Copenhagen's failure to deliver an aviation emissions deal leaves sector facing an uncertain future
Tue 22 Dec 2009 – Following earlier hopes that an agreement on international aviation emissions might be reached during the first week of the Copenhagen climate change summit, negotiations unravelled during the final chaotic days as procedural wrangles put paid to any progress. Despite the largely disappointing outcome, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and industry bodies representing airlines and airports were publicly upbeat as no deal was better than a bad one from their point of view. ICAO talked of “forging ahead” with its own “aggressive” plan of action on combating climate change and IATA called the eventual agreement, the Copenhagen Accord, “an important step in the right direction”. NGOs, on the other hand, said the outcome was missed opportunity and a great loss for the sector.
It is currently unclear on which particular points the negotiations within the bunkers (international aviation and shipping fuel emissions) working group remained unresolved at the end but the Accord makes no mention of bunkers. In the view of The Climate Group’s Damian Ryan, who has followed the UNFCCC bunkers process closely, “this is a reflection of the very difficult negotiations that took place and the strong positions of certain countries who did not want either the issue to be dealt within the UNFCCC or for it to encompass both developed and developing countries.”
This is a reference to the Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) principle that underpins the Kyoto Protocol in which developed countries have binding emissions reductions targets that don’t apply to developing nations, a key stumbling block that pervaded the Copenhagen talks. An agreement on reducing bunker fuel emissions would by necessity have required action by all States.
“Given that nothing concrete has come out of Copenhagen for either aviation or maritime, these two sectors could well be the biggest losers from the conference,” believes Ryan. “Without a clear steer to ICAO or IMO [the UN maritime agency], the bunkers issue could remain in policy limbo for the foreseeable future. This is obviously to the detriment of both the atmosphere and business certainty.
“From an industry perspective, there may now be an increased risk of the ‘patchwork quilt’ of policies that airlines have been so keen to avoid, as individual countries or regions implement their own measures to deal with emissions.”
IATA Director-General Giovanni Bisignani said his organization would work closely with ICAO to prepare a global framework for managing aviation emissions for consideration at next September’s ICAO Assembly and presented to the UNFCCC COP 16 scheduled for December 2010 in Mexico.
“In the meantime,” he said, “we continue to urge governments to avoid creating a patchwork of national and regional solutions and to ensure aviation’s emissions are dealt with as a sector and across the world. A global sectoral approach supported by tough targets is the only sensible way forward for a global industry.”
Bisignani said the industry’s proposals on a global sectoral approach and emissions targets that were presented in Copenhagen had received encouraging support amongst the delegations and IATA would continue to press States to include the targets in any future deal.
The Climate Group’s Damian Ryan said the need for active industry engagement was now more important than ever. “Ideally, this needs to be lead by an ambitious IATA position with the backing of the whole sector as this delivers a powerful message to governments of global industry unity. If IATA is unable to forge anything less ambitious than absolute emissions reductions over the coming decade then I think you will see the EU and possibly other regions and countries implement various policies and measures that may not align with industry needs.”
The Director General of Airports Council International (ACI), Angela Gittens, called for renewed engagement across the aviation sector for managing environmental commitment.
“During the COP 15 meeting, we have heard scientific, economic and political views – some in agreement and some holding divergent opinions – on the ‘why, what, and how’ of tackling climate change. All, however, seem to agree on one point: now is the time to act,” she said. “Finding the best long-term solutions will remain an evolving process that picks up steam over the next several months and even years. ACI pledges to continue to pursue industry collaboration through ICAO and with our aviation partners in promoting sensible governmental action as well as achieving reductions in emissions. But we need not wait for a top-down agenda that will take time to agree by all parties. Already today, aviation partners have many tools in hand, and I call on them to keep up the momentum.
“I encourage airports to continue their commitment to a step-by-step approach of investing in and implementing known strategies that produce results.
“When COP 15 got underway, ACI confirmed our conviction that ‘green growth’ lies at the core of a sustainable vision for the future. I am convinced that today we can combine steady step-by-step progress, at which individual airports excel, with industry and government commitment to invest in the development of breakthrough technologies, and in doing so we will set an achievable course to carbon neutrality.”
Responding to the Copenhagen outcome, ICAO Council President Roberto Kobeh González said States remained committed, through the Convention on International Civil Aviation, to keep working through ICAO in managing emissions from international civil aviation in order to achieve an environmentally sustainable air transport industry.
“The time-tested ICAO process of consensus-building and cooperation among the 190 Member States of ICAO, coupled with sustained efforts of the air transport industry, has been very effective through the years in minimizing the impact of aviation on the environment. It has recently led to the first, and to date, only globally-harmonized agreement designed to address climate change from a specific sector,” he said.
“As an active and long-time participant in UNFCCC deliberations, we fully recognize the complexity of the climate change challenge. We are convinced that the current ICAO process is best suited to achieving the goals we have set for ourselves.”
Further deliberations on the measures and initiatives agreed at last October’s High-Level Meeting, the centrepiece being a 2% annual global improvement in fuel efficiency goal until 2050, will take place at the eighth meeting of ICAO’s Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP) in February. Other discussions are likely to take place within the ICAO Council and a full review of environmental policies and programmes taken at the decision-making Assembly next September.
However, Bill Hemmings of NGO Transport & Environment believes the lack of any agreement in Copenhagen will slow down progress within ICAO.
“We are left with another year of tortuous proceedings on the environment in ICAO,” he said. “NGOs remain hopeful that CAEP 8 will approve work to begin on developing a fuel efficiency standard for new aircraft. But without any call from Copenhagen for ICAO to accelerate its work, there is a danger that ICAO’s business-as usual approach to environmental issues will mean several years at least to complete the work and then more to have it sent to Council for approval.
“And despite all the hype at Copenhagen surrounding the decisions at the ICAO High-Level Meeting, ICAO members there were completely divided on the question of global measures and their non-discriminatory application. The Copenhagen outcome indicates that this situation has not changed. ICAO (and UNFCCC) Member States remain as divided as ever on the question of real emission reduction targets for aviation and a global measure to implement involving all operators.
“ICAO’s position that an annual 2% fleet fuel efficiency metric amounts to an emissions reduction target is a sham. It is a measure of business as usual fleet renewal. It cannot be enforced and provides no economic incentive for emissions reductions.
“ICAO and the aviation industry’s environmental reputations stand to decline even further. Copenhagen was a lost opportunity to resolve the big issues preventing progress.”
Further progress on bunker fuel emissions with the UNFCCC process may hinge on the key but divisive issue of finance. To make good on the promise made by developed countries to help developing countries with climate change mitigation and adaptation through a $100 billion a year long-term fund by 2020, “innovative sources of finance” will have to be tapped.
“The argument for sourcing climate revenue from the bunkers sector is quite compelling, especially from a political and equity perspective,” says Damian Ryan. “NGOs, think tanks, academics (including Stern) and developing countries have all argued that if you impose an economic instrument on a global sector to reduce emissions – and this instrument generates an independent source of funds – then it makes sense to use this global revenue for global-good activities.”
He said there was a risk to the aviation industry that it could be hit twice by separate international and national/regional climate policy, firstly through a global levy and then again through incorporation into other mitigation measures such as the EU Emissions Trading Scheme.
“I wouldn’t want to overplay this risk as some of the big players are against one or both measures,” he said. “However, I think it’s a scenario that the industry needs to be aware of – and ready for – especially if developed countries become more anxious to find climate finance that does not affect national treasuries.”