Calls for decision-making and commitment as ICAO Council gathers for important meeting on MBM progress
ICAO Council in session
Thu 8 Nov 2012 – A meeting tomorrow of the ICAO Council, the governing body of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, will consider progress by an expert working group set up to study options and a framework on global market-based measures (MBMs) to cap international aviation emissions. Consensus by the Council’s 36 member states on implementation is required before a proposal can be put to ICAO’s triennial Assembly next September. Despite hopes earlier in the year for an agreement to be reached by the end of 2012, there is little expectation of a major breakthrough in this session, leaving the following meeting next March as crucial. On the eve of tomorrow’s meeting, 25 NGOs from Europe, Australia and the United States have sent an open letter to ICAO’s top officials and member state representatives calling on them to redouble efforts and take the necessary decisions on key parameters for agreement by the March meeting.
The expert group has narrowed down the number of MBM options to three: an emissions trading system, a mandatory offsetting scheme and a mandatory offsetting scheme with a revenue generation mechanism. All of them are considered to be technically feasible and capable of delivering net emissions reduction goals. However, the framework for implementing the chosen scheme is complex and progress is slower. Questions on distribution of the global baseline cap, which countries are included – and how and when – and what the revenues from a chosen scheme should be used for are amongst many still to be answered.
However, tomorrow’s Council meeting will be followed with great interest given the international tensions over Europe’s go-it-alone MBM, the EU ETS. A briefing paper from the European Commission to European transport ministers last week noted the ICAO Council meeting would be important “for testing the genuine commitment of our partners”. It noted that Commission officials were heavily involved in the preparations and “the EU has encouraging signals from third country partners as regards their willingness to engage”. Reaching an agreement at international level would be the best means to allow the EU to take advantage of the flexibilities provided in its ETS directive, it added.
“EU legislation has some important flexibilities that would enable the EU to respond to positive international developments and cater for optimal interaction without compromising our goals,” says the Commission. “We are ready to discuss these options.”
In the meantime, it says, the EU remained committed to the implementation of the EU ETS and its application to aviation. In a pointed call for European unity on the issue, and in the face of non-compliance from China, India and potentially the United States, the paper tells the EU ministers: “A firm and common line between member states is essential, in particular with respect to the coordination of enforcement activities.”
Without saying with whom, the Commission says technical and political discussions are on-going with key partners, but notes the adoption by the US Senate of the bill giving powers to the Secretary of Transportation to prohibit aircraft operators from complying with EU law but which also calls on the Administration to use its authority to conduct international negotiations in the pursuit of a worldwide approach to addressing aircraft emissions.
As a permanent representative on the ICAO Council, many will be watching whether the United States takes a more proactive role on the issue.
“President Obama’s re-election presents the US with a real opportunity to lead,” says a spokesman for Transport & Environment, one of the European NGO signatories to the ICAO open letter. “Let’s hope for a sign from the Americans this week in Montreal that the US is finally taking the climate change challenge seriously.”
The letter from the NGOs calls for an ICAO agreement that has high environmental integrity, inclusion of all airlines in a carbon mechanism while respecting differentiation, key priority given to developing country concerns, revenue generation for both international climate finance and emissions reduction measures within the sector, and a range of other considerations on an MBM framework.
It adds: “It is imperative that this week’s Council meeting takes the necessary political decisions that will enable the Assembly in 2013 to agree the specific details of an ICAO global MBM. This means that the March Council must be enabled to decide on all key parameters. Missing this timetable means ICAO will have again failed to meet its defining environmental responsibility.”