Working group set up during ICAO Assembly in last attempt at finding consensus on an international aviation climate deal
Addressing aviation's environmental impacts through a comprehensive approach
Mon 4 Oct 2010 – Such is the disunity amongst ICAO states at its triennial Assembly on the issue of setting more ambitious goals on reducing the aviation sector’s carbon emissions that a special informal working group has been set up in an attempt to resolve the issue before the Assembly concludes this Friday (8 Oct). The 19-strong group, chaired by the President of the Assembly and also Chairman of the Assembly’s Executive Committee, Dr Harold Demuren from Nigeria, comprises high-level representatives from nine developed states and ten with developing nation status. Following requests, an additional four developing states have been granted observer status. The main task of the group is to reach unanimity on a draft resolution before the Assembly. With the next Assembly not due for another three years, this represents a major challenge to ICAO’s mandate to regulate on the issue. ICAO will take the position adopted at the Assembly to the UNFCCC COP-16 climate talks in Cancun in December.
The 19 countries participating in the group are Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and United States. The four additional observers are Argentina, Barbados, Cuba and Egypt. Representatives from industry and NGOs are also on call to assist with expert opinion. Five meetings are scheduled and the group is then expected to report back to the Executive Committee on Wednesday (6 Oct).
The composition of the group of 19 and its terms of reference were the subject of a heated debate, with many developing nations unhappy with the balance.
Although other relevant working papers will be considered by the group, the main focus will be on Working Paper WP/262, which sets out the draft resolution presented by the ICAO Secretary General.
At the centre of the problem is the running conflict between the common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDR) principle enshrined in the Kyoto Protocol and the equal and non-discriminatory principle that underpins ICAO. Many developing nations, particularly and importantly China, firmly believe that CBDR prevails in the matter of dealing with climate change and the main responsibility for dealing with international aviation emissions must be shouldered by the developed nations. They also disagree with the position taken by new UNFCCC chief Christian Figueres, who recently called for the development of a comprehensive global approach and framework that included market-based measures (MBMs). A video by Mrs Figueres was played to the Assembly.
The developing states say any agreement within ICAO should not harm the economic and social development that they maintain aviation brings them. They have concerns, therefore, over too-ambitious targets and the imposition of MBMs.
In its Working Paper WP/304, China said that “some states were rushing to establish new goals without taking into account the feasibility and impact of the goals on the development of international civil aviation, particularly that in developing countries, while leaving aside how to achieve the globally-harmonized goal of fuel efficiency improvement. As a result, it was not able to agree on the draft Resolution to be forwarded to the Assembly for its consideration.” A number of states, including Saudi Arabia, which backs the China position, unsuccessfully supported a proposal that WP/304 act as the bedrock to the group’s discussions, rather than the ICAO Secretary General’s WP/262.
A number of developing states, including China, have pointed out in submitted working papers that the EU’s Aviation Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) has been unilaterally imposed and unfairly punishes them financially. The Russian Federation (WP/275) “urgently requested” states to refrain from unilaterally introducing MBMs before ICAO had made a global decision. The EU ETS commences in January 2012, whereas the next ICAO Assembly will not be held until 2013, unless a special Assembly is convened sooner, which has a precedence.
In another Working Paper (WP/181), China held the view that more studies are required on the impact of MBMs on developing states, and developed states should introduce MBMs amongst themselves first and show demonstrable progress for future sharing. China has also presented a technical paper (WP/272) on achieving the other controversial goal of international aviation achieving carbon-neutral growth (CNG) by 2020.
In order to achieve the goal, China calculates that international aviation emissions in 2020 should be 391 million tonnes, as this was the figure in the 2005 base year. However, according to its own most optimistic scenario, emissions are likely to reach at least 536 million tonnes, meaning 37.2% of the sector’s CO2 emissions would need to be reduced. It believes that reductions from technology, operations and infrastructure measures and the use of sustainable fuels would not be enough to reach CNG by 2020 without measures to restrain the industry’s development and growth, which were at different stages of maturity around the world.
In an attempt to allay the fears of smaller developing nations, Europe has put forward a paper (WP/316) proposing special treatment for states that do not have substantial international aviation emissions and how such a provision might apply in relation “to achieving an ambitious, collective global emissions goal”. The paper borrows on the ‘de minimis’ exemption rules that apply to the Aviation EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS).
It points out that data from the International Energy Agency suggest that a third of ICAO states accounted in 2007 for 95% of fuel supplied to international aviation, and that any effective framework within ICAO should focus on the need for these states to take action to contribute to global reduction goals. Thus two-thirds of states, including the least developed countries, could be exempted from expectations on early action.
This ‘de minimis’ exemption could provide a basis for interesting discussions within the informal group, although it doesn’t answer the objections of the major developing countries.
In another Working Paper (WP/108), although commending the aviation industry’s “positive steps” in setting more ambitious targets than had been put forward at ICAO, Europe said the industry’s CNG target of aviation’s emissions peaking in 2020 was “insufficiently ambitious”. It said that such a target “would not see aviation contributing equally to attaining the maximum 2 degree C temperature rise objective”, which would require emissions reductions by the sector well in advance of 2020. “Accordingly, the EU has advocated that the global reduction target for greenhouse gas emissions from international aviation should be a 10% reduction by 2020 compared to 2005 levels.”
In contrast, a joint paper from Canada, Mexico and the United States (WP/186) said a more ambitious goal of CNG by 2020 compared to 2005 levels would represent an important step to demonstrate the commitment of the international civil aviation community towards meeting ICAO’s collective commitment to limit or reduce international aviation emissions and its contribution towards the 2 degree C limit. Recognizing there was no consensus amongst states on a global sectoral approach and disagreement over MBMs, the paper calls for principles to be agreed that should guide the development of MBMs, which include mutual agreement between states on their implementation.
“States seeking to apply emissions trading to international civil aviation should engage other states whose carriers would be affected with a view to seeking a mutually agreeable way forward, if possible; so too, states receiving such proposals should engage constructively with the proposing state(s).”
As was reported recently in the New York Times, this has been interpreted as a challenge by the United States to Europe over the unilateral inclusion of US carriers into the EU ETS (see article).
Other Working Papers on climate change mitigation measures by international aviation have come from Colombia (WP/109), India (WP/117), USA (WP/185), Bahrain (WP/188), Cuba (WP/271), Costa Rica (WP/240), Russian Federation (WP/275), Indonesia (WP/216), South Africa (WP/251), African states (WP/187) and the UN World Tourism Organization (WP/174), together with an aviation industry paper (WP/217) and one from Airports Council International (WP/241).
Whilst ICAO has been struggling to find a global agreement, its sister UN agency the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has just failed in its efforts to find a consensus on proposals for technical and operations measures aimed at reducing international greenhouse gas emissions from ships.
The IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee had been set to approve an Energy Efficient Design Index (EEDI) for ships at its meeting last week in London, following four years of work. The standard, which would only apply to newly built ships, would have been the first globally agreed measure to reduce carbon emissions from international maritime transport. But key developing states led by China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Saudi Arabia, who had been deeply involved in the process all along, blocked the adoption process. Like international aviation, shipping too was treated separately under the Kyoto Protocol.