Tim Gore is Oxfam's climate change policy lead. He wrote this commentary exclusively for EurActiv.
"Europe's efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions from aviation under the EU emissions trading scheme have hit the headlines this year not only in Brussels, but in Washington, Beijing and New Delhi, where the unilateral move is seen as controversial. But at the UN climate summit in Durban, South Africa, later this year, the EU has a chance to broker a fair global deal to reduce the massive emissions from another source, international shipping.
If they seize it, they can get agreement on emissions reductions for the entire worldwide fleet of big, polluting ships and avoid negative impacts on developing countries that could lead to another diplomatic spat.
Better still, setting a global carbon price for shipping would raise billions of euros for tackling climate change in developing countries. By securing further emissions cuts and new sources of climate finance, such a deal would help tackle two of the biggest challenges for the Durban conference.
Like aviation, emissions from international shipping are high and rising fast. Shipping accounts for approximately 3% of global emissions – greater than those of Germany and around double those of Australia. A single ship can emit more in one year than many of the small-island developing states, whose very existence is threatened by the impacts of climate change.
Without urgent action, the sector's emissions are set to more than double by 2050, likely blowing any chance of keeping global warming below the EU's 2°C target.
EU decision-makers know this well. Having pressed for a global deal on aviation emissions for years, it was only Europe's refusal to set climate policy at the slow pace of the US Congress and others that led to their decision to act unilaterally.
But the EU can avoid having to go it alone on shipping, and break the decade of deadlock at the UN climate talks and at the International Maritime Organisation, by championing a fair global deal as outlined in a new report by Oxfam and WWF, published today, the first day of a key ministerial meeting ahead of Durban talks.
A deal on shipping that has a chance to move negotiations forward needs to fit three criteria: first, it needs to be global, applying to all ships to avoid evasion; second, it needs to include compensation for developing countries for the marginally higher import costs that could result; and third, it needs to direct remaining revenues – at least $10 billion per year – to the Green Climate Fund (GCF).
This fund was established at last year's UN climate summit in Cancún, Mexico, to help poor countries adapt to a changing climate and develop in a low carbon way, but is currently empty.
The costs of such a scheme in developing countries could be properly compensated. A carbon price of $25 per tonne is projected to increase the costs of global trade by just 0.2%, or $2 for every $1000 traded.
Bangladesh, whose import costs are projected to increase by 0.19%, would receive $40m per year, in addition to any revenues raised from the Green Climate Fund. Europe would win as well, as revenues directed to the Fund in this way would help deliver the EU share of the $100 billion commitment made by rich countries at Copenhagen for climate action in poor countries.
These issues are on the agenda of next month's EU environment and finance ministers meetings. Already France and Germany are leading the way. Both have called for a deal that guarantees that poor nations are not unfairly hit.
Countries like the UK, Netherlands and Spain must now come on board under the leadership of the Polish EU Presidency. If they do so, the EU will be perfectly placed to broker a fair global deal on shipping emissions that would be a flagship of success at the Durban climate conference."