China and US pledge to work together on achieving an ICAO aviation emissions deal
Wed 6 Apr 2016 – The Presidents of China and the United States have pledged to work together and with other countries to achieve a successful outcome on the global market-based measure (GMBM) currently being pursued at ICAO. The leaders, Barack Obama and Xi Jinping announced the two countries would sign the Paris Agreement at a specially convened United Nations ceremony in New York on April 22 – Earth Day – and urged other nations to join them, with a view to bringing the Agreement into force as early as possible. However, the two sides have up till now not seen eye to eye on how responsibilities should be apportioned under an ICAO GMBM scheme, which seeks to ensure carbon-neutral growth of international aviation emissions from 2020 through carbon offsetting. China believes airlines from developed countries should shoulder the burden based on the UNFCCC differentiated responsibilities climate principle, while the United States has previously rejected the application of the principle at ICAO.
The latest text of a draft resolution to be put to the 39th ICAO Assembly that starts in late September proposes the GMBM scheme be phased in to accommodate the special circumstances and respective capabilities – ICAO’s terminology as alternative usage to the UNFCCC’s common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) principle – of ICAO member states, particularly those from the developing world.
Under the first phase applying from 2021, the scheme would be limited to airlines from states classified by the World Bank as high income on a per capita basis or those states with an individual share of international aviation traffic, measured in revenue-tonne kilometres (RTKs), above 1% of the global total. From 2026, airlines from states classified as upper middle income or those states with an individual share of RTKs above 0.5% would join. Exemptions for the entirety of the scheme’s life, currently set to end in 2035, would apply to states classified as least developed, land-locked developing or small island developing, with three-year exemptions for new entrant airlines. To minimise market distortions and avoid conflict with ICAO’s equal treatment principle, all flights on routes to and from exempted states would be excluded from offsetting requirements.
Last year, China put forward a paper to ICAO, which was backed by other major states such as India and Russia, that proposed a different method of applying the scheme (see article). It suggested that an airline’s offsetting requirements from 2020 should be based on its accumulated emissions since 1992, when the Kyoto climate change treaty was signed. Under this Accumulative Emission Proportion approach, those who emitted more in the past would shoulder more of the offsetting burden and provide space for fast-growing aircraft operators to develop, which are likely to be from the emerging economies. China argued this satisfied the guiding principles for MBM schemes as set out in the annex to Assembly resolution A38-18 passed in 2013, in particular the principle of CBDR, and also ICAO’s underpinning equal and fair treatment principle.
Following the adoption of the A38-18 resolution, the United States subsequently placed a reservation on the CBDR guiding principle, objecting to its inclusion on the grounds that it did not consider UNFCCC principles applied to ICAO, which was governed by its own legal regime. This was backed by other developed countries, including Europe.
The US went further and objected to the granting of exemptions on routes to and from developing states based on the 1% RTK threshold as laid out in the resolution, although this paragraph (16b) was aimed at new and existing MBM schemes in operation until a new global scheme was implemented. While not objecting to de minimis thresholds in principle, the US said in its reservation: “We do not believe that 1% is an appropriate threshold, that the threshold should be based on the aviation activities of states as opposed to operators, or that accommodation should depend upon whether routes are to or from developing states.”
It added: “These criteria amount to an inappropriate means of addressing the de minimis concept, particularly in light of ICAO’s principle of non-discrimination and commitment to the avoidance of market distortion. If applied, this de minimis threshold would have the effect of excluding the vast majority of the world’s countries from participation in an MBM. Further, and consistent with the language of the provision, the United States sees such a threshold as having no bearing on the development of a global MBM.”
Whether the phased-in provisions of the new draft resolution for the next Assembly has addressed its previous objections has yet to be made clear by the United States and it has not put forward a proposal of its own. China, on the other hand, is understood to be still unhappy with the draft ICAO proposal as not going far enough on CBDR, which it considers to have been reconfirmed by the Paris Agreement. In a submission during the Paris talks in December, before the first version of the ICAO draft proposal was released, China and the G77 group of countries expressed concerns about the GMBM and even called into question the carbon-neutral growth goal (see article).
ICAO Council President Dr Olumuwiya Benard Aliu met with government and civil aviation officials during a visit to China late last month. This included discussions on environmental issues surrounding the GMBM and the Paris Agreement with Su Wei, Director General of Climate Change in China’s National Development and Reform Committee.
“2016 is a critical year for aviation and the environment, and I was very pleased to note the commitments and actions being undertaken by the People’s Republic of China in support of reducing its international aviation emissions in the years and decades ahead,” Aliu remarked. “The world has placed a lot on our sector’s shoulders post-COP21, and China’s support will be invaluable to achieving the targets and agreements we have set to meet and surpass those responsibilities.”
Although prospects for an agreement on commencing a global scheme for capping the growth of international aviation emissions are greater than they have ever been since market-based measures were first mooted in ICAO over 15 years ago, there is still work to be done on bringing the two super-powers and their allies together on the CBDR issue. In an effort to keep a lid on concerns and disagreements among its member states being publicly aired, ICAO has barred the media from covering both the ongoing GLADs discussions and the High-level Meeting being held next month.