Obama: US working at ICAO towards comprehensive global approach on limiting international aviation emissions
Wed 26 June 2013 – In a wide-ranging major speech on climate change yesterday (right), President Obama launched an action plan that references the role the United States is playing at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in reaching a comprehensive global approach on international aviation emissions. With important negotiations taking place at the UNFCCC on agreeing a global climate treaty by 2015 to be enforced from 2020 to replace the Kyoto Protocol, the outcome at ICAO is being viewed by many as a barometer of how close nations are to finding common ground, with US leadership playing a vital role. Although many states and industry remain optimistic a broad agreement on measures to limit the growth of aviation emissions can be reached at the triennial ICAO Assembly, countries representing the major emerging economies remain opposed to applying market-based instruments. With just three months left before the start of the Assembly, ICAO’s leadership will be engaged in bilateral discussions with member states over the summer to reconcile differences.
“Just as no country is immune from the impacts of climate change, no country can meet this challenge alone,” says the US President’s Climate Action Plan. “That is why it is imperative for the United States to couple action at home with leadership internationally. America must help forge a truly global solution to this global challenge by galvanising international action to significantly reduce emissions (particularly among the major emitting countries), prepare for climate impacts, and drive progress through the international negotiations.”
The plan calls for an “ambitious, inclusive and flexible” international treaty on addressing climate change. “At the same time as we work toward this outcome in the UNFCCC context, we are making progress in a variety of other important negotiations as well .... at the International Civil Aviation Organization, we have ambitious aspirational emissions and energy efficiency targets and are working towards agreement to develop a comprehensive global approach.”
Nat Keohane, Vice President for International Climate at the Washington DC-based Environmental Defense Fund and a former Obama Administration official, said the plan recognised the importance of addressing global warming pollution from international air travel.
“Progress on aviation is important not only because of the emissions involved ... but also because it represents an area where the international community could make headway in the near term,” he said. “An agreement in ICAO at its upcoming meeting in September would give a valuable boost to international efforts more broadly, simply by demonstrating that agreement in multilateral forums is possible.
“Of course, ‘working towards agreement’ is pretty broad. But it seems reasonable to expect the Administration to be at least as ambitious as the airline industry itself.
“ICAO should commit, this year, to develop such a detailed approach over the next three years and formally adopt it at the next ICAO Assembly in 2016. Such an agreement won’t happen without visible and assertive US backing, however. That’s why it was so welcome to see international aviation mentioned in the action plan, and why we – and the rest of the environmental community – will be watching the Administration’s actions with interest over the next few months, and holding the Administration to its commitment to lead.”
The Obama action plan was also welcomed by EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard. “I am of course glad to see that the United States is finally moving on climate. After a number of important speeches from President Obama and Secretary Kerry, Europe has been eagerly waiting for the US to set out concrete steps. So this plan is a most welcomed step forward and, if implemented, it can put the US on a path towards a low carbon future,” she said.
“Internationally, the White House plan contains a number of good intentions which have now to be translated into more concrete action. The first opportunity will be for the US to support an ambitious deal this September in ICAO on a global solution to limit international aviation emissions.”
Meanwhile, resolving differences between ICAO member states over market-based measures (MBMs) in time for the Assembly is proving a serious challenge. Without the application of MBMs the goal of carbon-neutral growth from 2020 cannot be realised but key emerging countries such as Brazil, China and India remain opposed. A draft text on the subject for inclusion in the forthcoming Assembly resolution highlights the diverging views through a number of ‘square-bracketed’ clauses. Attempts by the ICAO Council’s Air Transport Committee to narrow them down have for now been halted.
“There will be an informal consultative process carried out with representatives during the summer by the President of the Council and the Secretary General, with a view to developing what is known as the ‘Consolidated statement of continuing ICAO policies and practices related to environmental protection – Climate Change’, the comprehensive document that is updated for each Assembly,” an ICAO spokesman told GreenAir.
The document is due to be reviewed at a pre-Assembly meeting in September, although no date has yet been set, he said. The 38th Assembly starts on September 24 and concludes on October 4.
Following IATA member airlines’ support and proposals for an MBM at their AGM in Cape Town earlier this month (see article), the world’s air navigation service providers have added their own call urging ICAO member states to reach an agreement on measures, including a global MBM, to reduce aviation’s environmental impact.
Speaking in Curaçao during the CANSO (Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation) Global ATM Summit and AGM, Director General Jeff Poole said: “CANSO and its members have worked with industry partners across the aviation industry to produce realistic, workable, effective and measurable proposals to mitigate aviation’s environmental impact. It is now up to states to seize the opportunity to agree to these measures at the Assembly in September. This is our best chance of achieving the necessary global agreement.”
CANSO says the industry is calling for a comprehensive package of technological, infrastructure and operational measures, to be complemented by a single, global MBM in order to reach its carbon-neutral goal from 2020.
“The air traffic management industry is playing its part,” said Poole. “Governments must now play their part by taking account of the industry’s four-pillar strategy, including the proposals for a global offsetting market-based measure. Aviation is a global industry and needs governments also to adopt a global approach to the climate change impacts of aviation.”