All sectors face decarbonization for a 2 °C temperature increase to be avoided. Nevertheless, meaningful policy measures that address rising CO2 from international aviation and shipping remain woefully inadequate. Treated with a similar approach within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), they are often debated as if facing comparable challenges, and even influence each others’ mitigation policies. Yet their strengths and weaknesses have important distinctions. This article sheds light on these differences so that they can be built upon to improve the quality of debate and ensuing policy development. The article quantifies ‘2 °C’ pathways for these sectors, highlighting the need for mitigation measures to be urgently accelerated. It reviews recent developments, drawing attention to one example where a change in aviation mitigation policy had a direct impact on measures to cut CO2 from shipping. Finally, the article contrasts opportunities and barriers towards mitigation. The article concludes that there is a portfolio of opportunities for short- to medium-term decarbonization for shipping, but its complexity is its greatest barrier to change. In contrast, the more simply structured aviation sector is pinning too much hope on emissions trading to deliver CO2 cuts in line with 2 °C. Instead, the solution remains controversial and unpopular – avoiding 2 °C requires demand management.