UN climate change chief calls for a global framework on international aviation that includes market-based measures
Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC Executive Secretary
Tue 21 Sept 2010 – Ahead of next week's ICAO Assembly, Christiana Figueres, the new head of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) called on ICAO member states to develop a global sectoral approach for international aviation that included market-based measures. She maintained this was not in conflict with UNFCCC or ICAO principles. In an opening address to the Aviation and Environment Summit in Geneva, she said international aviation was high on her agenda and although an important sector for the global economy it was also a significant contributor to the emissions that cause climate change.
The appointment of Figueres was warmly welcomed by IATA Director General Giovanni Bisignani, who said she had demonstrated a willingness to proactively engage with the industry. At the Summit, aviation industry leaders called on ICAO member states at the forthcoming Assembly to endorse its emissions reduction targets and deliver a global framework to achieve them. Meanwhile, progress on last-minute negotiations at ICAO to resolve differences on the issue remains slow.
A constant and major barrier to progress has for some time centred on the conflict between the two principles underpinning ICAO and UNFCCC, namely the former’s equal and non-discriminatory treatment for all states, regardless of whether developing or developed, versus the common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) of the latter. However, Figueres believed the two principles were reconcilable but needed political leadership and innovative thinking.
“It’s important to remember the distinction between national and international aviation transport,” she said. “The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stipulates that emissions from domestic and international transport are to be handled differently.
“Emissions from domestic activities form part of Parties’ total national emissions, and are addressed under the UNFCCC according to the CBDR principle. On the other hand, goals and targets set by ICAO refer to international aviation emissions and would be managed according to ICAO’s principle of equal treatment for airlines.”
She said to address global climate change effectively required significant emission reductions before 2020.
“The development of a global framework for market-based measures in international aviation could close this gap,” she suggested. “Market-based measures can regulate greenhouse gas emissions from aviation in a cost-effective and non-discriminatory way while achieving environmental targets and improving the sector’s ability to invest in further emission-reduction technology, operations and infrastructure.
“Using a fair and appropriate share of the revenues generated by such measures to assist developing countries in addressing climate change would also be in line with the provisions of the UNFCCC.”
She encouraged the industry to send a strong signal to the ICAO Assembly to develop and strengthen the role of market-based measures.
Also addressing the Summit, Roberto Kobeh González, President of the ICAO Council, said one of the main tasks facing the UN body was to bridge the gap between states on a political consensus to accept more ambitious goals and ways to address the application of market-based measures across national borders.
“We have been focusing on three specific areas,” he told delegates by video. “First, the feasibility of more ambitious medium and long term goals, including carbon-neutral growth and emissions reductions, beyond the global goal of a 2% annual improvement in fuel efficiency until 2050. Second, establishing a global framework for effective market-based measures in international aviation that can provide real reductions in net carbon emissions. And third, measures that facilitate access to financial resources, technology transfer and capacity building for developing states.”
He said the upcoming Assembly would be a major opportunity for member states and the aviation community. “It is clear that consensus building and global cooperation are the only avenues for achieving environmentally sustainable international aviation.”
IATA’s Bisignani said the Assembly was the best opportunity for governments to endorse the industry position and agree to a global approach. He was hopeful that a major obstacle had been cleared by Figueres’ comments on CBDR.
“The willingness of the UNFCCC to constructively engage and challenge the industry is a new and much welcomed approach,” he stated. “With ICAO, a global framework can accommodate the special needs of developing nations. A decade ago, governments agreed to a global solution on noise through ICAO that included extended timelines for developing nations.”
Bisignani said he had spoken with many government ministers, including those of India, China and Saudi Arabia – the main opponents of more ambitious global goals on the grounds that these should largely be the responsibility of developed nations. The industry position had also been backed by 22 Latin American states, he claimed, and a similar endorsement was expected by African states. “Even the European Union has referred to our targets as its minimum level of reductions,” he announced.
“There are important financial and technical details that we will need to find agreement on. But the focus from today through to the ICAO Assembly must be on achieving a political decision to endorse and guide the industry’s vision and targets.”
John Byerly, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Affairs with the US State Department and a negotiator for the US on international air transport agreements, said there had been conflict for some time over whether UNFCCC and ICAO were competing areas in dealing with aviation emissions. Figueres’ comments were therefore “enormously important”, he believed.
“Her message is a very clear one: that ICAO has a role and the states that constitute it have an obligation to come up with a global framework,” he told delegates. “The aviation industry has set a very positive tone and is a fine example of a sector that is taking its responsibilities seriously. However, it can’t do it alone. It needs a global, government directed process, and the place to do that is at ICAO and the time to do it is the Assembly in 11 days time.
“Failure there is not an option. If we don’t reach a consensus, it won’t just lead to a patchwork quilt of measures, it will be absolute chaos.”
ICAO member states are currently working on a draft resolution to put before the ICAO Assembly, with around 13 developing countries led by China attempting to have any reference to market-based measures removed from the current text. Europe and other developed countries are fighting to keep the text in place, with some calling for more ambition than others.
Byerly said the Obama administration was not against market-based measures or cap-and-trade schemes, even though US airlines had faced many difficulties over Europe’s Emissions Trading Scheme and had instituted a legal challenge over their inclusion. However, he thought the second stage of the US-EU Open Skies agreement allowed a framework to deal with the issue between the two parties.
He believed it was important that ICAO member states did not focus on negative “legal jousting” in trying to find a solution. “We need to focus on what the aviation sector can do that makes a lot of sense and within that framework envision possibilities for market-based measures,” he said.
Bisignani said the industry’s “ambitious” targets could not be met without the support and cooperation of governments. “We need a global framework under ICAO to guide our efforts,” he demanded. “The ICAO Assembly is our best opportunity to achieve this in time for Cancun. Political obstacles being removed, the industry is committed to aggressive targets and our track record demonstrates that we will achieve them. Supporting aviation’s efforts should be an easy decision for governments to make in Montreal.”