The CCC says both shipping and aviation should reach net zero emissions by 2050, but trade bodies are arguing their emissions should be regulated at a global level
The UK's shipping and airline sectors have pushed back against calls for them to face ambitious and binding domestic targets to slash their greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, arguing their climate impacts should be regulated by international bodies.
In landmark advice offered to the government earlier this month, Committee on Climate Change (CCC) economists said the UK should set in law a goal for every sector of its economy to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Such a target would be one of the most ambitious legally-binding goals in the world, and the UK government has strongly indicated it will soon look to adopt the necessary legislation. Recent reports suggest the necessary amendments to the Climate Change Act could be finalised within the next two months.
Crucially, the CCC said the net zero target should include emissions from shipping and aviation, both sectors which have to date not officially fallen under the UK's domestic climate change goals, and are considered among the most challenging to decarbonise.
Moreover, the CCC said it was "essential" UK ships and airlines avoid using international carbon credits or offsets to count towards their carbon goals, and instead look to carbon trading schemes or CO2 removal through sequestration or CCS if needed.
But while broadly welcoming efforts to set climate goals in line with Paris Agreement, trade bodies for both UK shipping and aviation sectors said their greenhouse gases should primarily fall under the remit of relevant UN-affiliated bodies the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).
Anna Ziou, policy director at the UK Chamber of Shipping - which represents over 180 ship owners and service companies - argued shipping was "a globally regulated industry that requires global regulation" and cast doubt on whether full decarbonisation by 2050 would even be technically feasible for the sector.
"Governments should think very carefully before including international shipping in national carbon budgets - not least because of the complexity in allocating emissions to individual countries when ships spend so much time in international waters," she said in an emailed statement provided to BusinessGreen.
Ziou said the industry was "determined to reduce its emissions quickly", highlighting investments in engine efficiency, hydrodynamics, and zero emissions technologies such as hydrogen fuel cells and battery power.
But she said the UK shipping sector continued to support the IMO's global climate plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 per cent by 2050 from 2008 levels. Agreed last year, the strategy includes a carbon intensity reduction target per tonne of shipping cargo of at least 40 per cent by 2030, rising to 70 per cent by 2050. However, the plan has been criticised as inadequate by climate campaigners, and falls far short of the UK target proposed by the CCC.
Shipping giant Maersk has led the green charge by unilaterally pledging to achieve net zero emissions throughout its operations by 2050. But Ziou still questioned whether such a goal would be possible for the industry to reach.
"Zero emission shipping by 2050 would require zero emission ships entering the market within the next five years as ships have a lifespan of 25 to 30 years," argued Ziou. "This technology does not yet exist."
The IMO itself, meanwhile, said there were "many technologies already available which can help the maritime sector reach towards GHG targets". It also stressed that national climate targets for shipping should consider emissions from all sources including cargo handling equipment, trucks and domestic vessels at ports.
Countries "can develop national strategies which will address emissions from their maritime sector as a whole - protecting public health and the environment and contributing to the fight against climate change", an IMO spokeswoman told BusinessGreen.
UK aviation, however, is likely to be even harder to decarbonise than shipping. The CCC's analysis incorporates a net zero scenario whereby the sector continues to emit 31Mt of CO2 equivalent in 2050, but offsets its emissions through bioenergy carbon capture and storage technologies and land use changes elsewhere in the UK.
It also recommends demand growth in UK flight is limited to 60 per cent above 2005 levels by 2050, far lower than the government's business-as-usual projection which foresees a rise in demand of 90 per cent by mid-century.
But the CCC concedes that plausible options for reaching net zero from flight by 2050 "are lacking" and states that consumers may need to limit the amount they choose to fly in the coming decades.
Last week Josh Bayliss, the CEO of Virgin Group - which holds a stake in leading airline Virgin Atlantic - highlighted the company's efforts to develop low carbon fuels and other emissions savings technologies. But he also told BusinessGreen that in order to fight climate change people "should think hard" about whether they need to take a flight.
Sustainable Aviation - a cross-industry group including trade body Airlines UK as well as airports, manufacturers, and navigation service providers - said it favoured international regulation of UK flight emissions rather than a domestic statutory target, echoing the stance from UK shipping firms.
Through ICAO, the global sector has agreed a Carbon Offset and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) aimed at cutting emissions by 50 per cent from 2005 levels by 2050.
"Aviation is by its very nature a global industry, and like the government, we back an international approach to limiting greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft," said Sustainable Aviation chair Neil Robinson. "That is why we have signed up to emissions limits via the world's first industry-specific global agreement, CORSIA, which will drive investment in the new, cleaner aircraft of tomorrow."
Robinson said the industry shared the CCC's ambition to bring emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, and emphasised there were "exciting opportunities" to cut emissions through developing hybrid electric aircraft and sustainable aviation fuels as well as modernising UK airspace.
"We look forward to studying the CCC's recommendations and working with the government on how we work together to rise to this challenge, while enabling the many positive benefits aviation brings by connecting people across the world," he said.
ICAO did not respond to BusinessGreen's request for comment at the time of going to press.
It remains to be seen if the government adopts the CCC's recommendations wholesale and imposes new emissions targets on the shipping and aviation industries. Or whether it acknowledges the uniquely international nature of the two sectors and instead hopes international bodies can drive the decarbonisation of two of the world's most carbon intensive, and yet strategically important, industries.
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