ICAO progress on a CO2 “market based mechanism” stalled by differences between developed and developing countries
A special meeting has been called for April in Montreal for policy makers from about a dozen countries to confer on the plan, which would achieve carbon-neutral growth in the aviation sector from 2020 onwards, the sources said on condition of anonymity because the talks are confidential.
The market-based plan must win the support of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s 190 member countries at a September assembly, or risk the EU breaking off talks and imposing its own emissions trading scheme on international airlines.
While other transportation modes, such as the maritime industry, are also discussing ways to limit emissions, the world’s attention is now centered on aviation – a sector that would be the world’s seventh largest carbon emitter if it were a country.
Aviation was excluded from the landmark climate accord in Paris in December when countries agreed to limit the rise in global temperatures to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.
“In the past year, the spotlight was on Paris. Now it’s on Montreal,” said Annie Petsonk, international counsel at the Washington D.C.-based Environmental Defense Fund.
Yet the aviation talks are being stymied by a challenge that’s dogged U.N. climate negotiations for nearly two decades – how to deal with the “common but differentiated responsibilities” of developed and developing nations.
Developing countries with fast growing aviation sectors such as China and India want more latitude to produce emissions than developed countries, which are growing more slowly but were responsible for generating the bulk of the industry’s historic greenhouse gases.
According to a report by New Climate Economy, most future global air traffic will come from Latin America and Asia. In 1993, more than 73 percent of all traffic was carried by airlines in Europe or North America. By 2033, that share is expected to shrink to 38 percent.
“It (the clash between developed and developing countries) will be a very big problem, especially with China,” said one European Union official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
But while the Paris talks resolved those clashes by treating wealthier and poorer nations differently, a two-tiered aviation deal could violate ICAO’s own principle of non-discrimination in the organization’s founding treaty, the Chicago Convention.
It also risks giving a competitive advantage to airlines that have significant global market share but are registered in “developing countries”, legal experts have argued.
Violeta Bulc, European Commissioner for Transport, said last week that countries are struggling to fairly divide responsibilities for emissions obligations.
“The proposal on the table at ICAO aims to take care of that by sharing the burden of decarbonization across all the actors,” said Bulc in an interview with Reuters in Washington D.C.
Bulc said global leaders are working behind the scenes to resolve the dispute. She’s suggested ICAO look at the way the EU handles the issue of burden-sharing, where its richer member states take on different responsibilities than poorer countries like Greece.
“In Europe we also learned that you have to take the specifics of certain countries under consideration.”
International action on aviation emissions: What’s at stake in ICAO
If international aviation were a country, it would be a top ten emitter of carbon dioxide (CO2), on par with Germany or the United Kingdom.
And it’s expected to grow enormously: with more than 50,000 new large aircraft slated to take to the skies, its emissions are expected to triple or quadruple by 2040.
In Paris in December 2015, the world hailed the success of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in adopting the first broadly applicable instrument to start driving carbon pollution down, with a goal of limiting warming to 1.5-2° C.
But Paris didn’t cover pollution from flights between countries.
Why not? Because in 1997, aviation lobbied for, and got, the UNFCCC to defer these to another UN body, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
Quiet talks are now underway on:
- An ICAO CO2 standard for aircraft – akin to a miles-per-gallon standard for cars. In Montreal next week, possibly as early as Monday, February 8, 2016, a technical group is expected to agree a recommendation for this standard. (See below for report on that)
- A cap on international aviation’s total CO2 emissions at 2020 levels. ICAO is slated to vote in September 2016, on the cap and a market-based measure (MBM) to help airlines implement it.
Here’s what’s at stake:
Without any new rules, international aviation’s carbon pollution is expected to skyrocket (top red line).
Better air traffic control can trim some pollution (top red wedge). An ambitious CO2 standard would mean fewer emissions per passenger-mile, further slowing the sector’s emissions growth (blue wedge).
But because the industry’s overall emissions are expected to far outstrip these per-trip efficiency gains, there’s still a huge gap (green triangle) – at least 6-8 billion tonnes – to get to the goal of an emissions cap at 2020 levels (red horizontal line), or even more ambitious goals along the lines of the Paris agreement (red dashed line).
The real prize is the market-based measure to cap aviation emissions and drive pollution down, not up.
Learn more at edf.org/aviation.
Earlier, on plane fuel efficiency improvements:
ICAO proposal to slightly reduce CO2 emissions from new planes, only after 2023, not seen as sufficiently ambitious
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the United Nations’ aviation agency, has approved the first-ever binding agreement to achieve CO2 emissions reductions from new aircraft. New efficiency standards will apply to all new commercial jets delivered after 2028, as well as existing jets produced from 2023. This might achieve a cut in CO2 of about 4% in cruise fuel consumption, compared to the level in 2015. This is a very low level of ambition. Environmental groups, specifically the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) said the proposed standards were a missed opportunity and would have little real effect in curbing emissions. The standard excludes aircraft that are already in use, and as most airlines have lifetimes of 20-30 years, it will take decades to cover the current fleet. ICCT says some of the top performing commercial aircraft were already achieving the standard – with room to spare. By 2020, 8 years before the proposed standards were even due to come into effect, the average aircraft would already be 10% more efficient than the ICAO standard. ICAO recognised that “the projected doubling of global passengers and flights by 2030 must be managed responsibly and sustainably.” However, this does very little to achieve that. The exclusion high CO2 emitting international aviation and shipping was a major weakness of the Paris Agreement in December.