Europe must act as ICAO plumbs new lows

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), at its 38th Assembly that ended today, failed to act decisively to reduce international aviation’s huge impact on the climate. It has instead voted to try and weaken Europe’s efforts to combat emissions from aviation – the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS).

In a move that does more to spite the EU than to fight climate change, ICAO delegates from countries such as the US, Russia, Brazil, India, China and a bloc of African nations voted in majority to decide that any sort of regional measure to limit emissions from aviation can only be implemented under ‘mutual agreement’ by all countries affected - rendering such measures all but impossible. This is tantamount to wielding an effective veto over any regional measures to cover international aviation emissions, such as the EU ETS. 
The EU had previously conceded to ‘stop the clock’ on the ETS to give room for ICAO to agree framework rules for regional measures and to negotiate a global market-based measure. The EU had also recently offered to only apply the ETS to emissions in EU airspace – in which countries are supposedly sovereign, according to ICAO rules. But, in an unprecedented move by the US and allies, this was replaced by the ‘mutual agreement’ phrasing.
In a decision plagued by exceptions, weak language and reservations, ICAO delegates voted to work to agree in  2016 on a measure to place a global cap on carbon pollution from aviation by 2020. Developing countries, despite having fully-fledged aviation sectors with huge climate impacts, voted to include language on Common But Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR), which would minimize their necessary action should a global deal materialize. As well as this, African states insisted on a ‘1% deminimus’ clause for regional schemes, which, if applied globally, would exempt all but around 20 of the world’s countries from any requirement to act under a so-called ‘global’ market-based measure. China, in a further effort to weaken the text, ‘reserved’ its opinion on whether the previously-accepted target of Carbon Neutral Growth by 2020 was in the interests of developing countries.  
Bill Hemmings, aviation manager at Transport & Environment, said “Europe’s ETS, the only international measure that actually reduces emissions from international aviation, has been hamstrung by ICAO delegates more interested in evading responsibility than protecting the environment. In exchange for the halting of the only real and effective system, they propose to ‘agree to agree on something in 2016’. The Assembly’s resolution text looks like a Swiss cheese – full of holes; exactly the patchwork it was supposed to avoid.
The ICAO Assembly’s lack of ambition and urgency comes as the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report emphasizes the importance of immediate action to combat climate change. In 2012, airline flights produced 689 million tons of the world's carbon emissions – more than the total of South Korea or the United Kingdom's carbon emissions. If airlines were a country, they would be the world's seventh largest carbon dioxide polluter.
The EU put its faith in the ICAO process, and because of unacceptable weakening and delay, this faith has now been shattered. The science is crystal clear - we can no longer afford to procrastinate if we want to reverse the effects of man-made climate change. Europe must now continue with its own regional scheme, which is the only system that actually reduces emissions from aviation.” Bill Hemmings added.

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Nico Muzi
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