Shipping and aviation emissions and why the climate change bill will not work

The Climate Change Bill will count count emissions from aviation and shipping; what does this mean in reality? Emissions from aviation count for around 5.5% of the United Kingdom’s overall carbon emissions. Emissions from shipping are around 4.5% of the total. Both figures are inevitable estimates because you have to allocate emissions fairly between the departure port and the destination, which may be in different countries.

There is a broadly internationally accepted way of attributing aviation emissions to countries, but the same does not apply to shipping.

Shipping emissions are quite hard to allocate. You cannot simply allocate them because for many years until the credit crunch) most shipping brought goods into the UK for consumption by the UK, so it is probably fair to allocate, for example, the bunker fuel used by container ships carrying Chinese goods as part the UK’s emissions, and not part of Chinese emissions.

Nevertheless I shall assume for now that the figures I have found, which total 10% of the UK’s emissions are reasonable accurate, even though they are probably an underestimate.

People expect that emissions during the recession that is technically expected will drop; certainly as people buy and consume fewer goods because they have less cash, emissions will drop, but nothing lasts forever and the economic cycle will turn on an upwards course, and when it does emissions form shipping and aviation will continue to grow, as they have done inexorably over the past fifty or sixty years.

You will notice that I refer to a long time period; I do so because the UK Government is seeking to reduce emissions by means of a legally binding statutory target to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050 in the Climate Change Bill working its way through Parliament. I am sure that a legally binding statutory target will serve no purpose except that it will be something to aim for and to provide a legal justification for many of the measures that the government will have to enact to reduce carbon emissions.

But, and this is a big “but”, the Government in the United Kingdom wish to exclude emissions from aviation and shipping from the 80% reduction. In other words it will not be a genuine 80% reduction in emissions if they achieve the target in 2050, but will be only 72% reduction, assuming aviation and shipping emissions do not continue to grow, as they have done at around 4% a year. If they do grow at that rate then the target in real terms is 60% and all the intermediate targets (20% by 2020) will have fallen in line so that by 2020 the real target will be less than 17%.

Many members of Parliament are asking the Government to include aviation and shipping in the Climate Change Bill. Ministers, who sometimes speak with forked tongue on these matters, have said that they will take aviation and shipping “into account” in the Bill. I do not know what “taking into account” means in this context. I have puzzled over the phrase and have reached the conclusion that it is probably meaningless, within the context of legislation, and therefore if the Climate Change Bill is not amended there will be two targets, one real and one fictitious.

The fictitious target will be the one that the Government will boast about – an impressive 80% target and an equally impressive 20% target. That, will go the boast, is what we have created as a target. The real targets are much less impressive – 62% and 17%.  Those will not be boasted about, and will be hidden from the public consciousness as cleverly as politicians can hide them.

Anyone can create a target. That is the easiest part of the process. You pick a figure and aim for it. The fact that it is legally binding does not mean to say that it will be implemented or that there will be any sanction against those who have failed to implement it. In this case the figure picked is 62%, but we pretend it is 80%. By 2050.The figure picked for 2020 is 17% but we pretend it to be 20%.

The UK Government is led by Gordon Brown, who will be 99 years old if he lives to be alive in 2050. Mr Brown, his ministers and the members of the next few subsequent administrations will be responsible for achieving the legally binding target; at whatever level the target is set. What happens if they fail to achieve their legal obligations?

Well, digging into the deep recesses of my legal background any person who is aggrieved by a failure to comply with a statutory duty can apply to the courts for a judicial review and the courts, if the case is found to be proven, will issue a judgment which while not legally binding on the Government (unlike the targets) the Government will probably do their best to comply with.

No doubt the environmental organisations like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth will launch a series of court cases. No doubt this will feed and clothe many lawyers, but in the end will the statutory target do any good?

It will be a little late by 2050, and some people think that 20% by 2020 will also be too little, too late, even if the target is achieved.

My concept is that instead of mandating targets we should legislate for actual proven carbon reducing measures linked to energy. There should be legal obligations to install wind turbines, microgeneration such as solar panels, decentralised energy, more combined heat and power. This will have the effect of cutting out that middleman of targets. The ultimate measure will not be a theoretical target, but the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and whether they rise above the as yet unknown tipping point.

7 Responses

  1. […] and why the climate change bill will… Posted in October 30th, 2008 by in Uncategorized Shipping and aviation emissions and why the climate change bill will… You cannot simply allocate them because for many years until the credit crunch) most shipping […]

  2. […] and why the climate change bill will Posted in October 30th, 2008 by in Uncategorized Shipping and aviation emissions and why the climate change bill will You cannot simply allocate them because for many years until the credit crunch) most shipping […]

  3. Hi Rob, glad to have met you at the NHER conference.

    Interesting piece about targets and fundamentals. The Commission headed by Lord Sutton mandated a 90% emissions cut – a far cry from 72%. I wonder if they are using the same calculation method.

    As we have seen with tax on kerosene – or lack of – it is difficult to tackle aviation and shipping with their cross-border activities. Trapping carbon in these sectors is likely to be an international cooperation game a la prisonner’s dilemna.

  4. Hi John Pierre

    As always in these things the devil (and the truth) is in the detail.

    We have to have an iunternational body creating rules assigning the emissions from shipping. Aviation is already fairly well estblsihed. A simple rule would be to assign the emission from the port of departure to the country receiving the ship at each stage. That would probably be fair, unless I have missed something.


  5. I doubt the 20% Reduction by 2020 will be reached unless the Government actually do something, as you say, it is all well and good having a target to aim for, but unless there are structured and enforceble measure in place to ensure these targets are met, it will never happen, solar on every new build house
    ptovoltaic, Micro CHP, would certainaly assit in reaching these targets, Micro CHP is been launched by Baxi in 2009, it will be beneficial to these targets, the trouble is, no one is fully aware of the Micro CHP, they seem to want to keep it a secret, I am always looking to be involved with new technologies, but the Micro CHP has been one of the hardest to extract information on, I have tried to get some training or get involved in field trials for a number of years, with no success, it makes me wonder how they think it will succeed in 2009, no installer will touch them, as they will have no knowledge of how to install them, commission, service or repair them, they should of been training installers for the past couple of years in readiness of there release in 2009, but as usual, we get it wrong, it was the same with condensing boilers, it was a good move by the Government to make it law that condensing boilers must be fitted, but the lack of knowledge and understanding of the technology meant that the boilers were been installed incorrectly, so they were not condensing for long periods and so were not working to there full efficiency, I can assure you that a great number of condensing boilers installed today are not set up correctly, and so are not reducing their carbon usage as much as they could, all the new technologies are viable to save energy, but only if installed correctly, so I think the Government need to invest in training, one of the biggest missed oportunities at present on new build properties is utilising solar to supplement the space heating, the technology is there, but lack of understanding is holding it back, ( I will get off my soap box now)

  6. chris
    I agree with every word.

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