New landmark deals aimed at cutting emissions from airplanes, ships and coolants intend to get three of the biggest polluting sectors on track to help tackle global warming — slowly.
The sectors weren’t covered by the Paris climate deal reached last year, but shipping and aviation are responsible for 8 percent of the world’s carbon emissions and, left unchecked, could almost triple by 2050. Meanwhile hydrofluorcarbons (HFCs), greenhouse gases emitted from coolants like refrigerators and air conditioners, are roughly 3,000 times more potent than CO2.
The U.N.’s 191-member aviation agency and 170-member maritime organization both declared in October the need to start cleaning up the two transport sectors — albeit very gradually. The 197 members of a treaty on protecting the ozone layer agreed in the same month to start phasing out HFCs, which could shave 0.5 degrees Celsius off the global warming trajectory, according to green groups.
All three side agreements to the COP system came after years of tense negotiations and last-minute resistance, especially from big emerging economies that worry limiting their emissions will hamstring industrial growth.
“There is a new dynamism on the policy side,” Hoesung Lee, chair of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is made up of thousands of scientists, told POLITICO. “We cannot complain any longer that policymakers are not listening to the voice of science, they are taking action.”
The results of the three side agreements matter ahead of November’s COP22 international climate summit in Marrakech, Morocco, because they could help the world meet the Paris agreement’s lofty goals.
That deal aims to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, and eventually 1.5 degrees. It doesn’t impose emissions reduction targets on any country, but it does require all 197 parties to submit their own plans for tackling climate change and periodically re-assess and ramp up their efforts.
The two transport sector agreements, brokered at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and a committee meeting of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), don’t go quite so far as to reduce CO2 emissions — to the disappointment of many climate advocates.
At the ICAO meeting, 66 countries volunteered to start offsetting their emissions from 2021 for international flights, to keep them from growing. The rules then become mandatory for all countries, except the smallest and least developed, in 2027.
It’s hardly revolutionary in its ambition, but it took compromise to keep countries such as Russia, China and India from watering down the mandatory 2027 start date.
European Commissioner for Transport Violeta Bulc, who led the bloc’s delegation at ICAO, said it would be “dreaming” to aim for a more ambitious deal to completely decarbonize aviation. “Right now, we don’t have a resolution for that.”
Big aviation countries like Russia and India have so far refused to volunteer starting in 2021. Moscow was especially worried about its aging fleet of airplanes and the scale of the offsets needed to keep emissions capped, Bulc said.
However, Bulc pointed out that the ICAO deal, unlike the Paris agreement, does have “mandatory obligations in it.”
Countries that did opt-in for aviation made it clear that decision would not automatically extend to their stance on shipping emissions, according to Julie Girling, a British Conservative MEP who attended the ICAO assembly that came just weeks before the IMO meeting.
Instead of agreeing to cap or reduce shipping emissions, the IMO members agreed to require big ships to start collecting data on their CO2 and kicked the bigger decisions about emulating the aviation industry’s carbon offset system to 2018 at the earliest.
The job now is to work on ratcheting up ambition, Bulc said. For shipping, that will be the next time the organization’s Marine Environment Protection Committee meets, in the spring of 2017. For aviation, it might not happen until the mid-2020s, when countries are required to take a first look at their progress on limiting emissions.
The most ambitious of the three agreements was the one reached in the Rwandan capital of Kigali in October for hydrofluorocarbons.
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The coolant was brought in during the 1990s to replace another compound, chlorofluorocarbons, which contributed to putting a hole in the ozone layer.
The Kigali agreement requires rich countries to reduce their HFC use by at least 10 percent by 2019 compared to 2011-2013 levels, and by 85 percent by 2036. Developing countries will get a few more years, but all will have to start phasing out HFCs from 2028 — a year after nearly all countries have to just cap, rather than cut, their aviation emissions at their 2020 levels.
This is part of a POLITICO special report, COP22: Acting on climate promises.