Green funding from dirty ships and planes

Planes and ships are responsible for more greenhouse gases than the entire nation of Germany, and growing -- but they were totally ignored in the Kyoto agreement. In Copenhagen, we have a chance to correct our huge mistake.

Aviation and shipping suddenly jumped into the news from Copenhagen via something called "bunker finance." We first heard the term "bunker fuel" during a tour of the engine room of our container ship, in the middle of the Pacific. Turns our that it's dirty low-grade fuel, used by ships and planes, and that it's a big deal at COP15.

"Bunker finance" means cutting plane and ship emissions (either via a tax or cap and trade), and using that to fund critical climate projects in developing countries. A European Commission projection says bunker finance could raise $25-37 billion a year by 2020 -- vital new funds for climate work. (Exemptions can be built in for ships and aviation serving developing or underserved areas.) Various groups have been pushing the idea (see the FAQ and handout for negotiators), and some form of bunker finance has been in many negotiating documents, including the leaked Danish text, the splashy joint UK-France proposal, as well as text touched by Mexico, Norway, Australia, and Ethiopia.

But then Obama's American negotiators blocked discussion of bunker finance, breaking with every other industralized country, earning them the unpleasant Fossil of the Day "award" from the Climate Action Network:

"The United States took home another first place Fossil of the Day Award today. This one is for being the only industrialized country to block 'bunker finance' -- the idea that you could pass measures that cut emissions from international aviation and shipping ('bunker fuels', in the UN jargon), and in doing so raise revenues to fund adaptation and mitigation in developing countries. It's hard to see what's not to like in this idea -- you tackle the fastest-growing sources of emissions, and turn them into money to help poor countries in the fight against climate change. Over the last few months, every other industrialised country, even Canada, has come around to the idea. It's high time the US put some long-term finance on the table, and this is one blindingly obvious way of doing so."

Addressing the climate impact of aviation is important to us, and what happens at Copenhagen will set the blueprint for the future. John Maggs of Seas at Risk, author of the Bunkers in Copenhagen 2009 blog (where I'm keeping up with this), is unsure of the future of bunker finance. We've got our fingers crossed as negotiations proceed in closed-door meetings.

P.S. If you're like us, you're following the Copenhagen climate talks daily. Here are our favorite news sources:

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About us...

We're a landscape architect (Barnali) and tech geek (Anirvan) from San Francisco spending a year trying to travel across continents aviation-free while talking to people exploring solutions to transportation and the climate crisis.

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