UN Climate Negotiations: EU Ramps Up Renewables and Addresses Aviation Emissions

International aviation emissions grew by 66% between 1990 and 2005. They form one of the fastest growing sources of emissions. Yet they are currently excluded from the Kyoto Protocol.
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Bonn, Germany -- As the clock ticks on with the deadline for a second renewable period for the Kyoto Protocol looming, the UN climate negotiations remain stuck in first gear.

At the UN negotiations, work takes place through two working groups: the Ad-Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA) and the Ad-Hoc Working Group on the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP).

Today, the AWG-LCA meeting was conducted in workshop mode with select countries and country clusters -- including Canada, the EU, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), Ireland and Switzerland -- presenting their current work to reduce emissions.

Presenting on the heels of Canada, which argued that it is difficult to achieve emissions reductions while continuing on a path of economic growth, the EU stated that, in fact, its own GDP has grown, by 40%+ percent between 1990-2009, while its emissions have been reduced by 16%. "So it is possible," said the EU's lead climate negotiator Artur Runge-Metzger, "to de-couple economic growth from increased emissions."

The problem with achieving emissions reductions targets, the EU charged, is that there is "currently a clear ambition gap. If you add up what all the pledges have been saying in the Cancún Agreement, we will be beyond the 2 degrees Celsius [temperature increase] that we all want to ensure."

"The best way to achieve real emissions reductions is by collaborative action by all parties," the EU underscored, adding "That is why the EU is offering 30%. All developed nations are expected to commit to ambitious targets to reduce emissions reductions."

The US, by contrast, has currently committed to a 17% reduction by 2020 but based on 2005 levels, which effectively works out to a mere 3-4% reduction based on the 1990 the EU and most other countries use as a baseline.

"Developed countries need to implement the pledges they made in Cancún," stated the EU. "They also need to step up their commitments. We do that in the EU. We have already set up a road map for 2050. And we are also looking ahead beyond that. We can achieve these targets through energy efficiency."

In March, the EU published its "Roadmap for Moving to a Competitive Low-Carbon Economy by 2050," outlining how the EU could reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 80 to 95% by 2050 based on 1990 levels. Renewable energy will form a large part of the EU's new low carbon economy.

In order to ramp up this low carbon grid, the EU identified three key factors: improving energy efficiency (for example, by renovating buildings with insulation in walls and double glazing windows); investing in the energy market to create a zero carbon infrastructure (for example, by investing in the development of renewable energy, such wind and solar); and by ensuring continent-wide electricity grid interconnections.

The EU added, "We also call attention to the IPCC's recent report on Renewable Energy. Renewable is available and it is affordable, so we need to implement and use it, because it reduces greenhouse gas emissions."

Last month, the UN's scientific body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released a study finding that 80% of the world's energy needs could be met through renewable energy sources by 2050.

In conclusion, the EU stated, "We need to start the discussion here to prepare for an outcome on mitigation in Durban." Mitigation involves securing commitments on greenhouse gas emissions from developed nations.

Aviation's Emissions

Currently, the EU is also considering further action on emissions produced by aviation, which are set to increase. The UNFCCC reported in 2007 that the international aviation emissions grew by 66% between 1990 and 2005. They form one of the fastest growing sources of emissions. Yet they are currently excluded from the Kyoto Protocol.

In 2008, the EU decided to address the European aviation industry's emissions by including them in the EU's carbon market known as the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). In 2004, the UN's International Civil Aviation Organization endorsed the idea of emissions trading. The EU plans to include international flights in this scheme starting in January 2012.

The decision has already unleashed an enormous row. As China argued that it may violate the 1944 Convention on International Civil Aviation and could lead to problems in trade. Giovanni Bisignani, head of the International Air Transport Association, has called it "a $1.5 billion grab that would do nothing to reduce emissions."

While industry has balking at the additional costs, others argue that too many of the credits are given away. Around 85% are currently given away for free. Environmentalists complain that none of the money generated is ear-marked for environmental work.


Meanwhile, back in Bonn, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) pointed out that according to a recent report of the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) sea levels could rise 0.9 to 1.6 meters by 2100. These rising sea levels threaten the very survival of low-lying island states.

AOSIS underscored that there is a gap between what is needed and what is currently on the table. "How we close the gap?" AOSIS asked. "Fundamentally, Annex I need to take more action."

Tina Gerhardt is an independent journalist who covers climate change, international negotiations and energy policy. Her work has appeared in Alternet, Earth Island Journal, Environment News Service, Grist, In These Times, The Nation and The Progressive, on The Laura Flanders Show, GRIT tv, the National Radio Project and WBAI.

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