Positive outcome at Paris COP will be crucial in progress of aviation global carbon measure, says ICAO chief
ICAO's Dr Aliu addresses ATAG's Global Sustainable Aviation Summit
Fri 2 Oct 2015 – A successful outcome from the upcoming UN climate change conference (COP21) in Paris will be crucial in encouraging ICAO Member States to make further progress on reducing emissions from international aviation, said Dr Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu, President of ICAO’s governing Council, at an aviation industry conference. The Environment Advisory Group (EAG), comprising 17 Council representatives, is currently overseeing the development of a global market-based measure (MBM) to limit the sector’s growth of net emissions from the sector from 2020 but headway is slow on political aspects of the scheme. With a decision required by countries at the ICAO Assembly in a year’s time on implementation, industry leaders at the conference warned against allowing timelines to slip and a loss in momentum. Environmental NGOs also called on ICAO States to stand by their commitment to deliver the scheme.
“ICAO, governments, civil society and the industry have been working in concerted partnership to deliver a practical proposal next year, and aviation must remain fully unified in these efforts to achieve this progress. To meet the 2020 carbon-neutral goal we must be united and committed to find a practical, robust and environmentally sound agreement on the global MBM by 2016. Your resolve is crucial in this regard,” Dr Aliu told delegates at the Global Sustainable Aviation Summit in Geneva, organised by the cross-sector Air Transport Action Group (ATAG).
He said the steady growth of air transport had brought very positive social and economic benefits but, he added, “In an era of climate change and, increasingly, climate action, the growth of any industry sector brings with it a number of critical concerns, and certainly the need for strong and practical commitments.
“We now find ourselves on a shared journey towards achieving carbon-neutral growth from 2020. This is a clear and common objective for ICAO and ATAG. I strongly believe that this will be possible only by continuing to work together, in line with our historic tradition in global civil aviation, and by actively forging and refining our partnerships.”
While confirming the industry’s support for the ICAO process and leadership, ATAG Executive Director Michael Gill said a failure by the next Assembly to endorse the implementation of a global offsetting scheme in pursuit of the carbon-neutral growth goal “will harm a vital global sector and harm our global climate.” He added: “We are within touching distance of an historic agreement and we have to finish the course.”
Although a progressive outcome in Paris could help deliver a meaningful result at the 2016 Assembly, Gill said there was a distinct timeframe from the broader climate negotiations being undertaken at the UNFCCC and, with less than a year now left, ICAO negotiations should not wait until the Paris conclusion in December.
During a panel session at the Geneva conference, Spain’s representative on the ICAO Council and also an EAG member, Victor Manuel Aguado, said although there was great momentum at ICAO to address international aviation emissions, there were also major challenges and red lines by some States. One of the biggest challenges, he said, was the pressure of the clock.
“The window of opportunity will be between January and April/May next year,” he said. “A recommendation will have to be made to the Council by June at the latest. This means having a basic agreement in place by April so that we can listen to the views and concerns of the States before the June Council meeting.” It is understood ICAO will likely convene, unusually for the Organization, an Extraordinary High-Level Meeting of government ministers from all States in May to discuss the issue.
Gill said industry fuel efficiency from its operations had doubled in the last 25 years and a plan was in place to deal with further improvements over the next 35 years up to 2050. “But there is only so much the industry can do by ourselves,” he said. “We are a heavily regulated sector and to fully realise the potential for efficiency measures we will need governments to step up and commit too.”
Signed by a group of 28 CEOs and association leaders, the industry has taken to sending an open letter to governments that commits to climate action by the sector and calls for a joint approach in delivering carbon emissions reductions. In particular, the group urges government action on the global MBM and to back industry and civil society efforts to deliver the scheme. As well as IATA, associations endorsing the letter include Airlines for America (A4A), the Arab Air Carriers Organization (AACO), the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA), the Latin America and Caribbean Air Transport Association (ALTA) and the four European airline bodies – the Association of European Airlines (AEA), European Regions Airline Association (ERAA), International Air Carrier Association (IACA) and the European Low Fares Airline Association (ELFAA) – plus airport industry trade association ACI and CANSO, which represents the air navigation service providers sector.
The letter has been sent to the Secretary General of the United Nations, the head of the UNFCCC and the French Government delegation leading the COP21 talks, and will be sent to governments around the world over the next few weeks.
“We have only 12 months to go before ICAO makes its decision on the MBM. In the hands of 190 states will be the power to make aviation’s carbon-neutral growth goal a reality. It is no exaggeration to say that the eyes of the world will be on them,” said IATA Director General Tony Tyler at the conference. “To support a successful outcome we have sent a clear and unequivocal message in the open letter to governments. And, as airlines – indeed as an industry – it is important that we stay united and true to our vision and commitments.”
Adding its voice to the call for action by governments to ensure an MBM agreement is reached at ICAO’s 2016 Assembly, environmental NGOs have jointly published a ‘litmus test’ of key elements they want to be covered by the scheme to ensure its environmental integrity and effectively cap international aviation emissions at 2020 levels. To solve the differentiation question, the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation (ICSA) proposes a route-based, phased-in approach in which regional routes with the heaviest emissions bear the greater initial responsibility. The obligations of small, fast-growing routes would increase over time in line with growing contributions of emissions to the overall total. To ensure integrity of the emissions cap, argues the group, if and where exemptions are made then compensation would have to be maintained elsewhere in the MBM policy.
Differentiation – the Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) principle established by the Kyoto Protocol – remains the greatest barrier to an ICAO agreement because of the difficulties in reconciling it to the underlying ICAO principle of non-discrimination and equal treatment of airlines regardless of their country of origin. India, China and others believe CBDR is the overriding principle and while not necessarily opposed to the route-based approach, favour a system that apportions responsibilities based on historical accumulative levels of aviation emissions (see article).
Europe and some Latin American countries largely back the route-based approach, while the United States – which did not sign the Kyoto Protocol and therefore does not recognise the CBDR principle – has yet to declare its hand.
A successful outcome from the Paris COP talks, in which the current binary distinction between the developed and developing world in their respective responsibilities for tackling climate change would be removed, might unblock differences amongst ICAO States, say some observers. However, others such as Spain’s Aguado believe the UNFCCC and ICAO tracks are running in parallel and not together, and success in Paris did not guarantee it would follow to Montreal.
Carl Burleson of the Federal Aviation Administration and a member of the US negotiating team said although great progress was being made on ICAO’s ‘basket of measures’ and the aircraft CO2 standard that is expected to be adopted by the Assembly in 2016, the MBM issue “was certainly a challenge”. He said discussions had been “full and frank” yet encouraging.
“Given the three-year timeline we have been given to come up with a global measure for an industry, it’s unprecedented,” he told the conference. “Even the CO2 standard has taken six years to develop. We have managed to undertake a lot of concentrated, analytical work but there are many hard political issues that have to be addressed.
“It’s not going to be easy over the coming months and won’t be without drama but at the end of the day it’s about finding solutions and I believe we will.”
Laurence Graff, head of the Aviation and Maritime International Carbon Market unit at the European Commission agreed much of the analytical work had already been done and the countries involved in the technical process were working constructively together. “But time is very short and we need to move into the negotiating process, which will require political will around the table,” she said.
Representing NGOs, Annie Petsonk, International Counsel with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) said while developments in Paris were important, the ICAO process had its own demands, strengths and opportunities. “A successful conclusion at next year’s Assembly on a global MBM could help the world move efforts forward after Paris as international civil aviation would be the first global sector to adopt such a climate measure,” she said.
The heart of the issue was differentiation without discrimination, she added, but there were solutions and NGOs were committed to working with all participants in the process to achieve a successful result.
ICSA members – which include EDF, ICCT, T&E, WWF and AEF – also call in their ‘litmus test’ for a mechanism that would review the MBM scheme periodically and ratchet up the stringency levels and strengthen the cap in line with climate science forecasts and help the industry work towards its long-term goal of reducing net emissions by 50% compared to 2005 levels.
ATAG’s Michael Gill described the NGO’s ‘checklist’ as “a thoughtful addition” to the MBM debate. “However,” he added, “in this endeavour you have a proactive and willing industry actually pushing for many of the same things you are. You have a committed UN Secretariat and you have governments that need some encouragement, but are also highly engaged. We are in the final stages of a truly historic agreement that could pave the way for the first global sectoral market-based measure. Care must be taken to ensure that the end result is a pragmatic and workable response to this global challenge.”
Concluding the conference, IATA Director General Tony Tyler said that with only 12 months remaining, the eyes of the world would be on States as they made their decision. “The stakes are high,” he said. “If an agreement on an MBM is reached, then aviation will have taken its claim to be at the forefront of the practical fight against man-made climate change one step further. It’s the right thing to do and will grant us a licence to continue the important work of connecting our planet.
“I hope and believe that a workable market-based measure will be put in place. But it will not be easy. There is hard work ahead, the industry will need to stand united as the details are worked out. Failure to remain united could lead to an untenable patchwork of regulation, taxes, charges and onerous measures yet to be conceived. It is in our common interest to remain united. “