Mon 12 Oct 2009 – Air transport representatives from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Contracting States have effectively given the green light to the international aviation industry to continue its net growth in CO2 emissions. This is the outcome of the High-Level Meeting (HLM) that ended on Friday in Montreal, called to review a Programme of Action on international aviation and climate change and provide recommendations to the COP 15 climate change summit in Copenhagen in December. The HLM managed a last-minute concession by some major developing States to extend the short term annual 2 percent fuel efficiency aspirational goal, previously agreed by ICAO’s GIACC group, to an annual improvement target to 2020, with a similar aspirational goal from 2021 to 2050.
Over the past 40 years, as noted in the Declaration issued at the meeting’s conclusion, improvements in fuel efficiency have resulted in aircraft today that are 70% more fuel efficient per passenger kilometre, so the 2% global fuel efficiency target (expressed in volume of fuel used per revenue tonne km performed) is little more than ‘business as usual’ given added anticipated efficiency air traffic management improvements in Europe and the United States together with a contribution from biofuels in the longer term. With an historic average global growth in passenger kilometres of around 5%, which is forecasted to continue well into the future, the HLM has failed to address the central dilemma of how to curb a net growth in aviation carbon emissions.
In a concession to developed countries pushing for meaningful reduction targets, the Declaration recognized the 2% goal “is unlikely to deliver the level of reduction necessary to stabilize and then reduce aviation’s absolute emissions contribution to climate change, and that goals or more ambition will need to be considered to deliver a sustainable path for aviation.”
Although the Declaration and its recommendations have to be passed by the ICAO Council, there is unlikely to be any further changes or movement within the ICAO process before Copenhagen and the issue is not due for further consideration by ICAO States until the next ICAO Assembly in September 2010.
Although there will be no surprise at the outcome, it falls well short of the aviation industry’s own call for a commitment for a global sectoral approach under which aircraft emissions would stabilize from 2020 with carbon-neutral growth and a 50% net reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 compared to 2005, achieved with a resorting to market-based measures such as carbon trading.
The Declaration says that ICAO will establish a process to develop a framework for market-based measures in international aviation, taking into account the conclusions of the HLM and the outcome of COP 15.
With the EU and other developed countries unlikely to be sufficiently impressed with the ICAO Declaration, a ‘patchwork’ of possible levies and national and regional cap-and-trade schemes such as the EU Emissions Trading Scheme – feared by airlines – remains a firm probability.
However, as a result of an acknowledgement in the Declaration of the industry position and that ICAO should undertake further work on medium and long term goals put forward by the industry, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which has been lobbying hard on the issue, put a brave face on the result of the Montreal meeting, describing it as a “step in the right direction” and “significant progress”.
“We took a step in the right direction, towards a global sectoral approach, but there is still a lot of ground to cover,” commented IATA’s Director General and CEO Giovanni Bisignani, who attended the HLM. “As a united industry, we remain committed to the ambitious environmental targets that we brought to this meeting. Governments took note of our targets and recognized the need to work with industry to secure a sustainable future for aviation. This is significant progress.”
Although ICAO Contracting States failed to agree on the mid and long term targets that the industry was prepared to commit to, the 2% fuel efficiency improvement is more ambitious than the industry’s 1.5% proposal. However, the industry will expect the extra efficiency gain to come from added government commitment, rather than its own financial resources.
“Setting such a target comes with responsibility,” said Bisignani. “We can fly the plane efficiently, but governments must deliver improvements in air traffic management – NextGen in the US for example. Governments must back their target with infrastructure investments to make it achievable. Governments must also accelerate the development of the legal and fiscal frameworks to support the use of sustainable biofuels.”
The failure of an ICAO agreement on net reductions in international aviation emissions has been largely blamed on major developing countries – led by China – not wishing to step outside the Kyoto common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) principle ahead of the negotiations towards Copenhagen. China’s President recently announced his country’s plans for a carbon intensity goal, which would lead to greener growth but not guarantee an overall fall in emissions.
China played a leading role in the Chairman’s group that was responsible for drawing up the Declaration. Its position during the ICAO HLM process was largely against any movement on the short-term aspirational goals agreed by GIACC, conceding only at the last minute on the medium-term efficiency target and longer term aspirational goal.
In a late HLM paper submitted by Nigeria, African countries said they were opposed to unilateral action on market-based/economic measures by states and regions across national borders. They re-affirmed Africa’s belief in ICAO’s leadership on aviation emissions, but also considered that the CBDR principle should be applied in ICAO’s ongoing efforts.
Under the HLM Declaration, the agreed fuel efficiency improvements or other aspirational emission reduction goals would not attribute specific obligations to individual States. “The different circumstances, respective capabilities and contribution of developing and developed States to the concentration of aviation GHG emissions in the atmosphere will determine how each State may contribute to achieving the global aspirational goals,” it says.
In order to monitor progress towards reaching the targets, States are being “encouraged” to submit their action plans, outlining their respective policies and actions, and annual reporting on international aviation CO2 emissions to ICAO.
In its recommendations, the HLM calls on the ICAO Council to work expeditiously together with industry on developing and implementing more efficient aircraft technologies and sustainable alternative aviation fuels, as well as develop a global CO2 standard for new aircraft types.
The Chairman of the HLM was Yap Ong Heng, Director-General of the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, and Valery Okulov, Deputy Minister of Transport of the Russian Federation served as Vice-Chairman.
A short news release issued by ICAO said ICAO Member States, representing 93% of all commercial air traffic, affirmed their commitment to address aviation emissions that contribute to climate change by working through ICAO.
ICAO Council President Roberto Kobeh González stated that “the nations of the world that represent the vast majority of international civil aviation traffic have spoken and their commitment is clear.”
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