Bunker fuels: elephant on the sidelines

Capping greenhouse gas emissions from international aviation and shipping could generate a quarter of the funds developing countries will need to fight climate change by 2020, but negotiations on these sectors have yet to get off the ground in Copenhagen.

On Tuesday 9 December, in the morning, the chair of the working group on long-term cooperative action (AWG-LCA) proposed to handle the issue through informal negotiations rather than a formal working group.

This was unfortunate, said Bill Hemmings of green transport group T&E. Seven draft texts on bunker fuels remain from Barcelona, which are not easily merged into one negotiating text, he added. The EU, Australia and Malawi urged the chair to review his position but so far there has been no formal discussion of the proposals.

The EU wants a Copenhagen climate deal to set targets for a 10 and 20% cut in aviation and shipping emissions respectively by 2020, relative to 2005 levels. With full auctioning of allowances, this could raise €17-25bn annually by 2020, the commission calculates. It estimates developing countries will need €100bn in climate funds by 2020. Figures like these have got countries like Nigeria interested.

But a counter-proposal by the US, Norway, Canada and Japan would leave responsibility for action with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and International Maritime Organisation (IMO), setting only a target date for them to act.

The aviation sector at least appears to back this line, with International Air Transport Association (IATA) director general Giovanni Bisignani saying on Tuesday: “I call on governments in Copenhagen to give ICAO a clear mandate to report back to COP-16 with a global sectoral approach.”

ICAO and the IMO held back-to-back side events in Copenhagen on Tuesday. At the IMO event, there was “quite some understanding” for giving responsibility to the UNFCCC to set emission reduction targets, Mr Hemmings said.

But here too, the sector is a long way from being fully on board. The IMO says it does not have a position on whether shipping emissions should be capped, or who should cap them. In October a representative from the International Chamber of Shipping told ENDS the industry envisaged a 15-20% efficiency gain per ship from today to 2020 rather than an overall cap for the sector.

Late on Tuesday ICAO and IMO pleaded with the UNFCCC’s Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advicethe (SBSTA) that their mandates to regulate bunker greenhouse gases under Kyoto be maintained. Both are worried that the UNFCCC might decide to do the job for them after 12 years of inaction.

Significantly, the IMO representative in Copenhagen said on Tuesday night, in contrast to the official IMO line, that an emission reduction target would best be set by the UNFCCC at Copenhagen, not within the IMO. In addition Norway, whose text on bunkers ahead of Copenhagen said targets should be set by the IMO, also told an IMO side event on Wednesday morning that targets could be set at Copenhagen.

ICAO believes its 2% fleet fuel efficiency improvement target and discussion of a possible goal of carbon neutral growth by 2020 are sufficient.

But in shipping too, dissenting voices remain. On Wednesday, Bill Box from tanker association Intertanko said: “If there is the need for a cap, then we believe it should be set and regulated by the IMO.” He added: “There is a danger of everything being lumped into one under the UNFCCC.” Of the EU's proposals however, he said: “We don't think ‘Oh my goodness that looks unachievable’.”

And this is the good news. Setting aside arguments about whether there should be a cap and who should set it, industry voices indicate that there are big opportunities to cut emissions in the shipping and aviation sectors. Now it is up to policymakers to pull their fingers out and give industry the framework it needs to make these cuts.

Follow Up:

T&E and aviation and shipping FAQs in Copenhagen plus "How ICAO and the IMO failed the climate change test" report (June 2009). See also IMO submissions to COP15, IATA press release, ICAO press release and Intertanko's policy on climate change.