ICAO Assembly climate change outcome hailed by industry but seen as a missed opportunity by environmental NGOs

ICAO Assembly climate change outcome hailed by industry but seen as a missed opportunity by environmental NGOs | ICAO 38th Assembly

Sun 6 Oct 2013 – The adoption of a resolution by ICAO States at the close of their 38th Assembly on Friday that commits to developing a global market-based measure (MBM) to limit the growth of international aviation emissions was hailed by the aviation industry as an historic and landmark agreement. Airline representative body IATA said a global MBM was needed to complement a strategy to reducing the industry’s climate impacts, including its carbon-neutral growth goal from 2020. IATA Director General Tony Tyler said the sector was eager to get on with the detailed work needed to design the scheme in time for finalisation at the next Assembly in 2016. Environmental NGOs were less impressed and said the deal reached in Montreal only committed to the possibility of an MBM agreement in 2016 and had reined back regional efforts such as the EU ETS to reduce fast-growing aviation emissions.


Reaching consensus at the Assembly had been a challenging task, acknowledged Tyler, but “today was a great day for aviation, for the effort against climate change and for global standards and international cooperation,” he said. “Industry, civil society and governments have worked hard to reach this point and keep aviation at the forefront of industries managing their climate change impact. Now we have a strong mandate and a short three-year time frame to sort out the details.”


On behalf of the aviation industry, Paul Steele, Executive Director of the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG), said the “historic” resolution represented significant progress. “The aviation industry has been advocating for such a scheme since we developed the first global industry targets five years ago. We now have agreement on a global scheme and a timeline and the building blocks to deliver it.”


The resolution was agreed only after over a week of at times fractious debate, which largely divided opinion between developing and developed states (see article).


“These have been tough negotiations,” said Steele at the Assembly’s conclusion. “The global politics and interests of 191 States had to be taken into account – we have seen the same struggles at the UN climate talks. But I am delighted to see that governments meeting at ICAO have managed to overcome their differences on these issues and reach agreement. The united spirit of the aviation community, including governments, industry and civil society, was on show today and it was a significant demonstration of how working together can deliver real results.


“We congratulate the ICAO leadership for skilfully guiding these negotiations. Industry stands ready over the next three years to assist States to develop the proposals needed for a 2016 sign-off.”


Both Steele and Tyler praised the role of the European Union in acting as a catalyst for the global MBM discussions.


“The EU ETS, whilst it created tensions between States, also prompted action at a global level, and their willingness to ‘stop the clock’ on extra-European flights provided the necessary welcome relief of tension in the discussions.”


Added Tyler: “Aviation would not be in the climate leadership position it is in today were it not for the early and persistent efforts of the European Commission and Parliament, which inspired both industry and other governments.”


On Thursday, European States lost a key vote called by Russia, China, India and other developing States on the inclusion of text in the resolution that would allow it to unilaterally apply its emissions trading scheme to foreign carriers travelling to and from European airports when within European airspace. This had been negotiated by the EU in a draft resolution approved by the ICAO Council prior to the Assembly but was overturned by the BRIC countries and their allies on the penultimate day of the Assembly.


Despite its humiliating defeat, the European Commission welcomed the agreement reached. With this deal, said a Commission statement after the Assembly on Friday, the aviation industry becomes the first international transport sector to apply a global market-based mechanism to reduce their emissions.


“I am very pleased that after long and hard negotiations we finally have a global deal on aviation emissions. This is good news for the aviation industry, but most importantly it is very good news for the planet,” said Commission Vice President with responsibility for transport Siim Kallas, who led the EU delegation at the Assembly. “We have also avoided a damaging conflict among trading partners. We still have some detailed work to do between now and 2016. But tonight, we have demonstrated that we really mean business when it comes to dealing with aviation’s environmental footprint.”


The EU’s hard work had paid off, said EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard. “After many years of talks, ICAO has finally agreed to the first-ever global deal to curb aviation emissions. If it hadn’t been for the EU’s hard work and determination, we wouldn’t have got this decision today to create a global market-based measure,” she claimed. “What matters to us is that the aviation sector also contributes to our efforts to reduce emissions. While we would have liked more countries to accept our regional scheme, progress was made overall and we will now factor this in when, together with the Member States and the European Parliament, we decide on the way forward with the EU ETS.”


Jean Leston, Transport Policy Officer for WWF-UK, said although the EU would feel “battered” by ICAO States’ strong reaction against the EU ETS, all was not lost as the EU still had the freedom to operate in its sovereign airspace. “It can also hold its head up high as bringing forward discussion on MBMs and creating what is still the world’s largest cap-and-trade system to put a price on aviation pollution. ICAO has much to learn from the ETS in its deliberations going forward.”


However, Leston said by “handicapping and restricting” the EU carbon scheme, “ICAO has once again allowed skyrocketing emissions to continue climbing.


“While ICAO delegates and the airline industry will be crowing about the significant progress that they have made this week, the reality is that today’s decision does nothing to reduce emissions in the short term. We expect a lot more ambition and commitment from ICAO over the next three years if a global MBM is ever going to materialise.”


Brussels-based NGO Transport & Environment (T&E) said ICAO had failed to act decisively on international aviation’s climate impact and had instead voted to try and weaken Europe’s efforts.


“Europe’s ETS, the only measure that actually reduces emissions from international aviation, has been hamstrung by ICAO delegates more interested in evading responsibility than protecting the environment,” said T&E’s Aviation Manager Bill Hemmings. “In exchange for the halting of the only real and effective system, they propose to agree to agree on something in 2016. The Assembly’s resolution text looks like a Swiss cheese – full of holes; exactly the patchwork it was supposed to avoid.”


He added: “The EU put its faith in the ICAO process, and because of unacceptable weakening and delay, this faith has now been shattered. The science is crystal clear – we can no longer afford to procrastinate if we want to reverse the effects of man-made climate change. Europe must now continue with its own regional scheme, which is the only system that actually reduces emissions from aviation.”


US airline trade association Airlines for America (A4A) said the Assembly had confirmed the focus should be on global measures and that regional measures were not particularly favoured.


“We are pleased with the resolution adopted by the Assembly and believe it represents a significant step forward in ensuring that commercial aviation remains a green engine of economic growth around the world,” commented A4A President Nicholas Calio.


Added A4A’s VP Environmental Affairs Nancy Young: “Today’s resolution reaffirms the global commitment by airlines and governments to continue moving forward with meaningful, workable solutions to address climate change and achieve carbon-neutral growth from 2020 – a true win for airlines, their customers and our environment.”


Shelby White of the Flying Clean Alliance, which claims to represent many thousands of US frequent flyers and had a plane with a banner ‘Can’t Spell Procrastination Without ICAO’ fly above the ICAO building during the Assembly, said: “ICAO has lost what credibility it had left as a forum for meaningful action on aviation climate pollution. Sixteen years after it started talking about taking action, it has given itself three more years to talk and four years after that to maybe, possibly do something. And it gutted interim efforts for good measure.


“This week we heard a lot about principles and about how efforts like the European Union’s regional plan could set a bad precedent. I believe ICAO when it says that, except the precedent it would set is actually taking global warming pollution out of the air.”


US-based Environmental Defense Fund commended the roadmap agreement reached at the Assembly but criticised the attempts to restrict individual countries’ ability to put in place their own measures to limit aviation emissions in the interim.


“On the one hand, ICAO has opened a door to the possibility of a future global cap on these emissions and an array of programmes – including a MBM sought by both the industry and the environmental community – to ensure that the cap is met,” said EDF International Counsel Annie Petsonk. “But a bedrock principle of international law is that nations have the sovereign right to limit pollution emitted in their borders. So ICAO took half a step backward with its attempt to narrow the ambit for countries to implement their own MBMs to cap and cut the burgeoning global warming pollution from international aviation.”


She called on the US to step up its leadership in ICAO and fulfil President Obama’s pledge to take a leading international role on climate change.


“Now it’s time to shift to the hard work of designing the global market-based mechanism and getting 191 countries to agree to it,” added Petsonk in an EDF blog. “Intensive efforts will be needed to make ICAO’s promise a reality. It’s not the time to let up and ICAO can’t be let off the hook.”



Links to statements, news on Assembly outcome:


ATAG (plus comment from other aviation sectors)

European Commission


Transport & Environment

Airlines for America

Flying Clean Alliance

Environment Defense Fund blog


ICAO Climate Change Resolution report and text


8 Oct 2013 – Updated reaction from other industry associations:


Andrew Herdman, Director General of the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) and a member of the cross-industry delegation at the Assembly, said: “This landmark agreement ... is an important milestone in developing a global market based measure.  It clearly demonstrates the benefits of international cooperation and a partnership effort involving industry pointing the way forward to a truly sustainable future for international aviation.


“Looking ahead, the challenge will be in ensuring that the collective industry commitment to carbon-neutral growth from 2020 is implemented in a way that is fair and equitable, avoiding competitive market distortion, whilst reconciling the differing interests and perspectives of developed and developing nations. There were some tense moments and tough negotiations during the ICAO Assembly, but the important point is that for the first time all the major players were fully engaged in trying to map out a constructive way forward based on reaching a genuine consensus amidst divergent views. As industry, we will be offering our strong support to the programme of work needed to develop detailed proposals on the design and implementation of the global scheme, for approval at the next ICAO Assembly in 2016.” (full statement here)


Ed Bolen, President of the National Business Aviation Association, said: “The approach to international emissions policy development approved this week breaks decidedly from the EU ETS. Although far from perfect and certainly not everything we have worked for, it promotes an international dialogue that is focused on simple, more workable measures for addressing aircraft emissions – measures that can be built around various types and sizes of operators.


“The business aviation community understands that environmental stewardship is an imperative, and we have a decades-long record of impressive and continuing emissions reductions. This success has been the result of industry investment, commitment and innovation – not an EU ETS style approach to emissions. The emissions-policy framework adopted at ICAO this week takes the debate on emissions in a more reasonable direction than the EU ETS. As the details of the framework are ironed out over the next several years, NBAA will continue to forcefully represent the industry’s concerns.” (full statement here)





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