As I reported in an earlier post, the December 2015 Paris Climate Agreement does not specifically address greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping and aviation. International transport emissions generally refer to emissions from vessels and airplanes that travel from one country to another. In this post, I will take a closer look at the Paris Agreement and what it means for these rapidly growing international transport emissions.
The issue has a long history in the UN climate regime. The Framework Convention (UNFCCC), in Article 2, defines its overall goal of preventing dangerous human interference with the climate system sufficiently broad to clearly bring international transport emissions within the mandate of the UN climate regime. This is confirmed in the UNFCCCs definition of emissions, and there is nothing in the Convention to otherwise suggest that emissions from these sectors are not to be controlled under the UN climate regime. While clearly within its mandate, the Convention itself does not require any specific action to address emissions from international transport.
The Kyoto Protocol does not make any meaningful progress in addressing international transport emissions. On the contrary, through its focus on emissions within national borders, Kyoto develops an approach to emission reductions that leaves emissions from this sector on the sidelines of mitigation efforts under the UN climate regime. In recognition of this, Article 2.2 of the Kyoto Protocol tasks developed countries to work with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to control these emissions.
Both the IMO and the ICAO have agreed to pursue the issue, but neither organization has, to date, developed an effective approach. For current efforts by the IMO, see http://www.imo.org/en/OurWork/Environment/PollutionPrevention/AirPollution/Pages/GHG-Emissions.aspx. For ICAO, see: http://www.icao.int/Newsroom/Pages/New-ICAO-Aircraft-CO2-Standard-One-Step-Closer-To-Final-Adoption.aspx.
Parties to the UN climate regime have been seeking solutions to this problem for more than a decade, while emissions from these sectors have continued to rise, to a point where it is now clear that the ultimate goal of the UNFCCC cannot be met unless effective means are found to control and eventually eliminate emissions from international transport along with all other major sources of emissions. (see Phoenix From the Ashes: http://wupperinst.org/en/a/wi/a/s/ad/3362/ at page 20). Efforts under the UNFCCC to either encourage the IMO and ICAO to address these emissions or to take its own measures have so far failed to yield adequate results. Efforts by some countries, most notably the EU member states, to deal with the issue unilaterally, have also failed to yield tangible results to date. There is no reference to these sectors in the Paris Agreement, leading to fears that this silence leaves the issue permanently with the IMO and the ICAO without any leverage for the UN climate regime to ensure an effective response.
In short, the Paris Agreement was a disappointment to many who had hoped for the UN climate regime to finally take charge of the issue, perhaps through a carbon levy on emissions (http://www.climatechangenews.com/2016/01/12/imf-carbon-tax-on-aviation-and-shipping/). Clearly that did not happen in Paris, but this does not mean the issue is off the agenda under the new UN climate regime. For now, it seems clear that the IMO and ICAO have committed to continue their efforts. The UN climate regime is not in a position to mandate these independent international organizations to address the issue, let alone to address it in a timely and effective manner. Its options are to leave the issue to the IMO and ICAO, to seek to cooperate with them, or to implement its own measures under the UN climate regime to control emissions from international transport. Clearly, the approach for now is to continue to give the IMO and ICAO the opportunity to find a solution.
The issue I want to explore in the remainder of this post are the opportunities under the Paris Agreement to take charge of the issue should the IMO and ICAO fail to find an effective solution within a reasonable time period. For the reasons set out below, there is still every opportunity to do so, and the upcoming negotiations on transparency, review and stocktake will be critical to a successful outcome.
While the Paris Agreement does not mention emissions from international shipping and aviation, and the IMO and ICAO currently have a mandate to deal with them, the absence of any reference to this mandate in the Paris Agreement may actually strengthen the hand of the UN climate regime going forward. If it had made specific reference to the IMO and ICAO, the result may have been to constrain the UN climate regime’s ability to take charge of the issue if it concluded that these independent organizations were not taking adequate steps to address the issue. By remaining silent on the efforts of the IMO and ICAO, the UN climate regime cannot be taken to have endorsed the mandate of these organizations or to have delegated the issue to them.
So what avenues are there in the Paris Agreement to take charge of emissions from international shipping and aviation? Most importantly, perhaps, unlike the Kyoto Protocol with its focus on the emissions of developed country Parties, the overall focus of the Paris Agreement is on global emissions and a global temperature goal of “well below 2 degrees” while striving for 1.5 degrees. Article 4.1 of the Paris Agreement does not single out international transport emissions, but the reference to global emissions clearly includes emissions from international shipping and aviation. As a result, the Global Stocktake under Article 14 including the science input (from the IPCC) should be expected to include international shipping and aviation emissions. In addition, the issue remains on the agenda of SBSTA, the subsidiary body of the UN climate regime mandated to deal with it.
This means that every five years, starting in 2018 under the current regime, and in 2023 under the Paris Agreement, Parties should be faced with emission reports from these sectors in an overall context of an exercise to determine progress toward the temperature goal. In a scenario where Parties are meeting or exceeding their individual mitigation commitments, but the collective effort continues to fall short due in part to insufficient efforts to reduce emissions from international shipping and aviation, the pressure for the UN climate regime to take charge of these emissions will be immense.
A critical element of ensuring international shipping and aviation will be asked to do their part will be full transparency. One option would be for the IMO and ICAO to agree to report on emissions from these sectors as part of the stocktake. The alternative would be for individual Parties to report on emissions from these sectors in their inventories. Either way, it will be critical that accurate information about emissions trajectories in these sectors are available every five years starting in 2018. This will allow Parties to the UN climate regime to determine, in the context of the overall 5 year review and stocktake cycles, whether adequate efforts are being made outside the regime, or whether it is time to take measures within the UN climate regime. In addition, as discussions on sources of funding for climate mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage continue under the UN climate regime, the option of imposing a levy on emissions from international transport will remain on the table.
In conclusion, the effort to control and eliminate emissions from international shipping and aviation is far from over under the Paris Agreement. Full transparency during the review and stocktake cycles will be critical to ensure these sectors contribute their fair share to the global effort. In the short and medium term, before technology breakthrough’s point to a zero emission path for shipping and aviation, these sectors should expect to fund emission reductions elsewhere in some form. In the long term, however, the science is clear that meeting the temperature goal set in Paris will require a “balance of emissions and removals”, and very likely significant net negative emissions, making anything short of a zero emissions solution for these sectors untenable.
Professor, Schulich School of Law
To download some of my publications on the UN climate regime, see http://ssrn.com/author=715387.