An NGO message for the ICAO Assembly: Introduce a global market-based measure now
Date added: September 18, 2013
The Assembly of ICAO (the International Civil Aviation Organisation) takes place in Montreal between 24th September and 4th October. A decision on how to deal with global aviation emissions needs to be taken – if aviation globally was a country, it would rank 7th highest, after Germany. It is widely acknowledged that a market based measure (MBM) would be the most effective mechanism through which to do this. James Lees, from the Aviation Environment Federation, and Bill Hemmings, from Transport & Environment, writing in GreenAir online, say the solution to aviation’s runaway emissions is a “global MBM decided on now and to be introduced by 2016. It is no longer an option for continued disagreement in ICAO to prevent action on aviation’s contribution to climate change. At a time when President Obama has said so much about leading the way [on climate], the White House must finally ensure that the US becomes the global leader for action at the ICAO Assembly. It is time for everybody to take responsibility, stop shielding such a high emitting industry and act…now.”
An NGO message for the ICAO Assembly: Introduce a global market-based measure now
from ICSA, T&E, AEF
17 Sept 2013
by James Lees, at AEF and Bill Hemmings, at T&E
– In his groundbreaking speech on climate change this June, Barack Obama asked “whether we will have the courage to act before it’s too late”. His own administration answered the question with a resounding “no” when they pushed to delay decisions on the regulation of the aviation industry’s ballooning CO2 emissions. President Obama spoke of the need for the United States of America to maintain its role as a global leader on climate change.
At ICAO’s special Council meeting in Montreal earlier this month, his administration ensured that the international community continued to avoid acting on aviation’s contribution to global warming – currently at 5% and rapidly growing. The time has now come for the White House to lead the international community into taking action at the forthcoming ICAO Assembly, urge James Lees and Bill Hemmings.
Of course a decision requires support from many contracting States, but the draft ICAO resolution considered by the Council strongly reflects US interests. On a global market-based measure (MBM), weak wording alluded to the possibility of a decision on a measure in 2016 and nothing more. On regional measures, where the subtext is aviation’s future in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS), any environmental credibility was nullified by US insistence on limiting emissions covered to those within regional airspace. If all 191 member states of ICAO decided to take part in such regional schemes, only 22% of international aviation emissions would be captured.
Lobbying from officials of the “greenest ever President” would suggest that MBMs must be bad for aviation. On the contrary, there is a consensus from industry, scientists and NGOs that a global MBM is now urgently needed to limit and reduce aviation’s vast emissions. While industry has promoted the importance of technological, operational and alternative fuel measures, it now acknowledges the necessity of market-based measures at least in the short-term. In fact, as well as being cost-effective, research has shown that a global MBM is essential for the industry to meet its long-term target of 50% emissions reduction by 2050.
While ICAO has understood for over a decade the important role that a global MBM can play, a lack of action drove the EU to include aviation in its own emissions trading scheme (the EU ETS). Perhaps unsurprisingly, the EU’s decision to include all emissions from flights in and out of the EU led to confrontation over alleged infringements of foreign sovereignty – led particularly by the US. To deal with pressure from dissenting countries, the EU put its faith in the ICAO process and announced it would limit coverage of its scheme to intra-EU flights for one year – known as the stop-the-clock exemption – so that ICAO could work out a global MBM. A postponement of a decision on a global MBM until 2016 means that President Obama’s newfound commitment to tackle climate change has actually seen the rug pulled from under attempts at ICAO to promote MBMs either globally or regionally.
The US strategy on international aviation goes against everything Barack Obama held dear in his climate change speech given aviation and his own industry’s huge (North American aviation emissions amount to almost a third of global aviation emissions) contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. If aviation were a country, its CO2 emissions alone would rank seventh in the world, just behind Germany. These emissions are set to double by 2030. A global MBM is the only approach that could limit and reduce these emissions immediately.
The cumulative nature of CO2 means that delaying action on an MBM will lead to further build up of CO2 in the atmosphere and even greater climate change impacts in the future. A recentreport showed that if a global MBM was introduced immediately, it could reduce the climate change impacts of aviation’s emissions by as much as 31% in 2050.
The solution to aviation’s runaway emissions is simple and exactly what we will be pursuing at the ICAO Assembly: a global MBM decided on now and to be introduced by 2016. It is no longer an option for continued disagreement in ICAO to prevent action on aviation’s contribution to climate change.
At a time when President Obama has said so much about leading the way, the White House must finally ensure that the US becomes the global leader for action at the ICAO Assembly. It is time for everybody to take responsibility, stop shielding such a high emitting industry and act…now.
In recent years, Europe has tried to make aviation pay under itsemissions trading system (ETS), and with good reason.
Airlines are the fastest growing source of global greenhouse gas output. Already responsible for 5% of the world’s annual global warming, by 2030 their emissions are projected to double from 2005 levels.
It seemed an odd move for a president who supported the ‘cap and trade’ principle which underpins the scheme. The US has only rarely authorised such prohibitions, such as when Congress banned investment in apartheid South Africa, or outlawed compliance with Arab nations’ boycott of Israel.
But the aviation situation is very different.
Only six countries emit more CO2 than the air industry does each year. Obama’s act allowed the US to hide behind three of them – China, Russia and India – all playing political games at the Icao in the run-up to talks on a 2015 global climate deal.
Washington has finally emerged to push for Wednesday’s text blocking any global carbon pricing mechanism until 2016 at the earliest. It also insisted that states and regional blocs only charge for emissions over their own land airspace – thus omitting the 78% of emissions that take place over water.
This formula underpins the thinking behind the expected Icao text, which restricts the ETS to emissions over European airspace.
It is no surprise that the US position seems to have won the day. Kicking the can down the runway has been the Icao’s default setting since it was tasked with cutting emissions under the Kyoto protocol in 1997.
Europe’s politicians should baulk at the situation, but appear to have been cowed by lobbying from the aviation industry that the carbon charging scheme will result in economic costs for the continent. But if Europe allows the ETS to hollow into a husk that is unable to meaningfully reduce emissions, it will rightly spur calls for more radical action against the international aviation industry.
The dissonance between the US position on tackling emissions from aviation and Obama’s language in June – “Convince those in power to reduce our carbon pollution. Push your own communities to adopt smarter practices. Invest! Divest!” – could hardly be greater.
The EU must stand firm and insist on actions, not words, to curb aviation emissions. US environmentalists must also move beyond ‘greenest-president ever‘ soundbites and try to hold Obama to his rhetoric.
This, after all, is the president who said that office-holders such as himself “will need to be less concerned with the judgement of special interests and well-connected donors, and more concerned with the judgement of posterity.” It’s time Obama heeded his own advice.