Global action to tackle aviation now ‘down to political will’

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (Icao) has recognised that a global market-based measure to tackle aviation’s contribution to climate change is technically feasible. T&E has said this is an important step, as it now means the only obstacle to global action on aviation emissions is political will. The EU has moved to improve the negotiating climate by proposing a delay of one year in the requirement for flights to and from the EU to comply with its Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

The recognition that a market-based measure is technically feasible came from a meeting of the Icao Council earlier this month. Icao’s operating structure means this is a step forward rather than a breakthrough – the next step is for a ‘high-level group’ of geographically representative senior government officials to make proposals for a market-based measure, which would then be put to the next Icao Assembly in September 2013. At this stage, the likely outcome is far from clear. The ‘high-level group’ will evaluate a series of market-based options including a global cap-and-trade system similar to the EU ETS, a global carbon offsetting scheme, and an offsetting measure with a revenue generation mechanism.

Three days after the Icao Council issued its conclusions, the Commission said it would ‘stop the clock’, in the sense that the requirement for airlines operating flights beyond Europe to pay for emission permits under the ETS would not apply for 2012 emissions. Airlines have had to account for their 2012 emissions as from January 2013 and the first bills were due to be sent out in April 2013. The proposed deferral means the ETS will only apply to intra-EU flights, and international airlines who have been issued excess free allowances will have to return them.

T&E aviation manager Bill Hemmings said: ‘Icao has effectively admitted that a global market-based measure for the aviation sector is simply a question of political will. Throughout the 15 years of Icao inaction since the Kyoto protocol was signed, we have always said technical objections were simply a convenient excuse, and now this has been accepted. The EU has made a bigger gesture than was necessary by stopping its clock for one year, but the clock is still ticking for Icao and the climate. There is no longer any excuse for inaction, and we hope Icao’s “high-level group” will move quickly to develop a viable measure that is environmentally effective and addresses the concerns of developing nations.’

The Commission’s proposal to delay the implementation of aviation’s entry to the ETS for flights into and out of the EU is a goodwill gesture intended to give Icao time till its 2013 assembly. The delay still has to be agreed by member states and the European Parliament, and there could be resistance among MEPs who have firmly supported the EU’s original action to include aviation in the ETS.

Meanwhile the American House of Representatives has voted to authorise the US transport minister to order US airlines not to participate in the ETS. The vote came a day after the Commission’s announcement that it was willing to stop the aviation emissions trading clock by one year. The vote, which confirms a similar vote in the Senate, leaves potential confusion in the legal position regarding the USA’s involvement in the ETS. It is now up to President Obama to decide whether to sign the legislation into law and then whether to enforce its provisions.

The US Environmental Defense Fund, which with T&E is a member of the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation, said the House of Representatives vote was ‘superfluous and sets a bad precedent for US foreign relations’.

Hemmings added: ‘Obama finally has the chance to prove that he means what he said on climate change in his victory speech. The US deputy ambassador to the EU said the US could not talk with “the threat of the ETS hanging over everybody’s head”; if the Commission’s move still does not clear the sky, we don't know what would.’