High-level Meeting provides final opportunity for ICAO to deliver on a clear international climate policy
Tue 29 Sep 2009 – Delegates representing the 190 Member States of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) will next week convene in Montreal to decide on an agreed strategy to reduce international aviation emissions that can be presented at the Copenhagen climate summit in December. The stakes are high – an unsatisfactory outcome could result in the UN agency losing its mandate to adopt greenhouse gas reduction targets for the aviation industry. The initial signs are not hopeful as significant differences remain between the demands for cuts by the developed nations, particularly in Europe, and a less aggressive approach favoured by the developing States. However, the recent well-publicized proposals from the aviation industry itself have at least provided a stimulus for meaningful discussions.
There is an agreed consensus that aviation emissions are a global problem requiring a global solution but the overarching difficulty is the conflicting principles that underpin ICAO and its sister UN agency, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which will stage the all-important COP 15 climate summit in December.
The ICAO principle rests on a level playing field for all Member States in which all airlines and aircraft operators are treated equally and without discrimination, and the convention in which this is enshrined crucially prohibits the levying of charges and taxes by one State on another without mutual agreement. On the other hand, the UNFCCC principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) expects the developed countries to do (and pay) more than developing countries for mitigating the impact of climate change.
Although the ICAO Group on International Aviation and Climate Change (GIACC) provided a Programme of Action that many saw as a positive and important step forward in the process, it failed to come up with the “aggressive” plan that was hoped for through a lack of consensus between members representing the developed world, principally Europe and Australia, and those from the major developing countries such as China and Brazil.
GIACC failed to agree on targets to reduce emissions in the medium term (to 2020) and long term (to 2050) and instead fell back on establishing a fuel efficiency improvement target of 2% per year up to 2020 and a similar aspirational goal to 2050. Given that average annual industry growth is considerably higher than 2%, the fuel efficiency targets would appear to accept an ongoing growth in international aviation emissions, an untenable position given an overall global objective of keeping the increase in global average temperature to within 2 degrees of pre-industrial levels.
Since GIACC reported its Programme of Action, the aviation industry has recognized that the chances of ICAO agreeing on an acceptable set of proposals to present in Copenhagen are fading and that the sector is therefore at risk of being subject to a range of national and regional emissions trading schemes or charges which will add cost and complexity to its operations.
The industry lobby, led by IATA, has focused on seeking a mandate from COP 15 for a global sectoral approach to aviation that would be developed and administered by ICAO. Other airline groupings that had proposed variants on this approach – notably the Association of European Airlines and the Aviation Global Deal (AGD) Group – appear to be falling in line behind IATA to present a united front.
An IATA-led delegation, which included members of the AGD Group, last week presented its proposals for a 1.5% annual fuel efficiency target to 2020, a carbon-neutral growth target from 2020 and an aspirational goal of reducing aviation net carbon emissions by 50% in 2050 compared to 2005 levels. The proposals are included in a working paper (WP/19) to be presented by IATA (airlines), CANSO (air navigation providers), ACI (airports) and ICCAIA (manufacturers) at the ICAO High-level Meeting (HLM).
Damian Ryan of The Climate Group, an international NGO and member of the AGD Group, said he believed the industry consensus hid a fairly wide range of opinions on what the level of ambition should be, with the IATA position falling somewhere in the middle.
“IATA’s strategy is a step in the right direction, but the industry needs to go further, particularly with respect to the mid-term targets,” he said. “The proposed fuel efficiency targets for 2020 are essentially ‘business as usual’. This means another decade of delay in effectively addressing the sector’s emissions. The industry needs to embrace the use of economic measures such as emissions trading much sooner.
“The sector runs a real risk: the EU isn’t going to postpone its inclusion of aviation in the EU ETS until 2020, and other countries may follow the EU’s example. This will just lead to a patchwork of regional and national measures, which is a second-best option for a global industry like aviation. If the industry wants to control the agenda, it needs to be more ambitious with respect to action up to 2020.”
Presenting a number of papers at the HLM on behalf of Europe, Sweden (which currently holds the rotating EU presidency) says the IATA medium-term proposal of achieving carbon-neutral growth in 2020 should be seen as a “signpost” and be regarded as the lower bound for an ICAO definition of a global goal (WP/14).
The European paper says the GIACC goal of a 2% improvement in fuel efficiency would be “a positive first step” and acknowledges this would require significant additional investments by industry and public authorities in technological and operational development.
“This goal may be challenging, but it does not encompass the whole mitigation potential of international aviation since it relates exclusively to operational and technological improvements,” it states. “Such efforts are necessary but not sufficient if ICAO is to deliver an aggressive programme of action on international aviation and climate change. Fuel efficiency targets alone would imply that aviation greenhouse gas emissions would continue to grow as demand for air travel is predicted to increase at a higher rate than the overall 2% increase in overall fuel efficiency. It will be important, therefore, to establish a goal that goes further than this.”
The paper says developed States and the most advanced developing economies should be in a position to achieve carbon-neutral growth before 2020 and it was feasible to reduce international aviation emissions globally below the 2005 level by 2020 through a combination of technological, operational and market-based measures. “ICAO should therefore support a reduction of global international aviation emissions by 2020 below the 2005 baseline used by GIACC.”
A news report by Reuters yesterday quoted an EU diplomat as saying Europe would press for a 10% reduction in international aviation emissions below 2005 levels by 2020 at this week’s UNFCCC climate talks in Bangkok.
In another paper to the HLM (WP/21), the Australian Government said while supporting the GIACC Programme of Action, “it falls well short of providing a robust and comprehensive strategy for a responsible contribution by the international aviation sector to the real reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions that must be achieved to limit climate change impacts.”
It agrees with the European position that the 2% fuel efficiency goal would “essentially be an acceptance of ongoing growth in emissions from international aviation. This runs counter to the global objective of reducing emissions.”
Although the Australian paper does not lay out specific targets above carbon-neutral growth during the medium term, it says it would be unrealistic for ICAO to adopt goals that were less ambitious than those proposed by IATA which the aviation industry itself was willing to accept.
However, Australia proposes that in the absence of a “clear, shared commitment” to address international aviation emissions through ICAO, the UNFCCC should instead set a global reduction goal and a new global agreement should be negotiated under the UNFCCC. “The expectation is that ICAO would maintain a strong role in implementation of the goal, but that the establishment of the goal and a framework agreement coordinated with the broader UNFCCC climate change programme would clear the way for ICAO to make progress.”
While there is support from governments, including the EU, for the development of an aviation sectoral approach post-Copenhagen, as proposed by the aviation industry, some are concerned at the uncertainty which that produces at this stage regarding targets (whether absolute or intensity based) and the lack of definition as to how – or even whether – CBDR would be addressed. There are also doubts about the proposed inclusion of domestic operations in such an approach as individual States would lose the ability to decide on policy in the context of their total emissions inventory.
Damian Ryan says the HLM needs to move beyond the recommendations of the GIACC process as they did not match what the climate science is demanding. “Ideally, we need to see agreement to establish a process in early 2010 that delivers a concrete sectoral solution for global aviation within 12 to 24 months. These targets should be in line with scientific evidence and proportional to aviation’s climate impact.
“Fuel efficiency targets alone won’t be sufficient, even for the mid-term. Economic instruments such as emissions trading can provide a cost-efficient means for aviation to play a fair and effective part in reducing emissions in both the immediate (from 2012) and mid- to long-term, and must be a core part of any sectoral solution.
“The solution must also address the politically essential issue of CBDR amongst developed countries, while at the same time ensuring non-discrimination amongst airlines is maintained.”
Describing itself as one of the developing countries, Egypt is to present a paper to the HLM (WP/20) that notes developing countries were excluded from the emission reduction commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, which called on developed States to address the issue of international civil aviation emissions through ICAO.
In the paper, Egypt affirms that no decision should be taken on the inclusion of aviation in any environmental goals set for the period after the expiry of the Kyoto Protocol at the end of 2012. It also says States, individually or collectively, should not impose measures like emissions trading that may have an adverse economic impact on other States, particularly developing countries. Egypt considers that such charges or taxes are in breach of Articles 15 and 24 of the Chicago Convention.
“Since the contribution of developing countries in global pollution from civil aviation at a global level is very limited, it would be unfair to impose heavy financial burdens on these States,” it contends. “Air transport is considered a vital necessity in many developing countries ... The severe environmental rules for emissions trading may result in restricting the development of transport, thus threatening the economic interests and trade activities of these countries at both national and international levels.”
No paper has been forthcoming from the United States so its position on emissions reduction targets for the global aviation industry and its attitude towards emissions trading as a tool to reduce aviation emissions remains unclear. However, Nancy Young, Environment VP of the Air Transport Association of America (ATA), which represents most North American airlines, said ATA supported the aviation industry submission to the HLM and had adopted it at a recent board meeting.
With a recognition by both States and industry of the need to present a clear policy message to COP 15 in Copenhagen, the HLM will consist of two days of debate followed on the third day by a Declaration. It is rumoured the meeting will be chaired by a representative from south-east Asia.
“A draft position is not yet on the table and there is a scramble to play catch-up,” said an ICAO ‘insider’. “A number of Council States are now working informally on the structure and general content of the Declaration to be adopted.”
Attendance at the meeting – with 190 States and 130 international organizations invited – is anticipated to be at the level of civil aviation director generals or their staff, rather than ministerial. “Hence, with the industry strongly represented and lobbying hard, the perspective is likely to be focused on aviation rather than transport at large, the economy or the environment,” said the insider. “The same States will, of course, be represented by environmental ministries and departments in Copenhagen, so even if policy differences can be hammered out for ICAO’s HLM Declaration, it will not be the last word.”