European politicians call on EU to ensure international aviation emissions are addressed at Durban climate talks

 In a resolution adopted at a plenary session of the EP, MEPs have urged the EU to push for binding reduction targets on international aviation emissions at the forthcoming UNFCCC COP 17 climate talks in Durban. Negotiations at UNFCCC over international aviation and maritime carbon emissions have been largely stalled for some time and the MEPs say resolution of the issue has become increasingly pressing.  ICAO says it is “taking active steps”- but little progress is expected on the issue, which has seen a split down developed/developing world lines and arguments over texts at a basic level.

 18.11.2011 (Green Air Online)

 In a resolution adopted at a plenary session of the European Parliament, MEPs have urged the European Union to push for binding reduction targets on international aviation emissions at the forthcoming UNFCCC COP 17 climate talks in Durban. Negotiations at UNFCCC over international aviation and maritime carbon emissions have been largely stalled for some time and the MEPs say resolution of the issue has become increasingly pressing. The MEPs have also called on the EU to back a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol post-2012 and agree a legally binding commitment. In its report to be presented during COP 17, ICAO says it is taking active steps towards developing global solutions to tackling aviation GHG emissions.

In closing the ‘gigatonne gap’ – the difference between current international commitments and meeting the 2 degree global warming target set by the UN – the resolution said emissions from the aviation and maritime sectors must be addressed. It added that binding aviation emissions reduction targets must be backed up by enforcement structures and the introduction of international instruments, whilst recognising the UNFCCC principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR).*

The Parliament is sending a delegation of 15 MEPs to Durban for the talks that start on November 28.

Mindful of the international pressure the EU is facing over the inclusion of aviation into the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), the MEPs said they remained firmly behind the legislation approved in 2008.

Last month, German MEP Dr Peter Liese, who acted as the Parliament’s rapporteur during the passage of the legislation, said the EU must not back down on the scheme. “If we give in to pressure from third countries, such as China and the US, there is more at stake than the aviation EU ETS,” he said. “It is not a vague plan that we can easily postpone. It is a piece of adopted legislation. I cannot imagine postponing the introduction of the scheme. This would imply a full decision-making procedure between Parliament and Council, which is impossible between now and 1 January 2012.”

Despite the MEPs call for action on aviation emissions during the Durban talks, little progress is expected on the issue, which has seen a split down developed/developing world lines and arguments over texts at a basic level.

The Kyoto Protocol, which was adopted in December 1997, sets binding GHG reduction targets for industrialised countries (Annex I parties) and recognises the principle of CBDR that places a heavier burden on the developed nations. Due to the complexity of accounting for fuel emissions from international aviation and shipping – known in UNFCCC parlance as bunker fuels – the issue was handed over to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

Article 2.2 of the Protocol calls on Annex I parties to pursue limitation or reduction of GHG emissions from international aviation by working through ICAO. However, ICAO operates under the contradictory principle of equal treatment being accorded all member states and progress at ICAO has been slow despite the best attempts by the secretariat to steer the 190 member states on a unified path.

By contrast, efforts to find consensus within the UNFCCC have almost gone nowhere. Bunker fuels were given to the UNFCCC Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA) as part of its work programme following the Bali Action Plan adopted at COP 13 in 2007. It has since looked at various options on cooperative sectoral approaches and sector-specific actions. Due to diverging views on a way forward, no progress was made at the Cancun COP last year and no reference to aviation and maritime emissions was made in the final Cancun Agreement.

Since then, a number of options with suggested different texts have emerged after three AWG-LCA meetings in Bangkok, Bonn and Panama City this year, but they do not give cause for optimism that much progress will be achieved in Durban.

Aside from the AWG-LCA, a session of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) will convene alongside the main COP talks in Durban. SBSTA provides the COP with scientific, technological and methodological matters, and is the link between expert sources, such as the IPCC, and the policy-oriented COP. It also collaborates and shares information with other international organisations such as ICAO.

On Tuesday, the UNFCCC released ICAO’s paper that it will present to SBSTA, which will outline recent efforts carried out by ICAO and its member states to address the sustainable development of international aviation. The paper highlights four areas of activity over the past 12 months: states’ action plans and assistance to states; sustainable aviation alternative fuels; market-based measures; and global aspirational goals.

It also provides ICAO’s positions and perspectives on long-term climate change finance, an issue that is likely to have a high profile at COP 17 with discussions sure to take place on the Green Climate Fund (GCF), a pledge made by the developed countries at COP 16 in Cancún to provide $100 billion of annual funding by 2020 to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change. Aviation and shipping have already been identified as possible sources of revenue for the fund, either through an international levy on tickets or fuel, or through a global emissions trading scheme. However, there is the question of CBDR still to be addressed and how such a levy or scheme would be applied to air travel between the developed and developing world. It is unlikely that major developing countries like China would agree to such a proposal, having already made their position clear on the EU ETS.

ICAO argues that in order to achieve the global aspirational goals adopted at last year’s Assembly, the sector will require “adequate financial resources” of its own and having to additionally contribute to the GCF would undermine these efforts. It adds that states have already agreed to explore a global scheme based on market-based measures, funds from which should be mainly directed towards aviation emissions mitigation.

However, the resolution passed by the European Parliament notes that shipping and aviation are potential contenders, along with a financial transaction tax, as contributors from the private sector for climate finance. 



European Parliament resolution press release

European Parliament resolution in full

UNFCCC – Background to international bunker fuels

UNFCCC – AWG-LCA most recent text on sectoral and sector-specific approaches to aviation, maritime and agriculture

ICAO and IMO submissions to SBSTA

ICAO submission to Transitional Committee on Green Climate Fund




The Common but Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR) principle, an emerging principle in international environmental law embodies the notion that countries have special needs and may require differing treatment, in order to secure their participation.
The CBDR has two matrices. The first is the common responsibility, which arises from the concept of common heritage and common concern of humankind, and reflects the duty of States of equally sharing the burden of environmental protection for common resources; the second is the differentiated responsibility, which addresses substantive equality: unequal material, social and economic situations across States; different historical contributions to global environmental problems; and financial, technological and structural capacity to tackle those global problems. In this sense, the principle establishes a conceptual framework for an equitable allocation of the costs of global environmental protection.


Outcome of the Meeting of the BASIC countries – Brazil, South Africa, India and China

See Article 15 on aviation and shipping. The BASICs are giving a hard time to the EU-ETS, but on the other hand they are calling for a multilateral solution, which is a stronger signal on this than they have made before.  However, they keep up the CBDR wall, not using the language of “no net incidence” which could help to get a global scheme for bunker fuels with compensating poor countries for any economic burden such a scheme might cause. Instead they still want only A1 countries to be part of a scheme which is impossible with these global emissions.

15. Ministers emphasized the need to address emissions from international aviation and maritime transport in a multilateral context and in accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.  They highlighted that unilateral measures on climate change, such as the inclusion of emissions from international aviation in the EU-ETS, would violate the principles and provisions of the Convention and jeopardize the effort of international cooperation in addressing climate change.