EU countries under scrutiny for their role in opaque aviation agency 

European countries who are members of the UN civil aviation body are keeping their work on climate policies for the aviation sector secret from their citizens, in breach of an international treaty on public access to environmental information. 

The Aarhus Convention covers three principles: access to environmental information, public participation in environmental decision-making and access to justice. Its 47 Parties include all EU member states.

The signatories to the Convention are meeting in Geneva this week to review the progress in implementing the treaty’s principles. On Thursday, 27 June, the meeting will feature a thematic session on promoting the application of the convention in international forums, including the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), a UN body.

Secretive aviation climate talks

Countries are currently developing rules for the future aviation carbon market, established at ICAO: the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA).

The UN aviation body is notorious for its lack of transparency, and the scheme is being prepared behind closed doors and under strict confidentiality provisions, which most often go against ICAO’s own rules. The few accredited observers are bound by confidentiality agreements exposing them to unlimited financial liabilities.

ICAO meeting outcomes are either not published at all, or they are sold online after a significant delay (reports of ICAO’s environment committee – the Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection, CAEP – costs between 164$ and 853$ dollars!). Furthermore, the media have no access to the meeting agendas, let alone the meetings themselves, nor are they at any point briefed on policy developments. 

In an apparent contempt for transparent discussion, ICAO also blocks social media accounts that raise concerns about the climate impact of flying, dismissing factual criticism as “fake news”. 

The Aarhus conflict

Seven EU countries, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Sweden and the UK are members of the ICAO decision-making body, the Council. 

As such, they have signed confidentiality agreements and participate in the closed meetings (with no real reason for these being closed, and a clear provision in ICAO’s own rules stating that such meetings should be open by default). Strictly adhering to the confidentiality rules, EU governments refuse to release even their own submissions to the meetings.

Why does this matter?

Transparency is a fundamental principle of democracy and good governance. Citizens have the right to know how their governments take decisions affecting their lives. 

The Aarhus Convention is built on this very principle, and the governments of France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Sweden and the UK are blatantly breaching it by withholding information from the public. 

Robust decision-making that involves all members of society is essential now – possibly more than ever before – as humanity needs to find solutions to the climate crisis.

Governments at ICAO are therefore in a make or break situation to rein in the aviation sector’s soaring greenhouse gas emissions that risk undermining all other climate efforts.

Industry domination

While citizens are kept in the dark, lobby groups representing various segments of the aviation industry (e.g. airlines, manufacturers or airports) are busy influencing ICAO work. 

Seven out of the eight non-governmental observers to the work of ICAO’s environmental committee CAEP represent some segment of the aviation industry. The International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation (ICSA) is the only accredited civil society observer. There are no observers to the ICAO Council, the decision-making body. Even a delegation of Members of the European Parliament was denied access to the meeting. 

By withholding key information from the public, ICAO and its member countries are enabling the industry to play a double-faced game: towards the public, airlines promote CORSIA as a strong international agreement to regulate the sector’s climate impact. But in the corridors of ICAO, they can do their best to undermine the scheme.

As the governments convene in Geneva today to discuss the situation at ICAO, we call on them to honour their obligations to the Aarhus Convention and above all to their citizens. They must commit to changing the undemocratic practices of ICAO, starting by making their own submissions public and asking for ICAO’s own transparency rules to be applied.

Further information:

Letter from the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation (ICSA) to the Chair of the thematic session on public participation in international forums

Note by the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation (ICSA) on public participation and access to information at the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO)