Statement on the outcome of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Assembly

The future inclusion of the aviation sector in Europe’s Emissions Trading Scheme (EU-ETS) may have moved a step closer last week as a result of international talks. But the scheme’s effectiveness will be weaker as a result of European concessions at talks which also ended any hope of credible global measures to cut aviation’s climate impact in the foreseeable future according to Transport & Environment (T&E).

The EU entered negotiations at the ICAO Assembly, which concluded in Montreal last Friday, calling for a global cut in aviation emissions of 10% by 2020, based on 2005 emissions levels, as agreed by all EU member states in the run-up to the Copenhagen climate conference. Aviation is currently responsible for 4.9% of global man-made climate change.

But EU ambition was cut short by an American-led initiative to maintain the wording of a 2007 ICAO resolution that called for ‘mutual agreement’ whereby every single state affected by policies such as the EU-ETS would have to agree to be included; effectively killing such schemes.

The final ‘resolution’ passed by this year’s Assembly did not contain such strong language on ‘mutual agreement’ but EU diplomacy to protect the ETS plan came at a heavy price.

The resolution states that airlines from countries with international aviation activity below 1 percent of the global total should be exempt from moves to restrict carbon emissions within the aviation sector. The EU stated that it would ‘engage constructively’ in discussion about these exemptions with regard to the EU-ETS and has since declared that it could also review whether emissions from inbound flights would be covered by the scheme. Excluding inbound flights to the EU would cut the emissions covered by the system by 40%.

Bill Hemmings of Transport & Environment (T&E) said: “The EU has paid a heavy price to weaken opposition to its plan to include aviation in the ETS. It is obvious that additional measures will be needed to get spiralling aviation emissions growth under control. The EU should start with a kerosene tax and VAT on tickets.”

The fight over ‘mutual agreement’ cast a heavy shadow over the negotiations as talks surrounding global measures to cut aviation emissions dragged on fruitlessly.

The triennial Assembly failed once again to produce a single measure to actually reduce global emissions from the aviation sector. Instead the final ‘resolution’ called for ‘Carbon Neutral Growth (CNG)’. But that concept allows for aviation emissions to grow unabated for the 23 years since Kyoto, and only then be ‘offset’ voluntarily above their 2020 level by emissions cuts in other industrial sectors. The Kyoto Protocol called for aviation emissions to be ‘limited’ or ‘reduced’, i.e. within the sector.

The final resolution also states that climate commitments for aviation are ‘aspirational’ i.e. non binding, with no obligations on individual countries, let alone penalties for failure.

But even the CNG plan, which amounts to business-as-usual, was too much for some negotiator. The Chinese representative called the plan an attack on the human rights of his country’s citizens. CNG, along with almost every aspect of the assembly’s ‘resolution’, was also subject to an unprecedented number of ‘reservations’ whereby states declare that they do not feel bound by the decisions.

Hemmings commented: “The Assembly represented a race to the bottom to reach consensus at almost any cost, followed by a descent into farce as many countries distanced themselves from various aspects of the resolution. ICAO’s irrelevance grows along with emissions from the world’s most energy and carbon intensive form of transport.”

”As a forum for agreeing, let alone implementing, global environmental targets for aviation emissions, ICAO is clearly not fit for purpose, its 13 year record of failure shows that. The fact that ICAO members repeated their calls this year for the institution to remain in charge looks absurd, and completely out of touch.”

(1) Mr Hemmings attended the assembly on behalf of the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation (ICSA), which has observer status at ICAO.

- T&E report ‘Grounded: How ICAO failed to tackle aviation and climate change and what should happen now’

ICAO’s lost decade

2001 - Reaffirmed opposition to fuel taxes, showing preference for the use of charges. In 2004 asked Member States not to apply charges until at least 2007.
2001 - Ruled out the possibility of establishing GHG emission standards for aircraft.
2001 - Opposed the application of closed emission trading schemes for aviation.
2004 - Dismissed any possibility of establishing a global emissions trading scheme for aviation, instead endorsing the inclusion of aviation in existing emission trading schemes (for example, the EU ETS).
2004 - Imposed three-year moratorium on GHG emission charges (although it continues to say that taxes are even worse)
2007 - Assembly threatens to block the possibility for countries (i.e. the EU) to include foreign carriers into their emissions trading schemes. EU countries dissent.
2007 – Formation of ICAO Group on International Aviation and Climate Change (GIACC), to develop non-binding aspirational goals as a framework of measures that member states might adopt.
2008/9 - No consensus reached in the GIACC. Some members criticise the ‘programme of action’ for not addressing Kyoto 2.2 i.e. by not focusing on emission reductions. Short term ‘aspirational’ 2% annual efficiency improvement goal to 2012 agreed.
2009 - High Level Meeting (HLM) extends 2% efficiency goal to 2020 admitting it won’t result in net reductions in CO2 from aviation sector as a whole. ICAO’s Conference on Aviation and Alternative Fuels endorsed the use of sustainable drop-in fuels for aviation and adopted a global framework for their development.
2010 Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP 8) finally reverses 2001 decision, agrees to begin work on a new aircraft CO2 standard.