Tue 17 Sept 2013 – In his groundbreaking speech on climate change this June, Barack Obama asked “whether we will have the courage to act before it’s too late”. His own administration answered the question with a resounding “no” when they pushed to delay decisions on the regulation of the aviation industry’s ballooning CO2 emissions. President Obama spoke of the need for the United States of America to maintain its role as a global leader on climate change. At ICAO’s special Council meeting in Montreal earlier this month, his administration ensured that the international community continued to avoid acting on aviation’s contribution to global warming – currently at 5% and rapidly growing. The time has now come for the White House to lead the international community into taking action at the forthcoming ICAO Assembly, urge James Lees and Bill Hemmings.
Of course a decision requires support from many contracting States, but the draft ICAO resolution considered by the Council strongly reflects US interests. On a global market-based measure (MBM), weak wording alluded to the possibility of a decision on a measure in 2016 and nothing more. On regional measures, where the subtext is aviation’s future in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS), any environmental credibility was nullified by US insistence on limiting emissions covered to those within regional airspace. If all 191 member states of ICAO decided to take part in such regional schemes, only 22% of international aviation emissions would be captured.
Lobbying from officials of the “greenest ever President” would suggest that MBMs must be bad for aviation. On the contrary, there is a consensus from industry, scientists and NGOs that a global MBM is now urgently needed to limit and reduce aviation’s vast emissions. While industry has promoted the importance of technological, operational and alternative fuel measures, it now acknowledges the necessity of market-based measures at least in the short-term. In fact, as well as being cost-effective, research has shown that a global MBM is essential for the industry to meet its long-term target of 50% emissions reduction by 2050.
While ICAO has understood for over a decade the important role that a global MBM can play, a lack of action drove the EU to include aviation in its own emissions trading scheme (the EU ETS). Perhaps unsurprisingly, the EU’s decision to include all emissions from flights in and out of the EU led to confrontation over alleged infringements of foreign sovereignty – led particularly by the US. To deal with pressure from dissenting countries, the EU put its faith in the ICAO process and announced it would limit coverage of its scheme to intra-EU flights for one year – known as the stop-the-clock exemption – so that ICAO could work out a global MBM. A postponement of a decision on a global MBM until 2016 means that President Obama’s newfound commitment to tackle climate change has actually seen the rug pulled from under attempts at ICAO to promote MBMs either globally or regionally.
The US strategy on international aviation goes against everything Barack Obama held dear in his climate change speech given aviation and his own industry’s huge (North American aviation emissions amount to almost a third of global aviation emissions) contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. If aviation were a country, its CO2 emissions alone would rank seventh in the world, just behind Germany. These emissions are set to double by 2030. A global MBM is the only approach that could limit and reduce these emissions immediately.
The cumulative nature of CO2 means that delaying action on an MBM will lead to further build up of CO2 in the atmosphere and even greater climate change impacts in the future. A recent report showed that if a global MBM was introduced immediately, it could reduce the climate change impacts of aviation’s emissions by as much as 31% in 2050.
The solution to aviation’s runaway emissions is simple and exactly what we will be pursuing at the ICAO Assembly: a global MBM decided on now and to be introduced by 2016. It is no longer an option for continued disagreement in ICAO to prevent action on aviation’s contribution to climate change.
At a time when President Obama has said so much about leading the way, the White House must finally ensure that the US becomes the global leader for action at the ICAO Assembly. It is time for everybody to take responsibility, stop shielding such a high emitting industry and act...now.
James Lees is the Research and Communications Officer at Aviation Environment Federation, a London-based environmental NGO working on aviation. Bill Hemmings is Aviation and Shipping Programme Manager at Brussels-based Transport & Environment. AEF and T&E are founding members of the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation (ICSA) and will be pressing the concerns of civil society at ICAO’s triennial Assembly in Montreal at the end of September.
Copyright © 2018 GreenAir Communications