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Time to get in the loop! Nations must reduce aviation emissions (Watch This! #5)


By Adela Putinelu, Carbon Market Watch

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) is expected to agree this year on a market based mechanism to address aviation emissions. After the European Commission delayed its plan of including international aviation in its emissions trading scheme for one year, pressure is now on ICAO to ensure that the aviation sector plays its part in the fight against climate change.

International aviation is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. Currently it contributes 4.9% towards climate change. The Kyoto Protocol specified that Parties should reach an agreement on reducing aviation emissions through the ICAO. More than 15 years on, ICAO has only produced voluntary targets aimed at fuel efficiency and technological improvements. Currently, there is no legally binding agreement to address aviation emissions.

The international community must address the urgency now and find ambitious solutions under ICAO to address climate change.

Unsatisfied with the slow progress in ICAO, the European Commission included international aviation in its European Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS). This unilateral decision was strongly criticised by the USA, China, Russia and India that immediately threatened the EU with trade restrictions. As a response, the European Commissioner announced a one year ‘stop-the-clock’ on EU’s plans for including aviation in its EU ETS. This move should put pressure on negotiations for a global agreement under ICAO. ICAO is now expected to come up with a decision on a global deal by September 2013, otherwise the EU will continue with its initial plans.

But there is increasing scepticism if ICAO will agree on strong action on climate change. ICAO’s high level group meetings that negotiate a global agreement allow only limited access to civil society organisations. Moreover, the most preferred option currently under discussion leans towards an offsetting mechanism. As offsetting is a zero sum game, with emissions only displaced from one source to another, it does not bring about the much needed net emission reductions.

International tension on regulating aviation emission wasn’t tamed by the EU’s ‘stop-the-clock proposal’. The USA Congress unanimously passed a law that would negate the effects of future EU action on aviation emissions that includes international carriers. Recently, India announced that it opposes plans for a global market mechanism. It said that countries should initially come up with a framework based on mutual consent and only after that discuss measures for implementation. Questions remain over ICAO’s ability to deliver a global agreement to curb aviation emissions.

While the EU’s unilateral decision to include international carriers in its own EU ETS scheme was heavily criticised, also a decision under ICAO will be subject to political feasibility. However, whatever is politically feasible for ICAO’s 193 member countries might not be enough to curb emissions from the world’s fastest growing sector and avert dangerous climate change. Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, a new protocol to replace Kyoto must be decided by 2015. Developing countries are expected to take on legally binding commitments to tackle climate change alongside developed countries. The international community must address the urgency now and find ambitious solutions under ICAO to address climate change.

Civil Society Workshop on Aviation and Climate Change – New Delhi, May 2013      

Bread for the World (BfdW) along with the Indian Network on Ethics and Climate Change (INECC)  is organizing a 2 day workshop in order to create space for key members of civil society to understand and discuss the various nuances relating to aviation and climate change in the international context. For more information please contact [email protected].


Read more from Watch This! NGO Voices on Carbon Markets #5


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