Arab air carriers welcome ICAO fuel efficiency targets but criticize de minimis exemption and EU ETS
Wed 27 Oct 2010 – The environmental challenge facing the aviation industry and the implications of the recent ICAO Assembly resolution on climate change were widely discussed at last week’s Annual General Meeting of the Arab Air Carriers Organization (AACO) in Cairo. AACO members adopted a resolution welcoming the efficiency goals agreed by ICAO states at the Assembly and that there should be recognition of the different and special circumstances of developing nations. Arab carriers were particularly keen that any future market-based measures should recognize past investment made in new fuel-efficient aircraft by the region. In a keynote address, ICAO Secretary General Raymond Benjamin praised the contribution of Arab carriers in the fight against climate change and called the path to the ICAO agreement a “watershed”. Also addressing the meeting, IATA Director General Giovanni Bisignani said the region’s average fleet age of 11 years compared to the industry average of 13 years was contributing to improved global fuel efficiency.
The AACO resolution said that in relation to the efficiency goals, all developing countries should be treated equally as per the Kyoto Protocol and so AACO members could not support the controversial ‘de minimis’ clause carried in the ICAO Assembly resolution. This exempts states from submitting action plans on emissions reductions and from market-based measures whose share of global international revenue tonne-kilometres (RTKs) is less than 1% of the annual total. Less than 25 of the 190 ICAO states fall below the de minimis threshold but those above it include two Arab countries, the UAE and Qatar.
Many states, particularly from the EU, have entered reservations, or objections, to this clause. During a Joint Aviation Forum held during the AACO AGM, Raymond Benjamin said ICAO would begin working on a solution to the problem.
Addressing the AGM, AACO Secretary General Abdul Wahab Teffaha said Arab carriers had gone to the ICAO Assembly supporting the aviation industry’s principles and targets, but had two specific requirements: that any global scheme should include special measures for airlines in developing nations and that recognition should be made for airlines that have invested in their fleets before any global scheme starts.
“Since Arab airlines belong to developing nations and operate very young fleets, we had a special interest in these two merits,” he told delegates.
On the de minimis clause, Teffaha said: “Our view is that dividing developing countries according to their [RTK] contribution was not the optimal solution for implementing the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities for the aviation industry. We would have liked to see special measures for all airlines of developing countries while implementing the principles of the Chicago Convention to carriers from developing and developed nations under the same operating conditions in order to avoid imbalance in measures applied on operators.”
Teffaha considered the ICAO resolution had failed to address the issue of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS), which he believed would now proceed. He said the EU ETS would become an important issue in Arab-European relations during the next year and beyond. During the Joint Aviation Forum panel session Teffaha described the scheme as illegal.
In his keynote address, ICAO’s Raymond Benjamin said going into the Assembly he had looked for a clear policy statement in three key areas: more ambitious environmental goals, the development and application of a framework of market-based measures, and measures to assist states.
“I was also conscious that we were coming to the Assembly with an unusual set of circumstances,” he said, describing the eventual difficulties of reaching a consensus amongst member states. “Probably for the first time in history, and despite its best efforts, the Council of ICAO was not able to put forth a proposal to the Assembly. As a consequence, I took the responsibility of submitting a proposed resolution that would serve as the basis for discussion during the Assembly.
“I must admit the Assembly discussions were difficult. There were a number of divergent views on many aspects of the proposed resolution. But at the 11th hour we had a resolution.”
He said the Assembly “had gone the extra mile and set the stage for even more progress in the months to come.”
One of the key aspects of the agreement concerned action plans, he said, which outline the prospective policies and actions by states on reducing and reporting on international aviation CO2 emissions. He said the concept of action plans had proven its worth many times over at ICAO on security and safety issues.
He conceded the resolution “was not perfect” with differences remaining between developed and developing states, and varied positions on the management of market-based measures. He said the de minimis concept needed to be clarified, aspirational goals defined and a framework for market-based measures developed.
“This is a step by step process,” he said. “None of us believe that we can achieve immediate results on very complex issues. But we have created for ourselves an excellent basis on which to make very real progress over the next three years as we head into the next Assembly in 2013. Despite our differences, we all agree on the fundamentals and we all have a stake in making this happen. Achieving sustainable aviation is a long and winding road.”
IATA’s Giovanni Bisignani said the industry had achieved great credibility at the ICAO Assembly, with positive results. He believed there was a clear confirmation from the UNFCCC and governments that ICAO had the responsibility for aviation’s international emissions.
“In line with the Kyoto Protocol, keeping the discussion at ICAO, an institution that understands our industry, was critically important,” he said. “Many developing states, including Algeria and Saudi Arabia, were trying to mix aviation with other UNFCCC issues. This was not constructive. But we were successful and through ICAO, governments delivered an historic resolution.”
He said there was solid ground to challenge EU ETS implementation, particularly alongside other environmental taxes such as the UK’s Air Passenger Duty or the German departure tax. He stated that over 120 governments had formally recorded their opposition to the European plans at the ICAO Assembly, which he said must be joined by the airlines of those countries. He called on Arab carriers to register their opposition and ask their governments to formally oppose the measures directly with Europe.
Bisignani confirmed that EgyptAir and Qatar Airways are to join IATA’s industry carbon offset programme and that IATA was working to improve operations in the region through helping to implement Performance-Based Navigation at six airports and improve en-route airspace in the Gulf area.
He also noted the role being played in the region on alternative fuels, particularly in Qatar and the UAE. “With certification expected in a few months, we are asking governments to provide legal and fiscal incentives for efficient commercialization,” he added.
In addition to ICAO’s Raymond Benjamin and AACO’s Abdul Wahab Teffaha, the AACO Joint Aviation Forum ‘Meeting the Environmental Challenge’ panel comprised Capt Chris Schroeder of Qatar Airways, Andrew Parker of Emirates, ATAG’s Paul Steele and Richard Jory of Shell Aviation. It was moderated by Christopher Surgenor of GreenAir Online.