Kerry nomination as State Secretary gives rise to optimism that the US will be bolder on ICAO MBM action
President Obama announces Senator Kerry's nomination as Secretary of State
Fri 18 Jan 2012 – The nomination by President Obama of US Senator John Kerry as Secretary of State has boosted confidence that the United States will play an important role in negotiations taking place at ICAO on a global agreement to reduce the growth of international aviation emissions. A former presidential candidate, Kerry has a long track record in campaigning on climate action and together with Senator Joe Lieberman attempted climate legislation in 2010 that would have included a carbon charge on both international and domestic aviation fuel. As well as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry is also a member of the Senate committee responsible for transportation that considered and passed the EU ETS prohibition bill last year. Kerry was a reluctant supporter but was influential in adding wording to the bill that called on the US government to conduct international negotiations on a worldwide approach to address aircraft emissions.
The Kerry-Lieberman draft bill, the American Power Act, ultimately failed to secure Senate support but if it had passed, the US-EU skirmish over the application of the EU ETS to US flights to and from Europe might well have had a different outcome. Under the proposed bill, transportation fuel providers would have been required to buy carbon allowances based on fuel sales, the cost of which would be then passed on to the ultimate consumer. In the case of jet fuel, this would have been the airlines.
The bill was actively opposed by the US airline body Airlines for America (A4A), or the Air Transport Association as it was then, which described the measure as a carbon tax that would siphon money away from airline investment in new, more fuel-efficient aircraft (see article).
In a similar manner to the EU carbon scheme, qualifying aviation biofuels would have been exempted under the legislation, which also recognised that reductions in aviation emissions should be addressed internationally through ICAO. The United States, said the bill’s authors, should “work with foreign governments towards a global agreement that reconciles foreign carbon emission reduction programmes to minimise duplicative measures and avoids unnecessary complications for the aviation industry, while still achieving measurable, reportable, and verifiable environmental objectives.”
The bill proposed that foreign carriers which had purchased aviation fuel in the US, and therefore had paid a carbon cost, be credited in the form of compensatory allowances for the international portion under a scheme to be administered by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). However, there was a proviso that this would only apply to carriers covered by a “foreign or international system designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions”.
A4A saw the application of the perceived carbon tax, which would have come into effect in 2013, to international aviation fuel as a breach of the Chicago Convention. However, EU lawmakers saw an opportunity to link the EU ETS with the proposed US system under a provision in the aviation EU ETS directive that exempts incoming flights from countries that adopt similarly ambitious measures to reduce international aviation emissions.
After hard lobbying by US petroleum interests and with little support from fellow senators, the bill failed but Kerry has maintained a strong interest in the aviation emissions debate. At a senate transportation committee hearing last year on the EU ETS prohibition bill, Kerry said that whilst he did not agree with the EU’s ‘go-it-alone’ policy he understood its frustration with the lack of international and US action on emissions reductions (see article).
“The Europeans are right to question the motives of those who oppose their efforts, including India and China, and they’re right to question whether the United States is serious about this issue, because we haven’t been,” Kerry told the hearing in June. “The only way to deal with this is through global consensus, through hard outreach and I would urge our European friends to follow it, and I urge us to follow it. Global emissions belong to all of us, not to anyone’s single airspace.”
Kerry’s nomination has been enthusiastically welcomed by supporters of a stronger commitment from the US on climate policy issues.
“Should he be confirmed as Secretary of State, Senator Kerry will bring to his new job two outstanding characteristics. He understands both the critical importance of acting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the important role that multinational agreements play in achieving this objective,” said Steve Seidel, Senior Advisor at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, formerly Pew Center on Global Climate Change. “Given the narrow window to obtain a meaningful global agreement on aviation emissions, Senator Kerry will not require any on-the-job training and will be well positioned to lead State Department’s efforts to make this happen.”
Samuel Grausz, Director of Policy and Research at Washington, DC-based consultancy Climate Advisers, told GreenAir: “The entire environmental community and anyone concerned about climate change is very excited about the prospect of Senator Kerry’s appointment. He has long been a leader on climate change and there’s a lot he can do to help move work forward on the issue.”
Grausz cautions though against over-optimism concerning the US position on the ICAO negotiations. “That being said, he will as Secretary of State not be the only one active in the process. There has been a lot of pressure from the White House, Congress, airlines and environmental groups over the aviation issue. Kerry’s appointment doesn’t necessarily change the dynamics. I definitely hope it does because there is a lot that could be done at ICAO but there is no guarantee.
“If he steps up and pushes for a solution at ICAO, which is probably something he wants to see, then it could be a huge benefit to the process. However, if he doesn’t push hard enough and gets overwhelmed by the current forces that are not looking for strong measures then, of course, he won’t be able to make much of an impact.”
The State Department’s Special Envoy for Climate Change, Todd Stern, represents the US internationally in bilateral and multilateral negotiations regarding climate change. Appointed to the position at the start of President Obama’s first term four years ago, Stern has not so far indicated whether he will continue in the role although he was recently nominated as the US representative to a high-level expert group set up at ICAO following the November ICAO Council meeting.
Stern is leading an inter-agency group in the ICAO process made up of the State Department, the Department of Transportation, the FAA and the EPA. Although Michael Huerta was confirmed as the new Administrator of the FAA earlier this month, the future of Ray LaHood as Transportation Secretary remains uncertain and the EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, is stepping down from the role.