Wed 20 July 2016 – With just two months before the start of the ICAO Assembly, airlines and environmental NGOs are stepping up pressure on governments to reach an agreement on a global scheme to tackle growing carbon emissions from international aviation. So too is the European Commission, which today reaffirmed its support for the measure in a report laying out its strategy for a low-emission transport future in Europe, saying it will review the EU’s own aviation ETS scheme in the light of the ICAO outcome. New European airline trade body A4E welcomed the Commission’s commitment, adding it expected the EU to replace the ETS with the global scheme. However, NGO Transport & Environment (T&E) warned that EU efforts to decarbonise ground transport would be offset by increases in emissions from aviation and shipping. Meanwhile, a meeting has been convened at ICAO next month to discuss progress by States on the scheme.
Although the aviation sector is taking a wide range of actions to reduce emissions, the growth in air traffic is outpacing reductions in emissions, says the Commission in its ‘European strategy for low-emission mobility’ report, and further progress is needed at the international level.
The EU, says the report, is “fully committed” to reaching agreement on a global market-based mechanism (GMBM) to address international aviation emissions. “This GMBM and other measures, such as the recently agreed carbon dioxide standard for new aircraft are intended to ensure the carbon neutral growth of international aviation from 2020,” it says, adding the EU will review the inclusion of aviation in the Emission Trading System (ETS) “in the light of the Assembly’s outcome.”
The EU also pledges to continue its financial and technical contribution through ICAO to capacity-building projects with developing countries, particularly across the African continent and some Least Developed Countries and Small Island States.
The ambitious target by the aviation sector to cap emissions from 2020 and tackle climate change can only be achieved if governments support the ICAO GMBM scheme, said Airlines for Europe (A4E), which was set up earlier this year and now includes 11 members, including IAG, easyJet, Ryanair, Air France KLM and Lufthansa.
“A4E welcomes the Commission’s commitment to the ICAO process and urges governments to reach an agreement at the Assembly to address international aviation emissions at a global level,” commented A4E Managing Director Thomas Reynaert. “We call on governments to support a global deal for aviation carbon emissions because it is the only way we can continue to grow our industry sustainably to meet demand.”
During the subsequent review of the ETS, adds the A4E statement, the legislators “should ensure the competitiveness of European carriers and avoid adverse financial and political implications.” The implementation of a global scheme should make existing and new economic measures on a regional or national basis unnecessary, it adds. “A4E’s expectation is that the global carbon offsetting scheme will replace the aviation ETS.”
A4E said it shared the Commission’s assertion in its report that advanced biofuels will be particularly important for aviation, which did not have the alternative energy sources available to ground transport.
“The only fuel alternative available for aviation in the short to mid-term are sustainable low-carbon fuels but we face high prices and low availability,” said Reynaert. “Some test and commercial flights have been carried out by dozens of airlines – among them A4E member airlines – and have proven their effectiveness. We are investing in developing biofuels but governments should incentivise sustainable jet fuels in the same way they do for cars. Support from governments is critical for these initiatives to progress.”
A4E is calling for a more favourable policy framework that would create a stable market environment for investors and airlines that would help lower investment risk and also provide incentives for biofuel use under the EU Renewable Energy Directive.
“A4E also supports current ideas in the European Parliament to encourage Member States to use bio-waste, in particular for the production of sustainable low carbon fuels for aviation, within the scope of the Proposal for a Directive amending Directive 2008/98/EC on Waste,” ends the statement.
While welcoming the Commission’s ambitions on cleaner road transport in line with aspirations of full decarbonisation by 2050, Brussels-based NGO T&E warned emission reductions in vehicles could be offset by increases in aviation and shipping. It accuses the Commission of abdicating responsibilities on the two sectors to the “ineffective” ICAO and IMO.
“While the Commission has seized the initiative to decarbonise vehicles, the opposite is true for planes and ships despite the importance of European action in these sectors,” said T&E Executive Director, Jos Dings.
Advocacy group Carbon Market Watch, which campaigns on environmental market-based mechanisms, is running a social media campaign in the run-up to the ICAO Assembly to raise public awareness of the GMBM and is targeting specific airlines during July and August in a ‘tweetathon’ calling for them to take action to ensure an effective GMBM deal is reached. During September, the campaign will target transport and environment ministers around the world.
Meanwhile, ICAO has announced it will convene a ‘Friends of the President’ meeting on August 22-23 in Montreal to evaluate progress made on the GMBM since the High-level Meeting in May that discussed a draft Resolution proposal on the scheme’s design framework. The meeting next month, in which all ICAO Member States and representatives from industry and civil society have been invited to attend, will hear the results of recent bilateral and multilateral negotiations.
Meetings are understood to have taken place between US and Chinese officials, and last week the Spanish government convened a two-day closed conference in Madrid involving around 25 countries, including from the EU, China and the US. Differences have yet to be reconciled on important issues such as the criteria on which countries should be included in the scheme from the start and how the offsetting obligations should be apportioned. Another issue also believed to be outstanding is over the freedom to be accorded to the EU over the application of its ETS to international aviation.
However, in a positive move, following a meeting of the leaders of Canada, Mexico and the United States under the North American Climate, Clean Energy and Environment Partnership, a White House statement indicated their support for the adoption “by all countries” of the GMBM scheme and that the three countries would join the first phase (2021-2026). While Canada and the US would be expected to join anyway under the revenue-tonne kilometre (RTK) de minimis criteria stipulated in the current draft of the scheme, Mexico is below the threshold and so would be entitled to be exempted from the first phase, but the statement would indicate it has decided to voluntarily participate, an example that many hope will be followed by other countries in a similar position.
Added pressure on the US administration to support a successful outcome at ICAO could come very soon with reports suggesting a finding is imminent by the US Environmental Protection Agency on the endangerment to public health of carbon emissions from aircraft.
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