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Copenhagen ends with no progress on aviation emissions

The UNFCCC Copenhagen conference ended on 18th December, having made no progress on how to treat emissions from international aviation. The Copenhagen Accord, which was agreed by several states but not unanimously approved, included a commitment to combat climate change, “recognizing the scientific view that the increase in global temperature should be below 2 degrees Celsius”, and committed developed countries to “mobilizing jointly USD 100 billion dollars a year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries.” But it contained very little detail on how these targets could be achieved, and there was no agreement on how to treat emissions from international aviation and shipping (known as bunker fuel emissions), which had been left out of the targets agreed in the Kyoto Protocol.

AEF supported the NGO coalition that had been campaigning throughout the conference for the UNFCCC to set a cap for aviation emissions and introduce charges on aviation pollution to generate funding for climate change adaptation in developing countries. But tensions between developing and developed countries over financing, combined with deliberate attempts by some countries to stall discussions on aviation and shipping emissions, meant that agreement was always going to be hard to achieve. In the end, bunker fuel emissions were among many topics that were unresolved.

In the absence of new measures from UNFCCC, the very weak deal from ICAO, a ‘sister’ UN agency, is the best agreement we now have from the United Nations process. In October 2009 states representing 93% of global commercial air traffic agreed to a 2% per annum fuel efficiency target to 2020, with an aspiration to continue a similar rate of improvement out to 2050, but with no overall cap on emissions from the sector and no means of enforcing the 2% target.

AEF will in 2010 continue to work with ICAO with the aim of strengthening its policy on emissions, but in the post-Copenhagen world it seems to us that agreements among small groups of nations may be more likely to succeed than global measures on aviation emissions. In the mean time, national policy measures such as emissions targets, appropriate fiscal measures and far-sighted planning policy will be crucial in tackling aviation’s growing impact on climate change.