Europe must be prepared to be flexible in ICAO GMBM negotiations, EU Transport Commissioner Bulc tells MEPs
EU Transport Commissioner Bulc discusses the ICAO GMBM with ENVI
Thu 28 Apr 2016 – Appearing before the European Parliament’s Environment Committee (ENVI), EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc told MEPs there were still significant challenges in reaching an agreement at ICAO on a global market-based measure (GMBM) to cap net carbon emissions from international aviation but she was confident a deal could be struck. However, it would require compromises and flexibility from all ICAO states, especially on issues such as differentiation, said Bulc, but “warmly welcomed” the proposals currently tabled. The EU would be pushing for strict rules on monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) and the use of high-quality carbon offsets in the scheme that guaranteed genuine emission reductions, she added. MEPs were generally supportive of the Commission’s negotiating efforts but some expressed concern over a lack of the scheme’s climate ambition and insisted the Aviation EU ETS be retained in some form after the proposed scheme starts in 2020.
Bulc said she was fully committed to working with other countries to reach an ambitious agreement on the GMBM at the ICAO Assembly in September/October that delivered on what was agreed by the last Assembly in 2013. Despite very strong criticism from “some stakeholders”, she said ICAO Council President Aliu had managed to keep the draft Assembly resolution text first released last December as the only proposal so far tabled. It had served, she believed, as a good basis for the negotiations as it balanced the principle of non-discrimination and equal treatment for all aircraft operators with the common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) – also known as special circumstances and respective capabilities (SCRC) – principle of developing countries, while at the same time preserving environmental integrity.
However, the proposals could be further strengthened by the addition of important key elements, she said, to achieve stabilisation in the growth of international aviation emissions post-2020, such as periodic reviews of the scheme to ensure the carbon-neutral growth goal of the scheme was met and in keeping with future climate commitments. In addition, the scheme had to be built on “solid transparency provisions” concerning MRV and carbon offset rules. As it was unlikely all the design elements of the scheme would be in place by the time of the Assembly, Bulc said the draft resolution should contain wording on a roadmap to ensure finalisation of these elements by the time the GMBM started in 2020.
On the current state of the negotiations, Bulc told the MEPs: “Many important stakeholders and partners are already supporting the President’s proposals but we have to say openly that not everybody is on board yet. The good news is that those states that have not yet explicitly expressed their positions are in favour of reaching an agreement. We all want to build upon the positive energy of COP21 and I’m confident we will find a solution in the end, but substantial negotiating efforts will be needed.
“Initially we would have liked a more ambitious climate goal but, given the difficulties of the negotiations, let us make the important first step of carbon-neutral growth happen. If we can reach an agreement, then this will give us a solid basis for a strong ongoing process through the periodic reviews. Whatever we achieve in October need not be the final product.”
She urged EU member states and MEPs to “stick together” during the negotiations, which would require flexibility and understanding of the positions of third countries, not all of whom shared the EU’s views, she said.
“Achieving all our objectives will be quite challenging. Yes, we have to stay ambitious but we also need to be flexible and ready to compromise. New solutions may have to be found to deal with differing opinions.”
She said the Commission was engaging with other key states on the issue. Discussions earlier this week with US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx had been fruitful, she reported, with both sides pledging to be united in the process. “This time we are both on the same side,” she said, referencing past differences on regulating international aviation emissions.
Bulc revealed she would shortly be visiting China and would be addressing the GMBM issue, “on which China has not yet clearly expressed its position.” African states, she added, were “fully on board” regarding reaching an agreement.
Responding, German MEP (EPP) and the Parliament’s rapporteur for the inclusion of aviation in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS), Peter Liese, said there was frustration that it taken over 10 years to reach the point where only carbon-neutral growth was being considered at ICAO when actual emission reductions were needed. He said he was concerned that the proposals did not cover how emissions from routes exempted from the scheme would be covered elsewhere and suggested that those states included would have to do more, for example, through bilateral agreements outside of ICAO.
Despite early difficulties, Liese said the inclusion of aviation in the EU ETS had shown it worked, with airlines from countries such as China, India and the United States now participating. The emissions covered by the intra-EU scope of the scheme were significant, he said. “We must not give it up and we should at least continue with it for flights within Europe,” he demanded.
However, UK Conservative MEP Julie Girling said insisting on keeping both a regional and a global mechanism would be difficult to resolve and although carbon-neutral growth was not a particularly ambitious goal, there was a danger of “the perfect being the enemy of the good.”
Bulc responded that the EU ETS had indeed been a great success but aviation was a global business requiring a global agreement, which wouldn’t deal with internal markets. “Any internal discussion on the EU ETS has to happen after we have the results of the Assembly,” she added.
Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy (ALDE) was concerned about the carbon offsetting element of the scheme since the experience of using UN offsets within the EU ETS and generally had resulted in “huge negative effects” with the CDM being used, for example, to help fund new, albeit cleaner, coal-fired power stations in China and India. “Offsetting can often be the problem, not the solution,” he said. “I might be willing to go along with the proposals but only if we set very strict criteria on offsetting.”
Noting Bulc’s call for a need to compromise on the ICAO agreement, Green MEP Bas Eickhout said carbon-neutral growth after 2020 was already a significant compromise for the EU to accept and a huge concession. He was also highly critical of the Commission’s statement that the aircraft CO2 standard agreed at ICAO in February had been a “landmark deal”.
“When the most inefficient aircraft are still staying in production until 2028 and half of the claimed 650 Mt of CO2 being saved is on a voluntary basis, I cannot call that a landmark deal,” he said. “The Commission is not setting a very comforting standard when we are going into the negotiations at ICAO on the GMBM.”
He called on Bulc to insist that exempted emissions are compensated for and that the agreement does not include any language prohibiting regional measures. Otherwise, he warned, “you will have problems in the Parliament trying to get a new Stop-the-Clock on the EU ETS. The Parliament will fight for these issues.”
Bulc defended the CO2 standard agreement, which, she said would evolve over time and said it was a positive move in helping the GMBM negotiations.
Ivo Belet (EPP), who led a delegation of MEPs to Montreal in February to meet with ICAO officials during the CO2 standard talks, said although the standard was not overly ambitious, it represented some progress at the UN agency. However, he said, he had been “astonished” by the lack of transparency he found at ICAO and called for the GMBM process and governance to be opened up to public access. Another delegation of MEPs is due to attend the High-level Meeting (HLM) taking place at ICAO early next month to discuss the proposals.
Responding to the MEPs, Bulc said: “I’m in favour of ambitious goals but we must be realistic. We all agree that this will not be an easy negotiation but we are part of a global community and we cannot exclude ourselves from the rest of the world. We must invite, not push, others to join us. This is the spirit in which I am acting. We really must find common agreement in September.”
Europe has put forward a joint working paper for the HLM that offers its position on the current draft text on the GMBM scheme. It calls for the emissions gap caused by the phased implementation approach – which Europe supports – of the scheme to be addressed, otherwise the climate objective would be put at risk. However, the paper is generally supportive of the main design elements of the scheme as set out in the latest version of the draft resolution.