States opposed to Europe's emissions trading scheme win ICAO Council backing but EU remains defiant
ICAO Council chamber
Thu 3 Nov 2011 –The working paper submitted by 26 states – including China, Russia, India and the United States – that calls on the EU and its member states to exclude non-EU carriers from the EU ETS was endorsed by the ICAO Council yesterday. All 26 states are members of the 36-strong Council, leaving 8 EU states to oppose the adoption and two abstentions – Australia and Canada. It was made clear during the meeting that the adoption of the paper had no legally binding effect on any member state or the Council but it will serve as another political reminder of the strong opposition to Europe’s climate reduction policy on aviation emissions. There were calls during the meeting for re-engagement and accelerated action by ICAO towards a global agreement on market-based measures for emissions mitigation. However, a next move could well be the filing of an Article 84 dispute resolution procedure by one of the 26 states sponsoring the paper.
Attempts to have the paper, which contained the Joint Declaration signed in New Delhi on September 30, and its wording passed without debate were overturned and a number of interesting positions emerged.
Co-sponsor Saudi Arabia said it had interpreted the paper and the Delhi Declaration to embrace the UNFCCC principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR). The United States, another signatory to both, intervened in response to say it differed in its interpretation and could not support the principle of CBDR, which had no place in ICAO. The contentious paragraph 3.1 of the paper states that “... the EU ETS does not take into account different social and economic circumstances of different States, in particular developing States ...”, phrasing often used in CBDR references.
Australia, not a co-sponsor, indicated it was against the inclusion of non-EU carriers into the EU ETS as being premature but called for a constructive dialogue and proposed a programme of accelerated action by ICAO, including a firm target date – with the next Assembly in 2013 suggested – for the establishment of a global sectoral agreement on market-based measures (MBMs). This was praised and endorsed by subsequent speakers on both sides of the debate.
Canada, which had at one stage been associated with the Delhi Declaration but had since removed itself, expressed concern at the polarisation now taking place and called for a re-engagement on the MBM issue at ICAO. Following the acrimony over Resolution A37-19 reached in the closing stages of the last Assembly a year ago, a cooling-off period had been called by the Council on further action, a move that has slowed progress on further ICAO work on MBMs.
The paper and its appended Joint Declaration will now undergo scrutiny to remove some inconsistencies in the text before being turned into an ICAO Council Declaration. An attempt by the UK to have the legal non-binding nature of the Council decision included in the final document was opposed by non-EU states.
Commenting on the Montreal outcome, EU Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said: “It is disappointing that ICAO discussions once again focus on what states should not do instead of what they should do to curb growing aviation emissions. But this decision will affect neither the EU’s commitment to working within ICAO to agree on a global solution, nor our adopted legislation to include aviation in the EU ETS. Unfortunately ICAO has missed again today the opportunity to tell the world when it will table a viable global solution.”
She added that Europe was delivering on its commitment to reduce emissions in line with ICAO-endorsed principles. “We really look forward to plans from other states to reduce aviation emissions.”
Speaking on behalf of the Air Transport Association of America (ATA), which has lobbied hard against its airline members’ inclusion in the EU ETS, a spokesman told GreenAir: “It is clear that the rest of the world is standing up against the EU’s unilateral and counterproductive scheme and we are hopeful that the EU will stand down.
“ATA supports the ICAO Council’s adoption of a declaration opposing the unilateral application of the EU ETS on international aviation and urging continued collaborative action on the global sectoral approach to aviation greenhouse gas emissions that was provisionally agreed by the 190 ICAO Member States of ICAO in 2010.”
The ATA and leading US airlines are currently engaged in a legal action against the EU over the issue, with a final ruling expected within a few months at the European Court of Justice. They have been opposed in the case by a number of environmental NGOs, including US-based Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).
“The Council’s decision today is one more skirmish in the airlines’ continuing battle to evade pollution regulation,” said EDF attorney Pamela Campos after the ICAO meeting.
“While the airlines may claim this is a Council ‘ruling’, the ICAO President made very clear this morning that the ‘declaration’ is simply that – a political expression of a group of countries that their airlines aren’t happy about having to comply with pollution controls.”
Campos added that many of the opposing states at the Council meeting had no carriers covered by the EU law they were voting against. “This highlights the clear political nature of the declaration,” she said.
A number of aviation-related trade groups have also added their opinion to the growing arguments on the EU ETS, which is causing major concerns within the industry over the political and legal uncertainty facing the scheme that formally starts in less than two month’s time.
The Secretary General of the Association of European Airlines, Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus, urged political leaders to tackle the issue as an environmental priority. “Over recent weeks, we have seen legal cases against the ETS, a bill to prohibit airlines from complying, vocal foreign indignation, retaliation and now a challenge through ICAO. Political conflict does not cut emissions,” he commented.
“Europe is right to demand concrete action and deliverable environmental results, but its approach lacks essential international buy-in. Non-European countries are also right to call for a global approach, but they need to back up their words with concrete actions which genuinely deliver for the environment.
“The debate is about how long it will take to deliver a global approach. AEA urges political leaders to seize the negative energy around the ETS and turn it into urgent, positive action towards a global solution.”
At its General Assembly in Marrakech, airports body ACI World passed a resolution noting the international opposition to the EU ETS and the risk of a trade conflict which could have a serious effect on international air transport. It called on ICAO “and all parties” to lead efforts to avert the conflict and “to engage all parties involved and expedite efforts to develop a global framework of market-based measures to reduce aviation’s impact on the environment.”
Commenting at the same Assembly, IATA Director General Tony Tyler said: “It’s governments who see this as a clear infringement of their sovereignty and it’s hard to see how something can be introduced when at least 26 states have come out publicly against it.”
Meanwhile, after a meeting in Moscow yesterday with President Medvedev’s climate adviser, EU Commissioner Hedegaard called on Russia and other nations to come up with rules to cut aviation emissions and so earn exemption from the EU ETS, reports Bloomberg.
“You could set a target for your aviation sector, you could make an incentive for them to improve fuel efficiency for aviation, it could be many things,” she said. “We do not define what that is. We invite a dialogue.”
She added that a group of Russian experts were due in Brussels later this month to discuss what solutions could qualify as equivalent measures.
Hedegaard is reported to have said that the EU was exploring with China whether a proposed sectoral target for aviation constituted an equivalent measure. “There are ways of dealing with this,” she said. “There’s a lot of dialogue going on.”