WATCH THIS! NGO Newsletter #7: ICAO promises global aviation deal in 2020

The International Civil Aviation Organisation’s (ICAO) long awaited Triennial Assembly meeting in late September 2013 agreed to agree on a global market based measure (MBM) by 2020. Seemingly a good progress, the forthcoming agreement fails to put something tangible on the table. Little aspects about how such an MBM would look like are known while the airline industry strongly pushes for a global offsetting mechanism that would enable it to reach a carbon neutral growth goal. Global aviation emissions are set to rise dangerously and an offsetting mechanism by 2020 is too little and too late to ensure that the aviation sector reduces its emissions in line with the 2° degree Celsius goal.

Greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from international aviation make up 5% of man-made global warming, representing the fastest growing transport sector. Future projections only foresee a steep growth and further increase of emissions of this sector. If the aviation sector would be a country, it would represent the 7th largest polluter. Most worryingly, air traffic emissions are rapidly rising at about 4% annually. CO2 emissions from aviation almost doubled from 1990 to 2006. Nevertheless, aviation emissions are currently not subject to any binding emission reduction target.

Procrastinating since 1997

In 1997 the Kyoto Protocol required states to find solutions through the UN aviation body, ICAO. However, ICAO failed to move for years and as a response the EU decided to include all emissions from flights to/from and within Europe in its emissions trading scheme, the EU -ETS in 2012. This unilateral decision has been very controversial, triggering opposition by many countries including the US, Russia, China and India. As a sign of compromise and in order to give ICAO enough time to negotiate a meaningful global aviation agreement, the EU decided to cover only intra EU flights for 2012.

However, the issue over regulating emissions through the EU ETS is again in the spotlight. After ICAO put forth a draft resolution in late September announcing agreement over the global deal by 2020, the EU announced that it still wants to regulate emissions in EU airspace until a global MBM comes into force.

The EU argued that until a global MBM comes into force, interim regional mechanisms that regulate the minimum of airspace emissions should be allowed to function. After tense negotiations in ICAO, the draft resolution specifies that regional mechanisms like the EU ETS could only function if there is mutual consent from all respective parties.

Strong international opposition to binding targets

United States, China, India, Russia and other nations were frantically opposed to the EU ETS and now believe it is unlawful that the EU applies its climate legislation for its own airspace. At the same time, European Commission announced that it expects a swift agreement on its proposal to cover emissions within EU airspace and that this is a sovereign right. In effect, even this measure means little for climate protection. If every country would regulate airspace emissions, only 22% of global aviation emissions would be covered. The rest occurs in international airspace and overseas.

As nations scramble over how to delay a binding target for regulating aviation emissions, the airline industry has already stepped in and announced that a global offsetting mechanism would be most administratively simple and feasible to implement. However, as the articles in this Watch This! Edition show, offsetting under the current rules will do little to reduce aviation emissions. Not only does offsetting not incentivise in-sector reductions, the climate effect is actually getting worse when offsets do not represent real emissions reductions.  The battle over what constitutes a robust global market based mechanism for aviation emissions has started.

By Adela Putinelu, Policy Assistant, Carbon Market Watch

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