Copenhagen failure on aviation and shipping

The outcome of the Copenhagen summit proved extremely disappointing as regards international aviation and shipping emissions.

The outcome of the Copenhagen summit proved extremely disappointing as regards international aviation and shipping emissions, according to an analysis by the European Federation for Transport and Environment (T&E). Despite intensive discussion on bunker fuels in the months leading up to the December Climate Summit, it proved impossible to bridge the continuing differences.

The final draft text of the bunkers working group of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) secured no consensus and no mention 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 UN FCCC or the International Civil Avaiation Organisation (ICAO)/International Maritime Organisation (IMO) should set them, nor the level of cuts required. (The EU had proposed a 10-per-cent cut for aviation and a 20-per-cent for shipping over 2005 levels.)

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 UN FCCC principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) 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 – including their global scope and application – could not be progressed pending the outcome of the Copenhagen negotiations.

So what are we left with after Copenhagen?

Firstly, a heightened profile for the international bunkers issue 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 regarding 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 remain in the so-called LCA track of the UN FCCC, presumably to be discussed further in Bonn in May 2010.

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 two-per-cent fleet efficiency improvement aspirational goal is a target in itself.

Meanwhile, aviation emissions continue to grow and the industry’s reputation continues to decline.

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 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.

Note: This text is a summary of an analysis, dated 4 January 2010, made by T&E after the Climate Summit in Copenhagen in December 2009. The full text can be read or downloaded at:

In this issue