Role of Aircraft & Shipping

An emissions black hole

The Kyoto Protocol does not control emissions from international aircraft and shipping because negotiators could not decide who should be responsible.
Should it be the country from which the ship or aircraft departs, the country where it arrives, or the nationality of the vessel or passengers or goods?

The protocol left it to the International Maritime Organization and the International Civil Aviation Organization to take action.


But meanwhile, emissions from aeroplanes and ships continue to rise.

Resulting from their stronger impact on the atmosphere compared to CO2 emissions alone, aviation emissions (based on conservative assessments) are responsible for around 5% of global warming, the order of magnitude of the emissions reductions asked of developed countries in the Kyoto Protocol.

Everyone agrees this loophole must be plugged.


Today there are even more options on the table.

The simplest option remains to agree on which country must take responsibility for emissions (the port of embarkation, say) and then add emissions to national totals and integrate them into the targets for industrialized countries.

Industrialized nations oppose this.

They say we need a global solution as these are global sectors.

They say it will discriminate unfairly against their air and shipping lines.

They suggest instead that both industries should, in effect, be treated as “countries” on their own. So international aircraft emissions would have their own targets, controlled and enforced by ICAO, the specialised UN body that deals with aviation.

Likewise for shipping.

But this proposal falls foul of developing countries. It infringes their current right not to face legally binding emissions targets. Small island states worry that this might impact badly on their vital tourism industry and on food imports.

With no obvious compromise available, this could turn into one of the more contentious issues that needs to be addressed.

WWF believes that treating these sectors like countries is the most promising way forward, and applying a scheme such as emissions trading, or a fuel levy for ships.

To ensure this is fair, all money raised should be spent on tackling climate change in developing countries. Routes to vulnerable countries, like small island states, should also be exempt, to ensure their economies don’t suffer as a result.

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