared with world nations. Both sectors are among the fastest growing sources of emissions at a global level. Only domestic aviation and shipping (bunker) emissions were included in the Kyoto climate targets, set in 1997. To date, only the EU has subject its domestic and intra EU aviation emissions to a reduction target under the EU ETS. No measures are in place anywhere to limit or reduce international shipping GHG emissions.

Paragraph 2.2 of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol handed responsibility to limit and reduce international aviation and shipping emissions to the UN specialised agencies responsible for regulating these sectors – the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO). In the 18 years since then, ICAO has failed to implement one single measure to limit international aviation emissions but managed to agree to rule out fuel taxation and undermine the EU’s emissions trading scheme. The jury is out on ongoing ICAO work to develop a CO2 standard from new aircraft and to agree a global market-based measure intended to commence in 2020. In the meantime aviation emissions continue to grow at 2-3% p.a. Read more in our ‘Free Guide to ICAO’.

The IMO did agree a design efficiency standard for new ships which took effect in 2013 but it will take a generation to affect the global fleet and its stringency and effectiveness are under question. Negotiations at the IMO about tracking ship fuel consumption continue while consideration of a global cap was pushed aside as recently as May 2015. Under current policies, the Third IMO GHG study forecasts shipping CO2 emissions to increase by 50% to 250% by 2050, which would then represent between 6%-14% of total global emissions. A similar scenario exists for aviation. Both Organisations have fallen way short of delivering meaningful measures to reduce emissions from these sectors, consistent with the 1.5/2 degrees objective.

Why do we need action from the Paris COP?

The upcoming Paris COP’s goal is to achieve a legally binding and comprehensive agreement to combat climate change (UNFCCC), and to keep the increase in global temperature below 1.5/2 degrees. At the Copenhagen COP in 2009, all countries – developed and developing – agreed that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time, and that the international community should implement measures to at least keep the increase of temperature below 2 degrees compared to preindustrial levels (Copenhagen Accord, 2009). However, this level of warming still represents a threat for many low-lying nations, so aiming to keep a temperature increase to at or under 1.5 degrees is considered a key target for other parties (Cancun Agreements, 2010; AOSIS, 2014).

To achieve these goals an imminent peak in GHG emissions is required followed by sustained emissions reductions (UNEP, 2010). This means that all sectors of the global economy must reduce their GHG emissions by 40-70% compared to 2010 levels. However, if no action is taken in the aviation and shipping sectors, these “bunker” emissions are expected to increase by between 50% and 270% by 2050.

The below graph shows the range of expected increase in GHG emissions in the shipping sector up until 2050 if no action is taken, as projected by the Third IMO GHG Study (2014).

Graph of the range of expected increase in GHG emissions in the shipping sector


To achieve the 2 or 1.5 degree scenario, international shipping emissions must peak in 2020 and then start to decline sharply (see below graph).

Graph of international shipping emissions


For aviation, the trajectory for emissions growth is equally stark. According to ICAO, all scenarios will see aviation emissions grow sharply to 2050 and beyond, again endangering achievement of the 2 degrees target.


What must the Paris agreement commit to?

Emission reduction targets for international aviation and shipping need to be urgently agreed so that these sectors can begin to contribute to the objective of avoiding a temperature increase of more than 2/1.5 degrees. T&E therefore calls for countries participating in the UN climate negotiations (UNFCCC) to include domestic shipping and aviation within their emission reduction plans (Intended National Determined Contributions – INDCs) which together form the global reduction effort. Countries should also insist that ICAO and IMO set realistic reduction targets consistent with 1.5/2 degrees and adopt measures to implement them. ICAO and IMO have essential expertise in their respective sectors, but they must have a clearly defined role in the global climate agreement and they must take full responsibility for setting credible targets and introducing effective measures to achieve such targets.