Climate negotiators tackle issue of aviation, shipping emissions

With a day left, negotiators at the Copenhagen climate conference are making a final push to resolve one of the thorniest issues: how to control skyrocketing emissions from international aviation and maritime shipping.

The European Union, several African nations, Norway, Mexico and Australia have proposed an international cap-and-trade system covering ships and airlines that could raise as much as $25 billion a year. That money then could be used to help the poorest nations shift to renewable energy, slow deforestation and adapt to climate change.

Climate summit: An article in Thursday’s Section A on negotiations over greenhouse gas emissions from international aviation and maritime shipping said the International Maritime Organization was a trade organization. It is the maritime agency of the United Nations and sets international regulations applying to shipping worldwide. —

Advocates of emission controls for ships and airlines noted that funding for a climate proposal outlined by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that would raise $100 billion a year by 2020 would come from public and private sources. Fees or funds from a trading system for ships and airlines could provide a quarter of that commitment.


“This is a unique opportunity,” said Lou Leonard, director of U.S. climate policy for the World Wildlife Fund. “It is a twofer: We can close a loophole in greenhouse gas controls, and we can also unlock the climate finance deadlock.”

Since 1990, emissions from maritime shipping have grown by more than 85%, and aviation emissions have grown by more than 50%. Together, they account for up to 8% of global greenhouse gas pollution.

Left unchecked, pollution from the two sectors is projected to double or even triple by 2050.

When nations negotiated the Kyoto Protocol -- the 1997 climate treaty covering all industrialized countries except the U.S. -- the maritime shipping and aviation issue was left out. No country wanted to count those emissions, which usually occur beyond national borders, as part of its emission reduction target.


China, India and Saudi Arabia adamantly oppose any such controls, according to conference sources.

And the United States, while amenable to setting emission limits, has reportedly refused to consider funds from maritime shipping and aviation as part of a global financing scheme.

But many poor nations, whose agreement is essential to a final deal, see the inclusion of maritime shipping and aviation as a guarantee that funding will actually happen.

“Aviation is an industry that serves the upper classes,” Leonard said. “So placing a global cap is appropriate, so long as the funds are used to help poor countries.”

Also being hashed out is whether to set emission targets in the Copenhagen agreement or to allow two industry trade groups -- the International Maritime Organization and the International Civil Aviation Organization -- to set their own caps.

The European Union is pushing for 2020 targets to be set this week that would include a 10% cut in aviation emissions and a 20% cut in maritime emissions below 2005 levels, said EU policy officer Mark Major.

In the case of aviation, he noted, “the costs would be passed on to consumers, about 70% of whom live in developed countries.”

The EU recently decided to include aviation under its own cap-and-trade system as of January 2012, covering all flights to and from airports in member nations. But U.S. carriers have threatened lawsuits.