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From Paris to Montreal: The next global moment for climate change

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A plane flying over Ambleside, UK.

By James Beard and Simon Walmsley

Today is a big day in efforts to tackle climate change.  At least 168 countries are expected to sign the Paris Agreement, reaffirming their commitment to tackling climate change. Once 55 countries representing 55 per cent of global emissions have done that, the Paris Agreement will truly come alive. It’s encouraging to see the momentum of COP21 continuing beyond Paris, because the real work still lies ahead. This is especially true for international aviation and shipping.

Emissions from these sectors are mainly addressed through their own UN agencies, rather than the UNFCCC. These agencies are International Maritime Organisation (IMO) for shipping and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) for aviation. The next key global moment for climate change is in Montreal this autumn, where the 191 countries in ICAO will decide on proposals for a market-based measure (MBM) to flatline the sector’s net emissions at 2020 levels.

The MBM is a first step in making sure airlines across the globe start paying for their carbon pollution. WWF is working with colleagues in the Flightpath 1.5 campaign to make sure that it is fair, ambitious, and supports sustainable development.

  • A fair deal is one that recognises that developed countries, and their aviation industries, should take the lead in reducing emissions.
  • An ambitious deal will flatline all aviation emissions by 2020, and push beyond it, aiming to reduce aviation emissions in line with the 1.5 degree of warming ambition of the Paris Agreement.
  • A sustainable deal will rule out those carbon credits and biofuels that threaten, for example, food security and habitats, while ruling in the ones that support poverty alleviation, access to clean energy, and other contributions to the Sustainable Development Goals.

So do the current proposals to ICAO achieve these objectives?

On fairness, it requires young, fast growing airlines to offset below their own growth rate, while more mature airlines with greater overall emissions will offset above their own growth rate. It’s a simple approach, but it needs further work to ensure individual airlines can fully capture the benefit of using cleaner planes and fuels. A carbon pricing mechanism should reward businesses that make efforts to reduce their emissions.

On ambition, the ICAO deal is still stuck on the runway. It exempts some countries from the MBM, and also excludes their emissions from the overall 2020 target. ICAO either needs to exempt fewer countries, or it needs to keep exempted countries’ emissions in the mix. Plus, one success of the Paris Agreement is that it established processes to review and strengthen countries’ commitments. We need a similar process for aviation: the sector needs to actually reduce emissions well below 2020 levels if we’re to reach a global 1.5 degree of warming goal.

And on sustainable development, it’s a mixed bag. ICAO must keep bad carbon projects out of the MBM, such as those that prop up the fossil fuel industry, as well as promote good offsetting projects, such as small scale solar and biogas. There are also proposals from ICAO on the use of alternative fuels, so the MBM will set a precedent for how biofuel emissions are accounted for, and how their sustainability is defined and assured. It is important that ICAO gets this right so that we can feel confident that the emerging aviation biofuels industry is sustainable.

So there’s more work to be done, for sure, and ICAO should also be aware that the shipping industry is now hot on their heels. Just this week there was lively debate in the IMO about the shipping industry making a “fair share” or “determined contribution” towards the Paris Agreement. The proposal did not sail through on first reading, but its supporters certainly outnumbered its detractors. There’s no doubt which way the wind is blowing on emissions reduction.

So the plea from the bunkers crowd to the people putting pen to paper today is this: Keep the momentum going. Keep striving for further ambition. And make sure your colleagues working in shipping and aviation are doing the same thing, to ensure they help deliver a climate legacy you can be proud of, and a safe and sustainable future for all.

James Beard is a Climate and Energy Specialist at WWF-UK, working on aviation in ICAO. Simon Walmsley is the Marine Manager at WWF-International, working on shipping in IMO.

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Did you know? The aviation industry is working to flatline their net emissions at 2020 levels. But more is needed:

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