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Planes, ships and climate change – why aviation and shipping must be included in UK’s carbon plans


International aviation and shipping are the fastest growing sources of carbon dioxide emissions. But back in 2008 when the UK’s Climate Change Act became law, these sectors were not formally included in the 80% greenhouse gas reduction target.

Container portBy including emissions from shipping the government is showing that it is committed to long term carbon reductions. © Michel Gunther / WWF-Canon

It’s time to remedy that.

According to the act, the government must decide whether or not to include them in the target and five-yearly carbon budgets (and therefore the path for emission reductions) by the end of this year. Parliament goes into recess on 20 December, so this actually gives the government very little time to make up its mind.

To me, the decision is a no-brainer. Ships and planes contribute an increasing amount to greenhouse gas emissions – and the government’s independent advisers (the Committee on Climate Change) have said they should be included.

In fact, official recognition of these sectors would provide longer term confidence for the relevant industries that the government is committed to delivering emission reductions across the whole economy.

But there’s more at stake here than meets the eye – and the government is stalling. It’s understood that ‘anti-green’ forces within the Conservative Party are intent on weakening the Climate Change Act.

Aeroplane in flightExcluding planes and ships from the carbon budget would weaken the five-year carbon budgets. © istockphoto.com

Keeping aviation and shipping outside the emission reduction target would pave the way for efforts to weaken the five-yearly carbon budgets. This is a real risk given that the fourth carbon budget, which sets emissions limits for 2023-2027, is due to be reviewed in 2014.

Making the right decision to include aviation and shipping is crucial. If the Act is weakened then the drive behind the green economy will stall. And it will send a strong signal that the UK has given up on ensuring global average temperature rise stays below 2°C. It will also badly damage the mounting international interest in the UK as a model for change.

The decision will be an important test of the coalition’s commitment to tackling climate change – as well as David Cameron’s personal pledge that he’d lead the “greenest government ever”.

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