In a little over a month, representatives of virtually every country on Earth will meet in Paris to forge an agreement which represents perhaps the last chance for mankind to take collective measures that will avoid catastrophic climate change.

Many countries, large and small, from China to Ethiopia , some irrespective of their capacity, have submitted emissions pledges which are now being assessed for adequacy against the accepted goal of limiting the global temperature increase to 2 degrees. The hope is that Paris will convert these pledges into reduction commitments subject to ongoing scrutiny and adjustment.


Two large countries have exempted themselves from this process – Germany and the UK. Or rather, two international sectors with equivalent CO2 emissions have done so. The Kyoto Protocol assigned the UN agencies, ICAO and IMO, the task of limiting and reducing emissions from the sectors they regulate – aviation and shipping. 18 years on, ICAO has little to show. It has pledged to create a global scheme that will cap emissions at the wholly inadequate level of 2020, and even that objective will be met through offsets whose environmental integrity many would question.

The IMO did establish an efficiency standard for new ships but it has no teeth. A proposal to the IMO last May for a global cap on ship emissions from the Marshall Islands, a country facing an existential threat from climate change, was dismissed in less than 90 minutes. And the Secretary-General of the IMO even said himself only three weeks ago that shipping emissions should not be capped at all.

What is the UNFCCC reaction? Its American and Algerian co-chairs overseeing the Paris agreement earlier this month removed all references to the need for aviation and shipping to do their fair share to meet the 2-degree target. Thankfully at last week’s pre-Paris meeting in Bonn, a coalition of countries, including the EU and developing states, pushed back insisting that language addressing international aviation and shipping emissions be reinserted.

The U.S. has failed to show leadership on this aspect of climate policy, long fearing that involving the UNFCCC in these sectors risks introducing special privileges for developing countries that would conflict with treating all planes and ships equally. But the world has moved on. Paris represents a new era where all countries and all sectors recognise the need to act. There are workable proposals in ICAO and IMO to address equity issues between developing and developed countries.

President Obama must now reform his administration’s approach to aviation and shipping emissions. The U.S. should support wording in the Paris Agreement that requires these sectors to do their fair share to avoid catastrophic global warming.

Several years ago, the U.S. and the EU faced the prospect of a damaging trade dispute over the EU’s right to include international aviation in its emission-trading scheme. The U.S. orchestrated a coalition that demanded global, not regional, measures. So in response, the EU agreed to give ICAO three years to craft a global solution. But now time is running out and ICAO, it seems, has made little progress. Yet the Obama administration and U.S. airlines are silent on this.

The EU’s resolve, however, has not weakened. Two weeks ago the European Parliament demonstrated bi-partisan support for our motion that the Paris Agreement must require ICAO and IMO to act and establish ambitious targets and measures for their sectors. We therefore call on the Obama administration and U.S. carriers to join us and support a robust provision in Paris which ensures these fast growing sectors do not compromise the 2-degree target.

Groote and Liese are members of the European Parliament and sit on its environment committee.