Tue 27 Sept 2016 – After nearly 20 years of painfully slow progress, the long-awaited opportunity for the world’s governments to show leadership in addressing fast-growing carbon emissions from international aviation has finally arrived. Around 2,000 delegates from 191 countries are expected in Montreal for the two-week 39th ICAO Assembly (A39) starting today. High on the agenda is the proposal for a global market-based measure (GMBM) that aims to cap net emissions from the sector at 2020 levels (CNG2020) through a carbon offsetting scheme. Despite a number of formal meetings at ICAO this year to hammer out a consensus, along with many bilateral and multilateral negotiations between States, there remain a number of outstanding issues to be settled during the Assembly. Although a positive outcome is expected, it may not emerge until the final days. So far, around 58 States have volunteered their willingness to take part in the scheme from the start, with more expected to join during the Assembly.
The proposal for CORSIA (Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation) is contained in Working Paper 52 (WP/52) and is one of over 50 papers concerned with climate change issues and positions on the GMBM. These will be considered by the Executive Committee of the Assembly under Item 22, along with a further 30 papers under Items 20 and 21 that cover aircraft noise and aircraft engine emissions affecting local air quality. Opening statements on Item 22 are due to be heard on Thursday but given the number of submissions and the importance of securing an agreement on CORSIA, it may be given over to a working group that will report back to a plenary session next week.
South Korea and Guatemala, two developing states, are the latest to respond positively to a request from the ICAO leadership to advise whether they will volunteer to join the scheme from the start in 2021 “without prejudice to the final outcome of the Assembly”. ICAO is expecting more to announce their participation during the Assembly.
Under the initial CORSIA proposal, participation in a first phase (2021-2026) would have been mandatory for countries with an individual share of international aviation traffic (measured in revenue tonne kilometres) above 1% of the global total or whose cumulative share in the list of highest to lowest amount of RTKs reached 80% of total RTKs. This would have captured around 21 countries based on ICAO statistics for 2012, although countries from the developed world that fell below the threshold would have joined based on a second formula, since discarded, applying a gross national income criterion. This would have brought the total numbers participating to between 40 and 50, so the revised – and criticised by many – voluntary nature of the pilot phase (2021-2023) and first phase (2024-2026) has brought an increase in the number of countries that are now expected to participate.
However, key aviation nations in the top 21 have yet to announce whether they will join – including India, Russia, Qatar, Thailand and Australia – so coverage of international RTKs (a current proxy for emissions in the absence of data) in the voluntary phase based on the 58 participants so far is estimated by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) at around 52%, although ICAO says traffic coverage is closer to 80%. Based on the current commitments, the ICAO scheme would offset about three-quarters of post-2020 traffic growth through to its proposed end in 2035, says ICCT, so leaving the sector short of its CNG 2020 goal. Permanent exemptions from the scheme are available for around 100 of the least developed States, and emissions from all flights to and from countries that are not participating are excluded and not assigned to those taking part.
Present indications are that both India and Russia will not participate in the voluntary phases. Reuters quotes India’s civil aviation minister as saying the present proposal is not equitable but will wait until the Assembly outcome before deciding.
The two countries have joined China, which has agreed to participate, in submitting a controversial paper (WP/412) on the eve of the Assembly that reopens arguments over the negative economic impact on emerging countries of a market-based measure and presents new proposals that could have a material effect on the design of the scheme and the use of carbon offsets. Whether or not the proposals are serious, there will be attempts by States during the Assembly to both strengthen the existing text as well as watering it down, but expectations are high that an agreement will be reached next week. Failure would be a serious blow to ICAO after the success and impetus provided by the adoption of the global climate agreement in Paris last December that is currently nearing its ratification.
“The eyes of the world are squarely on ICAO for concrete action to make our industry even greener and more efficient for future generations,” Dr Olumuyiwa Aliu, President of the ICAO Council, told delegates at the opening ceremony of the Assembly today, “I kindly urge you to demonstrate our historic strengths of cooperation, compromise and consensus. I am confident we will rise to the expectations of the global community.”
In a video message to the Assembly, UN Secretary-General Ban-ki Moon said aviation emissions were growing rapidly and air traffic expected to double by 2030. “This underscores the importance of a new market-based measure to mitigate emissions from international flights. These emissions were not covered by the Paris Agreement, in recognition of the work underway at ICAO. The world will be closely following your deliberations. We are long past the point for half measures. I urge States at this meeting to show leadership and volunteer for participation in the GMBM.”
ICAO 39th Assembly
Update Wed 28 Sept:
The GMBM will now be taken up earlier by the Executive Committee during the afternoon session today. A draft report is expected to be produced by the end of this week and presented at a plenary session next week.
Australia has now joined the list of voluntary participants in the scheme from 2021.
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