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October 2009 printable subscriber newsletter

Ecologist

28th September, 2009

In this month's newsletter we take an in-depth look at work-time reduction, analyse whether cows could help stop climate change, ask if the Church could do more to tackle global warming, and look at both sides of the debate over whether we can still trust the FSC. To download, log in and scroll to the bottom of the page...

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to pick up a paper on Tuesday 21st September and read the headline ‘Airlines vow to Halve Emissions by 2050’ with some shock. Really? I hadn’t been aware the airlines even had the technology to accomplish such a feat, let alone the confidence to publicly commit themselves to such a goal.

As I read the article, hopeful that it might contain some commitment by the aviation industry to fully integrate itself with any post-Copenhagen climate agreement, my heart sank.

What I read instead was that the aviation industry wanted to opt out of the EU Emissions Trading System (still, for all its faults, the only fully-functioning carbon market in the world) and instead have access to what BA chief executive Willie Walsh describes as a ‘global trading system’.

No such thing currently exists, and won’t do for a good few years, even should it be agreed at Copenhagen. More importantly perhaps, the painstaking lessons learned from the European system (don’t give away free credits, don’t issue more credits than there are emissions, etc) will probably have to be re-learned in the global system.

Most worryingly, having held out a begging bowl to a Government for the necessary scientific work that will be necessary to develop more efficient planes, the industry admitted that if the technology failed to deliver, carbon trading or offsetting would have to cover the difference.

This is a get-out-of-jail-free card of epic proportions. Greenpeace director John Sauven called it ‘little more than an elaborate conjuring trick’; Friends of the Earth a ‘con’ and a ‘smokescreen’; and the Aviation Environment Federation warned that offsets ‘are no substitute for real cuts in emissions’.

Faced with the prospect of having to curb its rampant growth, the industry has kicked sand in the eyes of policymakers in the hope that it will be let off the hook.

Such stunts are stock in trade for the airlines, but they look even worse when compared with proposals by that other great polluter, the shipping industry.

In a paper released by a coalition of shipping authorities, the industry called – like the airlines – for a sectoral carbon approach (dealing with the industry as a whole rather than on a country-by-country basis).

But unlike the aviation industry, which proposes vague 1.5 per cent per year increases in ‘efficiency’ and its own, unique targets, the shipping industry admits it will have to submit to an international carbon cap, and has suggested that its carbon permits to be auctioned, rather than given away free – the usual cry of any newly regulated sector. Its report was warmly welcomed by WWF.

At the moment, these are, of course, just words and position papers. But as we draw close to the Copenhagen negotiations, the intricate detail of these industry  statements will become crucial in knowing whether a global agreement will be meaningful, or just more hot air.

Mark Anslow, Editor

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