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What does the Climate Change Committee advice on aviation and shipping mean in practice?

  • 05 Apr 2012, 17:00
  • Ros Donald

The UK's Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says the government should include international aviation and shipping emissions in its carbon budgets. Climate skeptics and industry bodies have criticized the advice saying it will harm the UK's competitiveness. But will it?

In a  new report released today, the CCC says emissions from overseas air and sea transport - which make up five per cent and 1.5 per cent of UK emissions respectively - should be formally included in the budgets to ensure a new government would not reverse the position. It adds that the move would make UK carbon accounting more transparent.

Emissions from international aviation and shipping were initially left out of the UK's carbon budgets - which set caps on the total quantity of UK greenhouse gas emissions over a specific time period. 

A hit to the economic recovery?

The director of the climate skeptic thinktank the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), Benny Peiser, was quoted in Metro criticising the advice today, saying:

"Further unilateral targets would undermine Britain's economy and recovery. I don't think there any chance of the CCC getting listened to on this."

Similarly, the UK's Freight Transport Association (FTA) has already spoken out against the move, saying while it supports emissions reductions, the UK must avoid " taking the burden of reducing emissions alone". An FTA representative said in 2011 that it would mean "less environmentally efficient countries" could take business away from the UK, harming the economy and leading to worse emissions levels overall. 

But contrary to critics' assertions, the CCC says the inclusion would mean "no new commitments or costs in aviation, shipping or other sectors of the economy." A CCC spokesperson told us the committee "very deliberately recommended an approach to inclusion of [emissions from shipping and aviation] that does not imply competitiveness impacts." 

A closer look indicates that in practice, these predictions may not pan out to be that different from the status quo. According to the committee's handy interactive guide, the current government already includes these emissions informally, based on its interpretation of the UK's Climate Change Act. 

And formally implementing the change would mean increasing the currently agreed budgets to include aviation emissions based on the UK share of the EU emissions trading scheme cap - 31 megatonnes of CO2 per year. Meanwhile, UK international shipping emissions would be added at around nine megatonnes of CO2 per year to reflect the energy efficiency design index adopted by the International Maritime Organisation.

And what about "unilateral" climate policy measures? 

The GWPF has complained in the past about what it has termed the UK's " unilateral targets that cut CO2 emissions in Britain faster and deeper than other countries in Europe." 

The UK Chancellor, George Osborne, has also made similar statements, saying: 

"We're not going to save the planet by putting our country out of business. So let's, at the very least, resolve that we're going to cut our carbon emissions no slower, but also no faster, than our fellow countries in Europe." 

But is the CCC really recommending the UK adopt further measures that put us ahead of other countries in terms of carbon targets? Well, according to the CCC spokesperson, the answer is no. Instead they say the budget adjustments are based on existing EU policy for aviation and global policy for shipping. Peiser is also against the EU's carbon targets, which he also says are "unilateral", but according to the CCC, the measures wouldn't make the UK's carbon cutting any more onerous. 

So despite the protest, it appears the CCC's suggestion wouldn't harm the UK's "competitiveness" or constitute a "unilateral" policy measure. In practice, aside from putting the UK's current approach to carbon budgets into law, it wouldn't do much at all.

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