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Bunker fuels and Copenhagen - the disappointing outcome that leaves the aviation industry adrift on GHG emissions

Bunker fuels and Copenhagen - the disappointing outcome that leaves the aviation industry adrift on GHG emissions
Tue 19 Jan 2010 – The outcome of the Copenhagen climate change summit proved extremely disappointing as regards international aviation and shipping fuels (bunkers), writes Bill Hemmings (right) of environmental NGO Transport & Environment, who helped drive an international coalition of transport NGOs at the two-week conference. Although more discussion amongst countries on bunker fuels at the UNFCCC occurred in the past three months than during the last ten years, it proved impossible to bridge the continuing differences. The Chairman’s final draft text of the Ad hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action(AWG-LCA) secured no consensus and no mention whatsoever was subsequently made concerning bunkers in the non-binding Copenhagen Accord – 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 UNFCCC or ICAO/IMO should set them, nor the level of cuts required. A number of developing countries signaled the EU’s proposed 10% cut for aviation and 20% for shipping over 2005 levels were too steep.
 
Australia, beset with political difficulties over its green legislation at home, never followed through with specific numbers on its call for Copenhagen to set the cap. Norway sided with the US, Canada and Japan in arguing against mention of targets in Copenhagen, calling instead, in a weak formulation, for medium and long term goals to be set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO). The EU ended up largely isolated even though the IMO did go on record that it could live with targets set at Copenhagen. At one point, during a side event, even Norway acknowledged this possibility. In the last draft negotiating text prepared by the Canadian and Venezuelan co-facilitators, the EU targets re-emerged.
 
The US position, well known before Copenhagen, wanted no mention at all of bunkers at Copenhagen, ostensibly out of a concern not to see the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) injected into bunker discussions. The US subsequently opposed any linkage between bunker market-based measures and sources of climate finance and ended up siding with China, India, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sudan and latterly Venezuela, Argentina and Cuba.
 
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 UNFCCC principle of 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 – their global scope and application – could not be progressed pending the outcome of the Copenhagen negotiations.
 
It was four days into the Copenhagen meeting before the bunkers drafting group met – and only after considerable pressure had been exerted on the AWG-LCA Chair to agree to such a meeting proceeding under the AWG-LCA umbrella of ‘other issues’. Several draft texts then circulated within the closed group proposing that all Parties should address bunker emissions reductions (rather than Annex 1 countries as provided for in Kyoto Protocol Article 2.2) but that revenues from such measures should flow to developing countries. The Norway wording, supported by the US, Canada and Japan, however contained no reference at all to the finance issue. It turned out later that the US was blocking any mention whatsoever of climate finance in the bunkers context.
 
Early in the second week, the Norwegian and Singaporean Environment Ministers were asked to develop a text which might be acceptable to Parties. Their draft differed little from Norway’s original watered down resolution, excluded reference to targets (goals were mentioned but goals are not targets) or of setting them in Copenhagen. It also failed to gain a consensus. In the final days involving Ministers, the draft prepared by the Canadian and Venezuelan AWG-LCA co-facilitators failed to gain support sufficient to have bunkers included in the final accord.
 
 
What are we left with after Copenhagen?
 
Firstly, a heightened profile for bunkers and widespread recognition of 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 lack of clarity and uncertainty regarding bunker fuels as they were not even mentioned in the Copenhagen Accord. 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 bunker issues to progress.
 
Important questions remain. The last draft on bunkers, which did not gain a consensus in Copenhagen, referred to all Parties addressing bunkers through global measures. Will this formulation take precedence over Article 2.2 of Kyoto? 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 2% fleet efficiency improvement aspirational goal is a target in itself – possibly to be supplemented by some version of IATA’s ‘carbon-neutral growth in 2020’ concept. This approach is completely inadequate.
 
Copenhagen made no progress on the question of global measures versus CBDR. Norway tried to spin the issue by saying that the question was soluble but only in IMO (and ICAO), not Copenhagen. On the contrary, Copenhagen represents a failed opportunity to use the wider negotiations to resolve the issue and interpret CBDR in the bunkers context as applying to the disbursement of revenues, not the global application of measures.
 
Developed countries did not press the issue because they were divided – Norway, US, Japan and Canada opposing action at Copenhagen versus the EU, with Australia lost somewhere in the middle. Developing countries were equally divided; China, India, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and South Africa et al versus a good number of Least Developed Countries mainly in Africa (notably Malawi) and Small Island States (SIDS) – though some in this latter group were silent because of concerns, justified or otherwise, that they would ever see the money. It turned out that Singapore and the Bahamas played a spoiling role on this issue in the SIDS.
 
Having blocked progress again at Copenhagen, it is hard to see the position of China, India, Brazil and Saudi Arabia suddenly now reversing in ICAO and IMO. Given its position at Copenhagen, it is equally unclear how and when the US might start to play a positive role.
 
Will references to the potential uses of bunker finance now find their way into ICAO and IMO debates? The next UNFCCC meeting, set for May in Bonn, will presumably debate further the last bunker draft text with its reinstated reference to targets and call to “ensure that revenue from the implementation of (ICAO and IMO) policy approaches and measures shall be made available to support climate change adaptation and mitigation in developing countries”.
 
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is trumpeting the Copenhagen outcome as an endorsement of global measures and a vindication of its own position on emission reductions. It is neither. Parties remain just as divided on equal treatment of operators, and the divisions within ICAO on this issue run deep. On the eve of the Copenhagen summit the aviation industry came out with a flurry of statements professing support for global measures while at the same time warning that environmental taxes could destroy the industry. Such scare tactics point to where IATA’s true intentions lie.
 
And, with impeccable timing, a number of leading US airlines, led by their industry body the Air Transport Association of America (ATA), announced on the eve of the Copenhagen High-Level Segment that they were taking legal action against the UK over their inclusion as foreign carriers in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme.
 
We may see a coalition of the willing on aviation now emerging out of the Copenhagen aftermath to take group or coordinated action. The only problem is that some are more willing than others and, as Norway discovered, any attempt to widen coalition support comes with a price – ambition and environmental integrity.
 
ICAO itself now faces a major credibility test – how can aspirational goals ever meet the need for real and immediate cuts in aviation emissions? GIACC (the lost years) and ICAO’s continued failure to develop a credible position or plan for global measures leaves the industry adrift on greenhouse gas emissions and can only strengthen calls for unilateral measures which ICAO – and IATA – opposes.
 
Meanwhile, aviation emissions carry on growing and the industry’s environmental reputation will regrettably continue to decline. No amount of glossy four-page wraps in the International Herald Tribune on the eve of climate summits will prevent that.  
 
 
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