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Aviation emissions should be cut and levies on air travel used to fund adaptation to climate change, says Stern

Emissions cuts to be proposed at the upcoming Copenhagen climate conference will fall short of those needed to avert dangerous climate change, climate economist Sir Nicholas Stern warned this week, unless nations agree to go further than their current plans. But additional cuts from the aviation and shipping sectors could, he has suggested, help to make up the difference.

To avoid emissions levels associated with a 2C rise, greenhouse gases need to drop from 47 billion tonnes in 2010 to about 44 billion tonnes in 2020, Stern said this week. They then need to plunge to much less than 20 billion tonnes in 2050. He said pledges from nations so far fall short of the 2020 target by about two billion tonnes. Yet in October he estimated that international shipping and aviation could further reduce the global total by at least half a billion tonnes.

Emissions from international aviation, which was not included in the previous climate agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, came to 389 Mt CO2 in 2005 – greater than the total emissions of South Africa that year.

Key to any agreement at Copenhagen, however, will be finance for developing countries to help them to adapt to climate change and obtain clean technology. The UK should contribute $3bn a year to a climate fund by 2015, suggested Stern, using money raised from new measures to tackle emissions from pollution, aviation and shipping.

Writing in the Guardian this week, Stern said: “The two defining challenges of our century are managing climate change and overcoming poverty. And if we fail on one we will fail on the other… Given what is at stake, essentially the future peace and prosperity of the planet, world leaders must now recognise that Copenhagen is the most important international gathering of our time. A strong political agreement can and must be reached in Copenhagen. There can be no excuses for failure.”

The conference runs from 7th – 18th December.