MEPs shocked by ‘secretive’ and unacceptably unambitious ICAO plan to cut aviation CO2 emissions

A meeting of the European Parliament’s Committee on Environment has been told of the way a possible agreement by ICAO next month – on global aviation carbon emissions – has been watered down. MEPs were informed of the likely 6-year delay, with the scheme for a global market based mechanism (GMBM) not taking effect properly until 2027, rather than in 2021 that had been foreseen.  Opt-in to the GMBM scheme before 2027 would be voluntary, but mandatory from 2027 through to 2035. There will be exemptions for poor nations, and even after 2027 the participation of the least developed countries and small island states would remain voluntary only. EU deputies said they were “shocked” to learn how many concessions the EU was prepared to make at the Montreal meeting, which took place in May behind closed doors.  Then, to make matters yet worse, “a special review in 2032 will determine whether the mechanism will be continued,” taking into account progress made as part of a related “basket of measures” which includes “CO2 standards for aircraft”, technological improvements, air traffic management and alternative fuels.  In a rare show of unity, Parliament representatives from across the political spectrum urged the EU to be more aggressive in the negotiation. Bas Eckhout, a Dutch MEP, said what is on offer now is not acceptable.


MEPs shocked by ‘secretive’ ICAO plan to cut aviation emissions

1.9.2016 (Euractiv)

By Frédéric Simon |

A six-year delay, exemptions for poor nations, and a gradual phase-in system for participating countries are all being considered as part of talks to curb aviation pollution at the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), MEPs discovered at a hearing in Parliament today (1 September).

Henrik Hololei, an official who headed the European Commission’s delegation to an ICAO high-level meeting in Canada earlier this year, appeared for a hearing in front of the European Parliament’s Committee on Environment.

Deputies said they were “shocked” to learn how many concessions the EU was prepared to make at the Montreal meeting, which took place in May behind closed doors.

The Montreal talks centred on the Global Market-Based Measure (GMBM) scheme which has been up for discussion since 2012 when the EU decided to “stop-the-clock” on its own aviation emissions trading system.

The EU initially intended to apply its aviation ETS to all flights landing or departing from EU territory but froze the scheme for international flights until 31 December this year in order to give ICAO a chance to conclude a global deal.

But MEPs were dismayed to hear the significant concessions Henrik Hololei said the EU was now considering in order to preserve chances of reaching an international agreement at the next ICAO general assembly opening on 27 September.

Any change to EU law following an ICAO deal would require approval by the EU assembly.

Six-year delay

According to plans currently under consideration, the global market-based system would be fully up and running in 2027 only, six years later than the initial 2021 deadline originally foreseen by the EU.

“On timing, the verification and monitoring requirements would start applying in 2019,” with the GMBM kicking-in “progressively as of 2021,” Hololei told MEPs at the hearing. “Inclusion in the scheme would become mandatory from 2027 through 2035”.

“On scope, the draft decision as it stands now would have an opt-in phase before all countries come on board in 2027, except those which are exempted,” Hololei continued, referring to small aviation players such as least developed countries and small island states for whom participation will remain voluntary only.

Finally, “a special review in 2032 will determine whether the mechanism will be continued,” taking into account progress made as part of a related “basket of measures” which includes “CO2 standards for aircraft”, technological improvements, air traffic management and alternative fuels.

“So that is what is currently being envisaged but I must stress that this is still very much a moving target,” Hololei said, adding, “the main issues relate to timing and scope”.

MEPs ‘shocked’

In a rare show of unity, Parliament representatives from across the political spectrum urged the EU to be more aggressive in the negotiation.

Bas Eckhout, a Dutch MEP who follows aviation issues for the Greens/EFA group, said he was “shocked” by the Commission’s apparent readiness to make concessions.

“We always said 2021 should be the starting date. What we’re discussing now is a voluntary scheme until 2027 and then still options for exemptions. That is a huge deviation from where we came from!” he exclaimed.

“Have you been brainwashed in Montreal? This sounds like the EU is giving away everything we stood for. Maybe a phase in for some countries can be accepted as of 2021,” but not more, Eckhout said.

“This is really unacceptable,” he added.

“Secrecy and lack of transparency”

Global leaders who met for UN talks in Paris last year agreed to aim for carbon-neutral growth in the aviation sector as of 2020, part of a landmark international agreement to contain global warming below 2°C.  [Carbon neutral growth means, in reality, that emissions from planes continue to grow fast, but offsets can be bought from other sectors that are cutting carbon emissions. ie. aviation does not itself make more than tiny cuts, while growing at 4 – 5% per year. AW note].

But other countries in the ICAO “are much less committed than the EU” to reaching that goal, Hololei pointed out, reminding MEPs that the European Commission had only observer status in the negotiations, which are taking place between ICAO member countries behind closed doors.

For Julie Girling, a British MEP from the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), it is the “secrecy and lack of transparency” in the ICAO process which is reason for concern.  No statement or meeting minutes were distributed after the May talks, Girling pointed out, “almost as if nothing had happened”. Hololei later replied that those would be published in the coming days.

Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, a Dutch MEP from the Liberal group ALDE, defended “regional schemes” such as the EU’s aviation ETS as part of any ICAO deal.   IATA, the global aviation industry lobby group, had spoken about “marginal costs for airlines” from the ETS, which shows the issue “is much more political”.

“If the costs are marginal, then why are politicians making a fuss about it?,” Gerbrandy asked. “This is the first big test: are we willing to do what we promised in Paris?”

Peter Liese, a German MEP from the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), agreed and pointed to “shortcomings” in the ICAO process. “I’m worried to hear about a pilot phase.  What’s happening in ICAO is not ambitious at all,” he warned, saying climate policy had moved beyond pilot phases. “I find this idea of a pilot phase sobering and scary.”

Speaking earlier, Girling concurred on that point, saying there was a “disconnect” between how Parliament and ICAO see the agreement taking shape.

“We see aviation as having been given an almost inexplicable exemption [from emissions regulations] whereas ICAO sees it as a pat on the back because they’ve been doing so well.”

2021 start date “not the most likely outcome”

Responding to the barrage of criticism, Hololei said the EU had wanted a mechanism to start as of 2021. “But in the international context, this is also a negotiation and there are other partners. And of course, we need to take that into account.”

Hololei, however, assured MEPs that the EU was “negotiating for the best possible outcome”, including on securing a regional scheme for Europe.

“The EU position has always been a mandatory scheme from 2021. We haven’t changed in any way our ambitions on that,” Hololei said. But “that is not the most likely outcome.”




The airline sector, like the maritime sector, has its own UN agency, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), which is responsible for organising the reduction of its CO2 emissions. ICAO was tasked by the Kyoto Protocol with addressing emissions from the sector.

It has been difficult to reach global agreement. In 2012, with no deal having been made, the EU included aviation emissions in its Emissions Trading Scheme. The decision sparked a backlash from the industry and foreign countries, like China and India who refused to comply with the scheme and threatened the EU with commercial retaliation measures.

The EU’s temporary halt to the ETS was intended to allow time for the ICAO to devise a global alternative. But in the meantime, international airlines which bitterly attacked the cap and trade scheme at every turn will be exempted from it, while intra-European airlines, which had supported it, will not.

>>Read:   Hedegaard stops clock on aviation emissions law

As a whole, the aviation industry continues to fiercely resist market-based measures as anything more than a stopgap, advocating instead a formula of technological and operational improvements – plus the wider use of biofuels – to reduce emissions.

Airlines make up 2% of worldwide CO2 emissions. But the doubling of passengers every 15 years has made it a growing source of greenhouse gases. Due to the strong link between the sector and fossil fuels, reducing its CO2 emission is a challenge. The problem of electricity storage rules out its use in the air, which thus leaves airline manufacturers, which have promised to stabilise their CO2 emissions by 2020, with few options.




  • 27 Sept.-07 Oct.: ICAO general assembly in Montreal, Canada.
  • 31 Dec. 2016: End of exemption for international flights under the EU’s aviation ETS.


Some earlier news stories about the ICAO negotiations: 

India to summarily reject ICAO’s proposed market based measure for aviation CO2 emissions

ICAO is meant to be getting global agreement in October on some way to control the growth of the aviation sector’s emissions. However, India – which has a relatively new and very fast growing aviation industry – is not willing to accept anything that might cost the industry money or slow its growth. The purpose of some form of market based mechanism, agreed through ICAO, is for airlines to have to buy carbon permits to offset CO2 emissions above their level in 2020. That works by the airlines having to spend money on the permits, with the likely effect of slowing growth. Airlines are naturally not keen, which is why ICAO has made virtually zero progress on this over several decades. Officials from India’s civil aviation ministry say Indian airlines are not willing to abide by the proposed “tax”. India as a country has pledged to reduce CO2 emissions, as committed at the UN Climate Change Agreement in Paris last December. Carbon emissions from Indian aviation could double from their 2011 level by 2020, but India considers itself to be a “developing country” although in many respects it no longer is. ICAO proposes allowing developing countries special leeway with their carbon emissions, but this is intended for small countries that are far less rich – and with far less thriving aviation industries – than India.

Click here to view full story…

ICAO agreement to get global aviation industry to limit CO2 may just be “voluntary” for years

ICAO is meeting in Montreal from 27th September to 7th October, with the intention of agreeing some mechanism globally to limit, or trade, aviation carbon emissions in future. However, aviation was not included in the Paris agreement, and ICAO has made little progress in getting airlines internationally to agree measures that would be effective. Aviation should contribute to the global ambition of limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees C (or 1.5 degrees C ideally) above pre-industrial levels. Now it appears that there may not even be a mandatory system, but just a voluntary one for the first 5 years for certain countries. This apparently is not yet meant to be public knowledge. Environmental groups said a voluntary first phase waters down a deal that already exempts too many countries, including most developing states, during its first five years. It will not achieve the ambition of making aviation making a fair contribution on the needed emissions reductions, especially if the largest carbon emitters do not join it. Airlines from countries that voluntarily participate would have to limit their emissions or offset them by buying carbon credits from designated environmental projects around the world.

Click here to view full story…

Guangdong will include aviation sector in its carbon market (South China)

11 July 2016  (Enerdata)   The Guangdong province will include the aviation sector in its pilot scheme for trading CO2 emissions that will be integrated in a national carbon market in 2017.

The Guangdong emission trading scheme was introduced in December 2013 and covers 189 companies handing over 365 million permits in 2015 (-1.4% from 2014). The province government will set aside 21 million permits for quarterly auctions, that will start in September 2016 (2 million permits will be available for sale). On 20 June (annual deadline for companies to surrender permits to the local government), 33 million permits had been traded (31% of the total number traded in China), corresponding to a 100% compliance rate this year.   China will implement a national CO2 cap-and-trade scheme as of 2017, to limit and and put a price on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. So far, China has already implemented seven local carbon exchanges in two provinces (Hubei and Guangdong) and in five large cities, namely Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Chongqing.

Bill Hemmings: An ICAO deal that falls well short of “carbon-neutral growth” target will have no credibility

Bill Hemmings, (from T&E) explains the hurdles to ICAO agreeing an environmentally meaningful deal in October. The global aviation sector needs to play its part in the international aspiration, from the Paris Agreement, to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C, or 2 degrees at worst. However, ICAO is not looking as if this is likely, largely due to the differences between historical and current CO2 emissions, and current and future growth rates, between airlines from countries (US and Europe largely) with historic aviation sectors, and those of developing countries, with young aviation industries. Ways to apportion the CO2 fairly need to be agreed, but solutions favour one group or the other. The developing countries (including Brazil, South Africa, and Nigeria) want their aviation CO2 to be exempted from any scheme. But emissions gap would amount to around 40-50% of the total, and so directly threatens the integrity of the commitment to carbon neutral growth from 2020, to which IATA pays lip service. Then there is the problem how to determine what percentage of emissions above the 2020 baseline airlines should have to offset each year. European and US airline CO2 is barely growing, but the CO2 from some is rising by 8% per year. US airlines do not want to pay for this. The issues are complicated. Read Bill’s explanation.

Click here to view full story…

New petition demanding real action to address global aviation CO2 – not ineffective use of “REDD” offsets

The group REDD-Monitor and other organisations have a petition asking people to sign up, to oppose the use by the global aviation industry, through ICAO, of “offsets” for its emissions using forestry. These offsets, through REDD or REDD+ (meaning (‘Reduce Deforestation from Deforestation and Forest Degradation’) would be very cheap and available in huge numbers. They would not be an effective way to compensate for growing aviation carbon emissions. The industry’s only plan to control its CO2 emissions, while doubling them, is buying credits from other sectors. In April 2016, more than 80 NGOs put out a statement opposing the aviation sector’s carbon offsetting plans through use of REDD credits. There are many really serious problems with REDD credits. Some are: They would only use large forestry institutions, or monoculture farming, not small landowners or forest peoples. Most REDD projects are not those that tackle the real drivers of large-scale deforestation – extraction of oil, coal, mining, infrastructure, large-scale dams, industrial logging etc. REDD credits carry the additional risk of becoming null and void when wildfires, storms or natural decay cause uncontrollable release of carbon stored. There are serious risks of lack of monitoring, and of fraud. REDD offsets should not be allowed for aviation carbon credits.

Click here to view full story…

ICAO still very far from any effective means of limiting aviation CO2 to be in line with Paris Agreement

Operating without fuel taxes, VAT, legally-binding fuel efficiency requirements or limits on its CO2 emissions, the aviation sector operates in something of a parallel universe. ICAO will have an opportunity to finally take a step forward on climate action. ICAO will discuss the impact of the Paris Agreement on the sector, and specifically the next steps for an aviation carbon offsetting scheme currently under negotiation. Their earlier response to the Paris Agreement was to try to give the impression that the sector is making huge progress. In reality, industry lobbyists succeeded in preventing an explicit reference to aviation in the text. But the globally-agreed goal of striving to limit global warming to 1.5C does apply to aviation. All ICAO Parties are also Parties to the Paris Agreement. If they let aviation off the hook, the target 1.5 degree, or even 2 degree, global target will simply be impossible to reach. The aviation sector will have to act – rapidly and radically – on climate if the Paris goal can be achieved. But ICAO’s current proposals are a very inadequate first step, and the industry plans for up to 300% growth by 2050. Even their modest goal of buying carbon permits to offset aviation carbon is not ambitious enough, as proposed exemptions for airlines of less developed countries amount to about 40% of global aviation CO2.

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ICAO aviation offset market talks yield little progress, but backtracking on previous agreement

ICAO has concluded 3 days of talks to try to achieve a deal on a market-based offsetting mechanism for international aviation emissions from 2020. It has not made much progress. The industry has expressed the hope of “carbon neutral growth” after 2020, which means continuing to grow and emit more carbon, but buying offsets from other sectors that actually do cut CO2 emissions. Unless this is done, the prospect of the world achieving a limit of global temperature of 2 degrees C is remote. However, there are difficult issues to be resolved, of how to divide up the offsetting responsibilities between fast-growing airlines in emerging economies, and established carriers often with older, less fuel-efficient fleets and based in the industrialised world. Neither side will accept being disadvantaged. There have been proposals to try out a “pilot” scheme, and delay the 2020 date. Either way, the ICAO scheme only intends to cover international flights, not domestic – which form a large proportion in countries like the USA and China. That means only about 62% of the total aviation CO2, assuming the EU counts as a single bloc (more like 40% otherwise). Airlines do not want a patchwork of different systems in different parts of the world.

Click here to view full story…