ICAO President upbeat on an Assembly climate agreement as UN leader calls on aviation sector to limit emissions
Opening of the 38th ICAO Assembly
Wed 25 Sept 2013 – The opening of the 38th ICAO Assembly yesterday was marked by a video message from the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, which focused almost entirely on the aviation sector’s climate change role and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He said commerce, trade and tourism around the world depended on ICAO to regulate the skies and the Organization was also central to the climate change and sustainable development agenda. ICAO Council President Roberto Kobeh González later told reporters that some paragraphs in the draft climate change resolution needed “some work” but he was confident an agreement would be reached. Efforts are being made behind the scenes to persuade those States reluctant to back market-based measures to support the resolution’s text. Meanwhile senior figures from the European Parliament sent an open letter yesterday to Kobeh warning that with the EU already compromising over its ETS to secure an agreement, further weakening of the text would not be acceptable.
“The benefits of air travel should be available to all, but they should be provided as efficiently and cleanly as possible,” Ban Ki-moon told delegates representing ICAO’s 191 member states at the opening plenary session. “We have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change is a threat to economies large and small, to the development and well-being of societies everywhere, and to the health of the planet. Momentum is building towards a universal, legally binding global climate agreement by 2015. Everyone needs to play a part.”
He said the longer action was delayed, the greater would be the challenge. “I count on this meeting to explore how the aviation sector can limit carbon emissions and contribute to sustainable development,” he challenged the delegates.
Although the triennial Assembly will look at progress on the many other ICAO environmental and climate change related activities, such as work on sustainable aviation fuels, a CO2 standard for aircraft and action plans by States on reducing carbon emissions, the focus will be on securing an agreement between States on the market-based measures paragraphs in the draft resolution text.
“The more difficult discussion is on MBMs, but don’t create the impression this is the only area we are working on,” Kobeh told reporters at a press briefing yesterday.
“We have a draft resolution that has been agreed by the ICAO Council. We have some work to do on a few paragraphs but we are in a much better position than we were three years ago [at the last Assembly]. The resolution considers a number activities and studies to be undertaken during the next three years and the Council has to report on them to the Assembly in 2016 when a decision will be expected to be taken on the next steps.
“I am confident that all States will reach an agreement on the work Council has to do over the next three years and then to take a final decision.
“In keeping with the global aspirational goal of carbon-neutral growth, a market-based measure should be established by 2020.”
Kobeh’s task over the next week – the Assembly finishes on Friday, 4 October – is to persuade States such as India, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and the Russian Federation to put aside their opposition to MBMs and sign up to the resolution. China has in the past has voiced strong opinions on the issue and remains in a stand-off with Europe over the inclusion of its airlines in the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), but has not commented so far, which may indicate it is onboard with the text.
Under the current EU one-year ‘stop-the-clock’ derogation, Chinese airlines flying to and from European airports are exempted from the EU ETS but under the draft resolution, the EU would be permitted to re-include intercontinental flights, including those to and from China, although the emissions covered would be restricted to those in EU airspace rather than the whole flight as directed under the original EU legislation.
Despite the much lower environmental integrity of the reduced EU ETS scope, the EU has accepted the compromise in the hope of an overall agreement at the Assembly that will see a global MBM adopted at the 2016 Assembly and implementation in 2020.
Although EU States at ICAO have all signed up to the compromise, which has been brokered by the European Commission, legislation to adopt a new derogation to reflect the airspace restriction will require the support of the European Parliament, which is not a foregone conclusion.
A letter expressing concern over possible weakening of the ICAO resolution was sent to ICAO’s Kobeh yesterday by Matthias Groote, Chairman of the Parliament’s Environment Committee, Peter Liese, the Rapporteur on the inclusion of aviation into the EU ETS, and Mathieu Grosch, the ‘stop-the-clock’ rapporteur of the Transport Committee.
They are concerned that attempts may be made during the Assembly to change the relevant paragraph (17) in the resolution that would restrict still further the scope of the EU ETS. They point out that EU States alone cannot amend the EU ETS legislation, as it also requires the agreement of the European Parliament (EP).
“In this regard, we cannot guarantee that the European Parliament accepts any proposal by the European Commission on amending the existing legislation,” says the letter. “The current framework approach can in this way only be seen as a minimum compromise, and further weakening of the text would in our eyes hardly be acceptable for the European Parliament.”
They also express concerns about the de minimis paragraph (18) in the resolution that would exempt flights to and from developing States whose share of international aviation activities is below a 1% RTK share of all activities. As this would exclude many industrialised countries, the three EP representatives would like the wording changed to “least developed States”.
At the Assembly yesterday, ICAO and the European Commission signed a Declaration of Intent to collaborate on assistance and capacity building activities to support measures to mitigate CO2 emissions from international aviation. Specifically, the EC intends to commit financial support of €6.5 million ($8.8m) towards environmental action being undertaken by States in the African and Caribbean regions, with a timeline through until 2016. There is an expectation that such efforts could be expanded to other States and regions in the future.
To coincide with the opening of the Assembly, yesterday also saw the publication by European NGO Transport & Environment of a 12-page guide, ‘Global Deal or No Deal’, for those interested in following the climate change issue at ICAO and its historical background.