The global airline and shipping industries appeared to win a symbolic reprieve from the growing global drive to reduce carbon emissions on Wednesday, cut from a new draft climate change pact being negotiated in Paris.
As nearly 200 nations attempt to craft a breakthrough global deal to slow the rise in world temperatures, the reference to two of the world's fastest-growing emitters appeared to be one of the first significant changes in an agreement still riddled with much bigger, more contentious issues.
A previous draft from Dec. 5 had included an optional paragraph that would have singled out the two sectors and encouraged nations to curb their carbon output "with a view to agreeing concrete measures addressing these emissions". The new draft, released on Wednesday, omitted the paragraph.
While the passage would not have necessarily mandated any specific measures or regulations, it could have increased pressure for national efforts that would increase their costs.
Aviation and shipping make up around 5 percent of global emissions but their contribution is predicted to grow significantly if left unchecked. The European Commission estimates
that air and marine transportation could contribute as much as a third of all emissions by 2050.
Officials from Europe, which has pushed particularly hard for a reference to the sectors, said they hadn't given up.
"I don't know who got it out but we are fighting for it to be put back in," EU Energy and Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete told Reuters. He said not having shipping and aviation in the new text was a "a step backwards".
Some activist groups were also concerned.
"The dropping of international aviation and shipping emissions from the draft Paris climate agreement ... has fatally undermined the prospects of keeping global warming below 2°C," green groups Seas At Risk and Transport & Environment (T&E) said in a joint statement.
Aviation and Maritime emissions were omitted from national commitments under the UNFCCC's 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which ceded control to the UN agencies responsible for the sectors, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
Emissions from European flights are already covered by the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS), but an EU law, meant to take effect from 2012, that extended the arrangement to intercontinental aviation emissions caused outcry.
That forced the EU to retreat and U.N.'s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) took on the task of coming up with a global alternative. Its deadline is a meeting planned for late 2016.
Progress on curbing emissions has been even slower at the IMO but the shipping industry had expected the Paris agreement could eventually lead to greater emission regulation and possibly a carbon levy.
Not all companies oppose what some see as an inevitable increase in carbon-related costs.
Top global ship owner Maersk, a vocal proponent of carbon regulation in shipping, has invested heavily in more fuel-efficient vessels, which cut its energy costs and also reduce emissions.
"We do think it is in the long-term interest of the shipping industry to be regulated but that it should also be fair," said John Kornerup Bang, lead advisor on climate change with Denmark's Maersk Group. "It must be global, flag neutral and managed by the IMO. Otherwise, it won't work."
Peter Hinchliffe, secretary general of the International Chamber of Shipping, warned that it wasn't over yet, with negotiators heading into all-night sessions attempting to agree on a final deal by the weekend.
"It is still early days yet," he said. "The discussion is far from over and I am sure that Europe will
have at last one more go at inclusion."
(By Susanna Twidale and Jonathan Saul; Additional reporting by Nina Chestney in Paris; Editing by Tom Heneghan)