China's actions and stand on greenhouse gas emissions from international civil aviation
Dr Ma Xiangshan, Senior Climate Change Officer, CAAC
Tue 1 June 2010 – Global climate change has a profound impact on the survival and development of humankind. It is a major challenge facing all countries. Stakeholders from governments, airlines, manufacturers and NGOs are evaluating the impact of aviation on global climate change and are looking at the various emissions reduction measures available. This will be of great significance and a catalyst for stronger action by the whole industry to meet the challenge.
Excitingly, a great deal of effective work has already been carried out by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to address climate change. Among its achievements, most important is the Programme of Action on International Aviation and Climate Change, which was later endorsed at the ICAO High-level Meeting in October 2009. The meeting’s Declaration reaffirmed the principles and provisions on Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) and respective capabilities, with the developed countries taking the lead under their Kyoto Protocol obligations. It proposes an aspirational goal to improve fuel efficiency, while encouraging countries to submit their own policies and action plans.
As one of the ICAO Part 1 Council members, the second largest country in terms of air traffic volumes and one of the top nine international aviation countries, China has always taken the issue of climate change as one of its most significant tasks in achieving and promoting the sustainable development of the civil aviation industry.
We attended all four meeting of the Group on International Aviation and Climate Change (GIACC) and the subsequent High-level Meeting, as well as the ICAO Conference on Aviation and Alternative Fuels held in Brazil at the end of 2009. We made constructive suggestions for the final formulation of the Programme of Action and also the declaration and recommendations made at the High-level Meeting. Meanwhile, we have shown great flexibility.
In addition to its active participation and negotiating activities within ICAO, China is also initiating and conducting its own energy-saving and emissions-reduction measures throughout the country in a very positive and orderly manner.
The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) defines the sustainable development of the civil aviation sector as “the development of civil aviation towards a resource-economical and environment-friendly industry by actively promoting energy savings and emissions reductions”.
The goal is very clear and ambitious, and it will serve as a template as we advance forward. CAAC is mobilizing and implementing measures within its framework to minimize greenhouse gas emissions from aviation sources. This includes actions such as setting up its own industry-wide Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) system; boosting its supervision and management system for airlines and airports; enhancing the flexible use of airspace to minimize flight distances; promoting the replacement of APU operations by airbridge-provided facilities to reduce ground emissions; and publicizing extensively our energy-saving and emissions-reduction programme throughout our industry.
As the Chinese saying goes, “Be true in word and resolute in deed”, and remarkable achievements have already been made in our country. For example, through the opening of temporary direct routes, a total of 15.8 million kilometres of flying distance was shortened in 2009, resulting in a saving of 88,000 tonnes of fuel and a reduction of about 280,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions. Through an experimental programme of replacing APU operations with ground power at international airports such as Beijing Capital, Shanghai Pudong and Guanghzhou Baiyun, we have saved 38,000 tonnes of fuel and reduced carbon emissions by around 120,000 tonnes.
Through CAAC efforts, airlines in China have adopted and are implementing operational improvements and carbon offset schemes with the theme of ‘Green Aviation’.
Looking ahead, we will continue our efforts to further reduce carbon emissions by seeking international cooperation in developing alternative fuels for the aviation industry.
As for more ambitious aspirational goals and market-based measures, we reaffirm our position with regard to consideration of the different stages of international air transport development and the respective individual national responsibilities of ICAO Member States.
Climate change is an environmental issue but also, and more importantly, an issue that has arisen through the course of human development, and efforts to address it can only be made with this in mind. Accordingly, ICAO should consider the issue of development as its highest priority, as is authorized in Article 44 of the Chicago Convention.
Meanwhile, developed countries should assume their responsibility and take the lead in reducing emissions due to their own background of historic emissions growth. Full consideration should be given to the fact that developing countries are in their own growth stage and are facing a considerable shortage in terms of finance, technology and capability.
Developed countries should therefore provide developing countries with financial and technological support, without asking them to take on obligations that go beyond their level of development, their respective responsibilities and actual capabilities.
In view of this, the fuel efficiency goal agreed at the ICAO High-level Meeting will be the most appropriate measure since it focuses on both development and emissions control. And some other goals are neither practical nor reasonable if they pose a hindrance to development in a one-sided pursuit of emissions reductions.
Of all the measures, technology and operations will provide the best and most effective options to cut emissions. Innovation and advances in engine technology, biofuels and air traffic management are in fact the best choices in making substantial reductions whilst still guaranteeing the development of the industry. On the threshold of this new technology, we cannot afford to go backwards through fear of the consequences. Rather, we should keep moving and take even more positive and ambitious steps towards innovation.
China does not object to market-based measures (MBMs). Our thinking is that technological measures are better options and should be the mainstream. Rather than spending money on carbon allowances, it would be better to minimize emissions in practical ways. For the possible use of MBMs, it is necessary to conduct careful pre-studies as to their influence on development, especially on developing countries. Instead of simply relying on economic formulae and advocating the prevention of carbon leakage, it is of paramount importance to bear in mind that “haste brings no success”.
In conclusion, China is firmly behind ICAO on climate change efforts. It has taken, and will continue to take, determined and practical steps to carry out energy-saving and emissions reduction strategies throughout the country. There will be a great commitment to technological innovation and active cooperation will be sought from elsewhere.
China will consistently adhere to the principles of CBDR set out in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol. It will stick to the UNFCCC framework through ICAO in seeking a solution to the troubling relationship between international civil aviation and climate change.
Climate change respects no national borders, and no country is immune from it.
To make international civil aviation environmentally sustainable, I would firstly advocate that developed countries commit to achieving a carbon-neutral growth goal whilst developing countries should keep making efforts to achieve improvements in fuel efficiency.
Secondly, all countries, both developed and developing, should cooperate with each other and make joint efforts to evaluate the influence of market-based measures – such as emissions trading schemes, carbon taxes and levies – on the international aviation industries of developing countries. Developed countries should take the lead in introducing MBMs among themselves first and gather experience for future sharing.
Thirdly, developed countries should provide financial and technological support to developing countries to help them facilitate efforts in dealing with climate change.
There is an old saying in China: “Work more and talk less”. We should all remember that actual and successful deeds are more significant than empty words on ambitious goals.
Dr Ma Xiangshan is a senior aviation and climate change official at the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), working for the Office of Energy Conservation and Emission Reduction at Department of Planning and Development. He is responsible for research and negotiations on aviation and climate change at CAAC. He represented China at the ICAO GIACC meetings, the ICAO High-level Meeting on International Aviation and Climate Change, ICAO DGCIG meetings and the UNFCCC COP-15 conference in Copenhagen. This article has been adapted and edited from a presentation Dr Ma made at the ICAO Colloquium on Aviation and Climate Change on 12 May 2010 and is published here with his kind permission.