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Copenhagen: ships, planes and ...

December 18, 2009 |  7:23 am

Back in 1997, when negotiators of the Kyoto Protocol signed the world's first treaty to control greenhouse gases, they left out a major source of emissions: international maritime shipping and aviation.

No country wanted to count those emissions, which usually occur beyond national borders, as part of its emissions-reduction target.

Now negotiators are scrambling to remedy the omission. Since 1990, planet-heating pollution from maritime shipping has 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. 

The European Union, several African nations, Norway, Mexico and Australia are proposing 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.

Advocates of emissions controls for ships and airlines noted that funding for a proposed $100-billion-a-year effort to help poor nations fight climate change, an idea endorsed by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, is to come from both public and private sources. Fees or funds from a trading system on 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 two-fer: We can close a loophole in greenhouse gas controls, and we can also unlock the climate finance deadlock.”  

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

China, India and Saudi Arabia oppose controls on their shipping and aviation, according to conference sources. And the United States, while agreeable to setting emissions targets, 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 emissions targets in the Copenhagen agreement or to allow the International Maritime Organization and the International Civil Aviation Organization -- to set their own caps. The European Union is pushing for 2020 targets of a 10% cut in aviation emissions and a 20% cut in maritime emissions below 2005 levels, according to Mark Major, an EU policy officer.

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 EU airports. U.S. carriers have threatened lawsuits.

-- Margot Roosevelt
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