ICAO enjoys its Paris moment as countries adopt climate resolution to address emissions from international aviation
(L-R) ICAO Secretary General Fang Liu; Assembly President Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, Director General of Civil Aviation, Malaysia; and ICAO Council President Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu celebrate GMBM resolution adoption
Mon 10 Oct 2016 –The achievement by ICAO Member States to forge a consensus on adopting a resolution at their 39th Assembly that launches the CORSIA carbon offsetting scheme for international aviation from 2021 has been widely acclaimed as “historic”. It comes within days of the threshold being reached to allow an early ratification of the Paris climate agreement. Depending on the number of countries that eventually sign up to participate in CORSIA from the start in 2021 of the six-year voluntary pilot and first phases, up to 2.5 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions could be offset over the duration of the scheme, which will run to 2035. By the end of the Assembly, 65 countries had agreed to voluntarily participate, representing 86.5% of international aviation activity, says ICAO, although emissions coverage will be lower due to route exemptions. A number of high activity States from the developing world have though raised objections to the scheme’s aim of carbon-neutral growth.
After many years of criticism over its failure to deliver a market-based measure to address the rapid growth of CO2 emissions from international aviation, which has outstripped the sector’s ability through technological advances to mitigate the impact, the CORSIA (Carbon Offsetting & Reduction Scheme for International Aviation) agreement is an undoubted feather in the UN agency’s cap.
“It is historic for a whole global sector to achieve what it has managed today, coming immediately as it does after the Paris Agreement ratification,” ICAO Council President Dr Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu told GreenAir in an exclusive interview after the conclusion of the Assembly on Thursday. “ICAO has established a recognition within the UN system in how it manages to get things done across the various domains.”
Responding to those doubters who believed ICAO was not up to the task of handling this complex political issue, he said: “ICAO is the only organisation that could have done this. A lot of effort has been made both inside and outside this building. For example, the outreach activities, the examination of the different mechanisms, the various groups that were formed and the meetings we held were all steps in building the consensus that has been reached at this Assembly.”
The outreach was mainly concentrated on a series of workshops called the Global Aviation Dialogues (GLADs), which were held during the past two years by ICAO for its Member States in all international regions. However, it also included what Aliu described as his “diplomatic shuttle”.
“I travelled to many countries to discuss the issue at government level with ministers from different departments to bring them on board,” he recounted. “A lot of important work went on in the background to engage with States on a personal level.”
The Paris Agreement reached last December was a defining moment in the ICAO discussions, he said, and related how he came back from COP21 and put a draft resolution on the table for States to consider. “Having a document to debate was a key factor for them. It brought States together to understand the concerns of others, to find ways of accommodating them and yet still focus on what we were trying to achieve.
“The subject of climate change is obviously different to dealing with the technical issues we are used to, and it has been more of a challenge because there are other political and economic considerations that come into play.”
Aliu said he was nevertheless confident all along an agreement would be reached. “I have always been driven by a sense of optimism that we could get things done. Having said that, you have to be realistic to know that States have issues and legitimate concerns, and are at different levels of development.
“It has been important to become transparent about what is going on and getting everybody engaged, so our outreach to States was vital at the different levels. The other ingredient was the participation of industry in the process.
“It was also important to involve civil society. Initially, they were sceptical about what we were doing but once they knew what we were trying to achieve, they helped with bringing the necessary understanding to States of what was at stake.”
Aliu is under no illusion that the Assembly resolution is the end of the journey. “Having taken this decision, we still have a lot of work to do,” he said. “We have to develop a monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) system, set up registries, determine emissions unit criteria and we will have to carry out a lot of training and capacity building for our Member States. But I’m confident we will do it.”
Another challenge facing him is to persuade more States to sign up for the initial voluntary phases. “Our initial forecast on numbers has been surpassed at this Assembly and our coverage can only increase,” he told a post-Assembly press conference. “We are going to continue our conversations with Member States and I’m sure the coverage will increase over the next few years.”
With Qatar announcing its intention towards the end of Assembly to join from the start, it now leaves Russia, India and Saudi Arabia as the only countries with a share of international aviation activity (expressed in RTKs) above 1% of the global total that have yet to declare. Brazil, another with an important aviation market, has also not yet committed but a late concession to add resolution text it was looking for on UN credits may be enough to change its previous stance that it would not enter earlier than the second mandatory phase. It said at the final plenary session that it fully supported scheme, which was “a giant step forward”. Another previous waverer, South Africa, supported the resolution and said it was “time to act”.
Russia, India and Saudi Arabia, along with Argentina and Venezuela announced during the plenary that they would file reservations, or objections, against the carbon-neutral growth from 2020 (CNG2020) goal of the CORSIA scheme. They argued it was inconsistent with the Paris Agreement and had the potential to inhibit the growth of aviation in developing countries. China also said it would file a similar reservation over the goal and offered little open support for the scheme during the Assembly but is still considered to be an early participant, following a statement it made with the United States after a joint meeting last month.
Despite long-standing opposition to a market-based measure based on carbon offsetting, Russia left the door open when its chief delegate to the Assembly told the plenary that although it was not yet in a position to express its participation, “it doesn’t mean we won’t take part in future.” It remains highly unlikely that India will change its opposition to joining the voluntary phases, at least in the short term.
“CNG2020 is an aspirational goal but what is more important is having the baseline for our calculation so that any increase in emissions by industry from 2020 will have to be offset,” Aliu explained to journalists. “There have been a number of reservations made but that doesn’t stop the process moving forward. We have adopted the resolution, so the resolution is in effect.”
Aliu announced at the end of the plenary that all States would be sent a letter asking them to officially respond over their participation intentions.
Although quick to praise the efforts of Member States and the ICAO Secretariat, the Assembly outcome is a major achievement for Aliu himself as he comes to the end of his first term as President of the governing Council.
“I am very, very happy with the result, which has surpassed all expectations,” he told GreenAir. “I feel ICAO is unique amongst the UN agencies in that we have a history in which to provide the platform to get States and industry to work together. That is something we have to continue to preserve.”