COMMENT: Bunker emissions – time is up

Published 22:54 on September 19, 2016  /  Last updated at 06:59 on September 20, 2016  / Ben Garside /  Aviation/CORSIA, Climate Talks, Contributed Content, International, Other Content, Shipping  /  No Comments

The time of reckoning for international aviation and shipping is with us. Yet 19 years after Kyoto, there are many worrying signs over whether their respective organisations can agree credible measures to tackle their emissions, writes Bill Hemmings, director, aviation and shipping, at campaigners T&E.

By Bill Hemmings, director, aviation and shipping, T&E

ICAO’s time of reckoning is with us.

Nineteen years after Kyoto, can the organisation agree a credible measure to tackle aviation emissions, or will it once more fall short? There are many worrying signs.

The commitment to stabilise net emissions at 2020 levels seems to be receding – with states planning to cover less than 80% of the CO2 needed to achieve this target.

Second, any action is set to be voluntary for the next decade, leading to a real patchwork of measures.

Third, there is no talk of tackling aviation’s non-CO2 climate effects.

Last but not least, even if these flaws were to be addressed at some point, the entire effort is at risk because it fully relies on carbon offsets, which history has shown need very close scrutiny if they are to produce net abatement.

But under the current draft, it is very well possible that mandatory environmental safeguards are not agreed before the measure comes into effect. Offsetting is a high risk venture, and strict rules and governance are needed to ensure the promised emission reductions are achieved.

The last thing we need is another misfiring carbon market.

Pan quickly over to IMO in London and the challenge is just as fundamental. Can shipping even agree to start to discuss concrete plans to meet the Paris challenge or will it buy time at next month’s meeting by deciding merely to collect ship emissions data already available in aggregate?

Fortunately there seem to be some positive signs that key countries will come on board. Trying to respond to Paris and likely EU regional measures, the shipping industry now accepts the need to decarbonise and make a Paris-style reduction commitment, but this now needs to lead to real action.

The 1.5/2C Paris emissions reduction goal includes all countries and sectors, even though both ICAO and IMO bent over backwards at the time to argue that they were special from the rest of humanity and we should trust them alone to decide what to do.

ICAO and IMO govern the sectors by the bedrock principle of equal treatment of operators. However the draft ICAO agreement suggests that airlines can opt-in for at least the next decade.

Such a patchwork of opt-ins may distort competition – unless of course the measure is so weak that it doesn’t. Industry association IATA understands the distortion issue very well but perhaps this is why they aren’t pushing back.

An opt-in approach by states at IMO is unworkable as ships can flag out overnight. Any measures must be mandatory on operators.

The immediate focus is on ICAO.

Coverage of emissions is important but the decisive issue is environmental integrity. Unless ICAO addresses the question of safeguards and agrees stringent conditions then any measure is simply hot air.

European NGOs insist that the EU withhold any acceptance of an ICAO Assembly outcome unless environmental integrity is fully assured. An agreement without environmental safeguards would be a fraud.

Questions of legacy aside, that must also be President Obama’s position. On shipping, the US needs to emerge from the shadows and engage in the very public diplomacy it has deployed at ICAO to press for progress at the IMO.

Bill Hemmings is director, aviation and shipping, at Brussels-based environmental campaigners T&E.