Wed 21 Oct 2009 – At a meeting in Luxembourg today, environment ministers from the 27 EU Member States agreed to put forward a proposal to the UNFCCC climate change summit in Copenhagen in December that global emissions from international aviation be cut by 10% by 2020 based on 2005 levels, with a higher cut for shipping. In the agreed text, the EU says international aviation and shipping emissions should be incorporated into a Copenhagen agreement and that Parties should commit to work through ICAO and IMO to enable an agreement that does not lead to competitive distortions or carbon leakage, that is agreed in 2010 and approved by 2011. The move comes less than a fortnight after the ICAO High-Level Meeting at which Contracting States failed to agree on binding reduction targets, instead falling back on an annual 2% fuel efficiency improvement goal through to 2020 and beyond to 2050.
The EU proposal says that the aviation emissions cuts should be implemented in a manner that ensures a level-playing field, and it supports the use of global market-based instruments to reduce emissions, which should be developed within ICAO.
Quentin Browell of IATA welcomed the general thrust of the proposal as it met the basic requirements of the industry’s global sectoral approach to tackling aviation CO2 emissions reductions but doubted whether the 10% global cut could be met by 2020. He pointed out that the EU proposal was unclear on whether the cuts were to be absolute or net, although the reference to global market-based instruments suggests the latter.
As was demonstrated at the ICAO High-Level Meeting (HLM), reaching an international consensus on market-based measures to offset the higher growth in air travel, and therefore emissions, than is being achieved by improved fuel efficiencies has so far proved intractable at a global level.
The reference in the EU proposal to ensuring ‘a level-playing field’ also cuts across the fundamental problem within ICAO of resolving the ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ (CBDR) principle enshrined in Kyoto with the equal treatment principle which underpins ICAO, as laid down in the Chicago Convention. At the HLM, this led to a largely developed versus developing world argument on setting global emissions reductions targets, with China, Brazil, India and Saudi Arabia taking a hardline approach against the concept.
It is the European Commission’s view that this clash can only be resolved within the UNFCCC forum, hopefully at the Copenhagen summit, and considers ICAO incapable of setting ambitious targets at this point. However, it acknowledges there was some progress at the HLM and is willing to continue to endorse ICAO as the proper body for regulating and administering any international agreement on aviation emissions reductions. The EC is also patient to wait until the ICAO Assembly in a year’s time but warns that further steps must be taken by ICAO during the intervening period.
Barbara Helfferich , a spokesperson for the European Commission’s Environment Directorate, told GreenAir Online: “The clear implication of the outcome of the High-Level Meeting is that to enable progress to be made at an international level it is essential for COP 15 in Copenhagen to set a target for international aviation emissions, under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This will make it possible for ICAO then to develop measures to deliver the target. We hope that substantive progress can be made at ICAO on the measures to tackle climate change in time for approval at the ICAO Assembly in 2010.”
With its position on international climate change negotiations still unfolding, the US has been reluctant to take a position on medium and long term aviation emissions reduction targets beyond the ICAO fuel efficiency goals, instead calling for “greater ambition”. However, some observers believe it played a constructive role at the HLM and could become a key player in the future process. A spokesperson for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which represented the US at the meeting, said: “We were pleased that the High Level Meeting came to an agreement to continue moving forward on the issue of addressing aviation’s contribution to climate change. We believe more can and should be done, but think that the Declaration coming from ICAO sets up a process that will allow the aviation sector to do that.”
The Air Transport Association of America (ATA), which represents the leading US airlines, is supporting the international aviation industry’s call for medium term (from 2020) carbon-neutral growth and in the long term reducing net carbon emissions 50% by 2050 compared to 2005. Despite failing to achieve a significant breakthrough at the ICAO HLM for the industry proposals, the ATA also put a positive spin on the outcome.
“As the quintessential global industry, aviation needs to continue its significant progress in fuel and greenhouse gas efficiency under an international framework,” said ATA President and CEO James C. May. “The ICAO States confirmed that they are prepared to provide such a framework, with key elements agreed at the High-Level Meeting and a plan for developing and agreeing further elements in the next year.
“While stopping short of adopting the comprehensive set of proposals forwarded by the aviation industry, the ICAO Member States laid the groundwork for them, by endorsing continuing fuel efficiency improvements as the backbone for aviation emissions management, agreeing that additional goals – such as carbon-neutral growth in the medium term – need to be considered, and prompting States to invest in technology, infrastructure and sustainable alternative aviation fuels. We urge the ICAO States to build on this foundation over the next year, to fully endorse a global sectoral approach to aviation and climate change.”
Andrew Herdman, Director General of the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines, said progress on the medium and long term industry targets will require fresh thinking by States on how market-based measures should best be applied to aviation, since carbon offsets, including sustainable alternative fuels, will be necessary to compensate for the expected growth in absolute emissions.
“Unfortunately, that brings us back to the fundamental political deadlock between Annex I [developed] and non-Annex I [developing] States regarding any new deal which might emerge at Copenhagen,” he told GreenAir Online. “Developing countries are insistent that Annex I States must live up to their Kyoto commitments, both in terms of binding emissions reduction targets, as well as the provision of financial support for mitigation and adaptation efforts by developing States.
“These States are suspicious of sectoral approaches in general, interpreting them as attempts to circumvent CBDR and the financial responsibilities of Annex I countries under Kyoto. This explains the general reluctance to move ahead, even though the need to apply a sectoral approach to international aviation is clear.
“On reflection, there were times during the ICAO High-Level Meeting when it seemed as though some States were treating the whole exercise as a dry run for their Copenhagen negotiation strategies, rather than focusing on the particular challenges of addressing aviation emissions as a global challenge.”
From an NGO perspective, Damian Ryan, Senior Policy Analyst of The Climate Group, said the HLM outcome was not unexpected but found reasons for optimism.
“Although not perfect, the Declaration does appear to strengthen earlier ICAO texts,” he commented. “While many may have hoped for more ambition, such an outcome was always unlikely at this point in time. The climate negotiations in ICAO are tied directly to the broader UNFCCC talks and until these are resolved in Copenhagen, real movement in aviation is unlikely. If Copenhagen can deliver an ambitious deal, however, then with the right leadership and commitment, the ICAO Declaration could form the basis of a more ambitious agreement for aviation as well.”
He said the Declaration included important language about working with industry to solve the problem and, crucially, it had the support of both developed and developing countries.
“Ultimately, the success of the declaration will depend on the willingness of governments to move forward quickly in developing the necessary policies and measures for tackling aviation emissions. While the declaration is full of good intentions, these now need to be translated into concrete action.”
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