Dropping the application of CBDR to international aviation could unlock significant financing for developing countries

The Climate Group writes that in order to solve the fundamental problem of different perspectives of the developed and the developing countries on aviation emissions, the position by developing countries on CBDR (Common But Differentiated Responsibilities) needs to be dropped.  CBDR contrasts with the ICAO principle of equal national treatment.  Developing countries may see the issue more in terms of carbon, while developed see the issue more in terms of market distortion.

8.12.2011 (GreenAir online)

The issue of how to address emissions from international aviation and maritime transport has been a perennial issue within climate change negotiations.

Despite years of discussions both within the UNFCCC and its sister UN organizations – the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) – countries have been unable to agree any firm measures.

However, pragmatic and fair solutions for addressing emissions from international aviation and maritime transport exist and that the keying to unlock action lies to a large extent in the hands of developing countries, reports Damian Ryan, Senior Policy Manager, The Climate Group from the COP 17 climate talks in Durban.

The fundamental problem is the clash of different legal treaty systems and the principles that they apply.  IMO and ICAO – organizations that have both been in existence for over 60 years – operate on the principle of equal national treatment. This means that measures agreed by parties are applied equally to all aircraft or ships, regardless of where they are from.

The UNFCCC by contrast was founded on the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR), which states that developed countries have greater responsibility and capacity for taking action to address climate change.

The consequences of this conflict are two very different perspectives on how to address emissions from the aviation and maritime sectors.

On one side, many developing countries see the problem as a climate change issue and therefore subject to the principles of the UNFCCC.  Developed countries in contrast consider that IMO/ICAO principles of equal treatment must apply in order to avoid market distortion.

It appears that progress in Durban has again become victim to this fundamental divide.

After a week or so of talks, the options on the table are as far apart as normal, and reflect long held positions.

The situation is a bitter disappointment for many. This is not only because of the significant emission footprint of these unabated sectors (2% of global emissions for aviation and around 4% for shipping), but also because pragmatic solutions exists which could unlock significant financing to support vulnerable developing countries, reduce emissions and meet key political demands. An example is the work being done by the Aviation Global Deal Group that The Climate Group is involved with.

The biggest tragedy is that the key to unlocking the deadlock lies to a large extent with the developing countries themselves. This is because insistence on the application of CBDR to international transport is completely counterproductive, particularly with respect to aviation.

Aviation is an industry in which developed and developing country airlines already compete on an equal footing. Indeed, some of the most successful international airlines are from developing countries. Distorting a level playing field would hurt an industry, which for 60 years has managed to reconcile all previous environmental problems without the need for such drastic differentiated regulation.

Perhaps most pertinently, international aviation users are also essentially homogeneous. Whether they are from New York, Nanjing or New Delhi, their climate impact and their capacity to mitigate it is – in the great scheme of things – the same.

Unlike the countries they are from, international aviation users have far more similarities than differences.

Trying to shield one group of airlines from simple and cost-effective mitigation measures like emissions trading will not lead to any effective emission reductions.

Instead, aviation users, whether they are from well-off or developing economies, will simply switch to those carriers not covered.

The losers from this perverse policy would be the world’s most vulnerable citizens who lose out on climate finance that could otherwise be raised from a sector-based market mechanism.

Application of CBDR on a country basis is a justified and legitimate position of developing countries. Application to aviation and maritime sectors simply blocks effective and potentially transformative solutions for industry and countries alike.

The Climate Group is an independent, not-for-profit organization, which brings together a global coalition of the world’s most powerful governments, brands and public figures across Asia, Europe and North America to push for policies, technologies and investment needed to make the Clean Revolution commercially viable.





Related GreenAir Online article:

India seeks to raise opposition to unilateral trade measures at COP 17 in attempt to derail Aviation EU ETS


A year earlier …..

Cancun climate talks fail to address aviation

Dec 15 2010  (Aviation Environment Federation)

Yet another international climate confence has failed to address emissions from aircraft.  Extract from article in greenaironline:

“Despite the cheering news of late compromise and modest achievement at the COP 16 climate change summit in Cancun, no progress was forthcoming over bunker fuel negotiations on limiting international aviation and shipping emissions. The issue of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ (CBDR), which underpins the current Kyoto climate agreement, again reared its head as a major obstacle in ambitions to have the aviation and maritime industries treated as separate sectors under the UNFCCC framework. The wider Cancun agreement reached on Saturday includes the setting up of a Green Climate Fund that will aim to raise $100 billion a year by 2020 to help developing countries mitigate climate change impacts. With most of the funding expected to come from private rather than public finance, ICAO and the aviation industry may well have to marshal forces as attention turns in 2011 to identifying possible sources, with aviation already suggested as a potential easy earner.”


article from The Conversation


Is anyone tough enough to push through an aviation emissions agreement?

Read the full article at The Conversation



DURBAN CLIMATE CHANGE CONFERENCE: Whatever fruits ripen out of the United Nation’s Climate Change Conference in Durban, a global aviation emissions agreement is unlikely to be among them.

Thus far, Durban has served as another forum for state representatives to air their grievances about the European Union’s pending application of its cap-and-trade system to non-EU airlines while avoiding any binding commitments to offset aviation’s carbon footprint.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) – the UN’s official aviation organ – is attempting to leverage this international antipathy toward the EU initiative by calling for global collective action on aviation emissions.

But to what end?

Since the signing of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change ICAO has been tasked with devising a global response on this very issue. After more than a decade of working groups, conferences, and reports, the final result has been a series of hortatory resolutions on avoiding unilateralism and embracing multilateralism – resolutions the EU has been happy to ignore thus far.

Now that the ICAO sits on the precipice of losing its already withered control over the issue, the organisation believes that it can broker a multilateral regulatory framework for airline emissions no later than 2015. Unsurprisingly, details concerning this ambitious proposal are scarce, though a role for oversight and management by the World Bank is apparently being considered.

But talk in any language is cheap and the cacophony of voices in Durban reveals few points of convergence on how global emissions ought to be regulated within and beyond the aviation industry. Underdeveloped countries still insist on a “common but differentiated” approach whereby they are either explicitly exempted or, barring that, eased into any emissions reduction measures which may harm economic growth.

Rising economic superpowers – such as China and India – appear to want the same thing despite the fact they have taken center stage as leading emitters of greenhouse gases.

Meanwhile, fully developed economies – such as the US and the EU – are expected to shoulder a disproportionate amount of the reduction burden. This is an unsavoury suggestion given the ongoing global economic downturn which has ravaged longstanding industries on both sides of the Atlantic.

So, how will the ICAO cut through these formidable policy differences? The short answer is: it can’t.

ICAO’s legitimacy rests on its ability to serve as a neutral forum for its 190 State parties to harmonise technical and safety standards for international aviation. In very limited circumstances the organisation can function as a quasi-dispute settlement forum, albeit one with flaccid enforcement powers.

What ICAO definitely lacks is the ability to strong-arm its membership into any regulatory initiative without their full consent.

Winning that consent, as is often the case at the international level, means structuring the deal so as to make every participant believe they are better off for the effort. (In the emerging international legal literature, this is referred to as the principle of “International Paretianism”.)

With respect to aviation emissions, ICAO would have to generate a regulatory structure which induces emissions reduction without inflicting (uncompensated) economic harm. China, for instance, is unlikely to enter a system which retards the expansion of its air transport sector without picking up gains in other areas. Such gains could include winning new foreign market access opportunities for its airlines.

The problem here is that ICAO has no authority over the trade-related aspects of aviation. The organisation’s ability to facilitate the requisite level of “side payments” necessary to bring otherwise ambivalent countries into any emissions reduction plan is weak at best, and nonexistent at worst.

None of this is to say that reducing aviation emissions is a hopeless task. The EU – one of the largest aviation markets in the world – is already committed to the task and an incremental approach, based on bilateral agreement, is not out of the question.

The comprehensive Air Transport Agreement signed by the US and EU in 2007 establishes a Joint Committee to examine a variety of regulatory matters, including the environment. If these two aeropolitical powers could come together to work out a mutually agreeable emissions reduction program it could have a powerful demonstration effect for other likeminded States to come together.

While such experiments in enhanced bilateralism will still have to overcome the Paretian hurdle – where all parties must believe, by their lights, to better off from the deal – this challenge will be far easier to meet at the State-to-State level than in a multilateral context.

In the case of ICAO efforts, diffuse and multifaceted interests will likely continue to ground negotiations on this politically contentious and ideologically charged issue.



  1. by Gabriel Sanchez, Senior Research Fellow, International Aviation Law Institute at DePaul University
DISCLOSURE STATEMENT    Gabriel Sanchez does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.The Conversation:   Our goal is to ensure the content is not compromised in any way. We therefore ask all authors to disclose any potential conflicts of interest before publication.