Hopenhagen turning to Nopenhagen as international aviation and shipping emissions fall victim to process
Thu 17 Dec 2009 – On the eve of the final day of the climate change summit in Copenhagen, it is looking increasingly unlikely a deal on bunker (international aviation and shipping) fuel emissions can be reached. According to a source, draft texts are due to be tabled at the relevant Contact Group later today but the drawn-out procedural process that has dogged the overall negotiations is hampering progress. A feasible way forward to reduce bunker emissions has yet to identified, said a group of NGOs today, who called for the EU to “fight back” on a deal. However, IATA’s Paul Steele, who is heading up the aviation industry delegation in Copenhagen, believed the EU’s firm targets on reductions in bunker emissions had been a stumbling block with many developing nations.
“Negotiators have so far failed to see beyond their own narrow or group interests,” said Bill Hemmings of European NGO Transport & Environment. “They are currently hemmed in by stale political positions. Attention is focusing on an extremely weak text being circulated by Norway. This is unfortunate and regrettable.”
Earlier in the week, a decision was made at the conference to appoint Norway and Singapore, each representing Annex I (developed) and Non-Annex I (developing) nations, to handle negotiations on bunkers, one of seven major issues considered to require a higher-level input.
“Norway’s proposal sends responsibility for action on bunkers back to ICAO and IMO (the UN maritime agency) without any sense of urgency or commitment to absolute reduction targets other than a vague reference to keeping warming below two degrees,” said John Maggs of Seas At Risk. “There is also no reference to the pivotal role that bunker revenues can play in climate finance. Norway’s proposal risks continued inaction and political paralysis. The whole idea of raising the aviation and shipping issue in Copenhagen was to use the occasion of wider negotiations to break the political deadlock and agree a fast track to introduce reduction measures. That chance is now slipping away, as is the likelihood of releasing billions of dollars of urgently needed additional climate finance.”
The group of NGOs today called on all delegations to act on the urgency of the situation and reach an agreement in Copenhagen that would link early global action to reduce bunker emissions to a significant programme of climate finance for developing countries. The NGOs support a separate global emissions trading scheme for aviation and shipping and a climate levy on marine fuel, which they say could generate revenues for developing countries in the region of $25-37 billion per year.
There has been talk during the conference of an international tax on aviation as one means of raising revenues to help fight climate change in developing countries, but there is a consensus of both NGOs and the aviation industry that this would be the wrong mechanism as it would not directly lead to a reduction in emissions.
“The level of expectation might be different between us but the core principles – a global approach under ICAO – have become more aligned than they were even a few months ago,” noted Paul Steele, IATA’s Director of Environment.
The NGOs warn emerging countries, as does the aviation industry, that failure to agree to participate in a global bunker mitigation process would see regional measures imposed by Europe and the United States without any access to the revenues generated. They said the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and the Alliance of Small Island States should support bunker measures on the condition that routes to their countries would be exempted and the revenues flow to the most vulnerable states.
“The EU came to Copenhagen apparently determined to deliver on bunkers,” said Peter Lockley, Head of Transport at WWF-UK. “There were signs that steps forward could be made, in the form of global reduction targets and an accelerated process in the IMO and ICAO to agree on reduction measures. The current so-called text represents an alliance of convenience, but the EU can and must fight back together with the LDCs and others who still believe a stronger deal is not only necessary but possible.”
However, Steele has found many developing countries remained firmly opposed to any charges on aviation or maritime bunker fuels. “There is a justifiable fear that the revenues raised by levies or allowance auctioning will end up with the developed countries and won’t flow out again, as they see is going to happen with the EU ETS,” he said.
“The debate has been relatively polarized, encouraged by the EU’s hard position on the level of emissions reductions required by the two sectors. By going into the negotiations saying it wanted a 10% reduction in aviation emissions by 2020, certain states that are looking to grow their economies were never going to agree to that. Countries like China and India are not going to accept such targets in a short time frame.”
Outlining the aviation industry’s own proposals, Steele continued: “It’s better to have an efficiency target that everyone can work to up till 2020 and then at a global level set the carbon neutral growth target from 2020 and then head towards the 50% reduction target by 2050. Most of the people we’ve spoken to here say it’s a very solid plan.”
Although things can change rapidly during the negotiations, he did not foresee ICAO being sent away from Copenhagen with specific emissions reductions targets.
“We would like to see ICAO given a very clear mandate to come back by COP 16 at the end of next year with a worked-out framework for addressing international aviation emissions. ICAO’s next General Assembly in September 2010 will provide the right mechanism and process to come up with something meaningful.”
Concludes Steele: “It would be a tragedy if we came out of this with no clarity because as an industry we don’t want this to drag on, but at the same time we don’t want quick, knee-jerk decisions that are badly thought through. Given the financial fragility of the industry, if the wrong measures were adopted the potential impact could be catastrophic.”
With the situation changing almost hourly, it is too early to write off the summit as a failure but time is running out.