Sunday, April 17, 2016

Calls for Aviation and Shipping to Do More to Cut Emissions

Even though commercial aviation and ocean shipping are significant sources of greenhouse gas emissions, they were excluded from the Paris climate treaty, to be signed by more than 100 countries this week at the United Nations in New York.

Now governments and advocacy groups are pressuring these industries to take stronger steps to curb pollution.

A coalition of European, North African and South Pacific nations is lobbying the International Maritime Organization, the United Nations agency that oversees shipping, to start discussing an emissions-reduction commitment at a meeting in London that will begin Monday.

“We need to do something and go beyond what we already have, and set some very specific targets,” said Fran├žois Martel, the secretary general of the Pacific Islands Development Forum. The forum’s members include the Marshall Islands and the Solomon Islands, two of six nations that have made a proposal, expected to be taken up at the meeting, that shipping contribute a “fair share” to reducing emissions.

Another United Nations agency, the International Civil Aviation Organization, has for years been considering a market-based strategy in which airlines could purchase “offsets,” or emissions reductions from renewable energy or conservation projects, to cover at least some international flights.

Advocacy groups are pressuring the agency to adopt as strict a system as possible when it meets for its triennial assembly in Montreal this fall.

“If we’re going to have offsets, then they actually have to deliver the tons of reductions they say they will,” said Bill Hemmings, the director of aviation and shipping at Transport & Environment, an environmental group based in Brussels.

Nigel Purvis, the chief executive of Climate Advisers, a consulting group in Washington, said airlines were likely to increase spending significantly on offsets from forest conservation projects.

“Airlines know this sector and are ready to play,” he said.

While some previous forest projects have been criticized for not delivering the reductions that were claimed, “now we have new rules about how to do forests in a way that as we scale up we maintain integrity,” Mr. Purvis added.

Aviation and shipping each contribute a little more than 2 percent of annual worldwide human-produced emissions of carbon dioxide. Together that is more than the emissions from Japan, the world’s fifth-largest emitter.

Both industries are expected to grow over the next few decades, and their percentages of worldwide emissions may increase significantly as emissions are reduced elsewhere. Environmental groups say steps the industries have already taken, including regulations to reduce emissions from new aircraft and ships, will not help much because they are tied to baselines for improvement that are too low.

Yet after being included in initial drafts of the climate treaty, a paragraph on limiting or reducing emissions from the two industries was eliminated from the final version, which was agreed upon in Paris in mid-December.

The treaty commits nations to setting emissions-reduction targets, with a goal of keeping global warming “well below” a target of 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, above preindustrial levels.

Experts cite several reasons that aviation and shipping were not in the treaty, including a desire to keep the text as concise as possible to improve the chances of reaching an agreement. The issue also would have exacerbated disputes about the responsibilities of developed versus developing nations that could have threatened the overall accord, they said.

Industry representatives and environmental groups alike say that despite the lack of any mention in the treaty, there is still momentum for action on emissions by both industries.

Simon Bennett, the director of policy and external relations for the International Chamber of Shipping, an industry group, said that there was a “misunderstanding” about the Paris accord and that “somehow that means shipping has escaped.”

“That isn’t the case,” Mr. Bennett said. The chamber has filed its own proposal for the International Maritime Organization meeting; it uses language other than “fair share” but still calls for emissions-reductions targets.

But there are disagreements between the shipping industry and environmental advocates about the best ways to cut emissions. The industry generally favors a global fuel tax over carbon offsets, and notes that most ships have already reduced their emissions and that there is a maritime organization program in place, the Energy Efficiency Design Index, to reduce emissions from new ones.

Environmental groups, however, argue that the efficiency index program’s improvement standards are too low, and that most ships built in the last several years already meet the standards for 2020.

“They need to come up with more stringent targets,” Mr. Hemmings of Transport & Environment said.

The aviation industry also points out that it is not relying solely on so-called market-based measures like offsets to reduce emissions.

“The global offsetting scheme is just one aspect of the sector’s climate action, albeit a crucial one,” said Michael Gill, the executive director of the Air Transport Action Group, an industry organization.

Like shipping, aviation has adopted efficiency standards. The International Civil Aviation Organization approved them in February, and will limit emissions from jets built after 2023 from current designs, and from new models introduced after 2028.

Critics say that those standards are weak, and that most advanced jets being built already meet them. That makes adopting tough market-based measures more important than ever, they say.

“The level of the CO2 efficiency standard for new aircraft, set in February, was disappointing in its ambition,” said Kat Watts, a global climate policy adviser with Carbon Market Watch, in Brussels. With aviation left out of the Paris treaty, she added, the International Civil Aviation Organization “was handed the baton for climate action for international aviation.”

“Whether they run with, or drop, that baton will be decided in this October’s assembly,” she added.

In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency has begun what is expected to be a yearslong process to develop emissions rules for aircraft, and has said the rules would be at least as strict as the international organization’s standards.

But environmental groups have argued that the E.P.A.’s rules must be far more stringent. Last week, several groups, including Friends of the Earth, sued the environmental agency in an effort to compel it to move faster to develop the rules.

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