UN agency’s aircraft CO2 standard ‘ineffective’, says environmental group

The UN aviation body ICAO yesterday announced agreement on a global fuel efficiency standard for new aircraft that is unlikely to have any effect on the climate, green NGO Transport & Environment (T&E) has said. The decision fell victim to commercial pressures, the group claimed, and potentially signals business as usual for the Airbus-Boeing duopoly until 2028 – some 20 years after work on the standard began.

Bill Hemmings, aviation director at T&E, said: “Reducing aviation emissions is critical to the industry’s environmental sustainability, but the commercial interests of companies like Airbus have been put way before environmental considerations. The outcome also reflects poorly on the European experts and their governments just weeks after the Paris climate deal agreed on the urgent need for greater ambition.”

The standard specifies the minimum fuel efficiency performance of completely new aircraft type designs certified after 2020. But T&E said that market forces alone would have required a better fuel performance than the standard specifies by the time the first new types fly in 2024.

Variants of in-production aircraft (Airbus Neo and Boeing MAX) now coming on the market will dominate deliveries for the next generation and easily comply with a higher stringency than that now set for such aircraft by ICAO. The standard could have accelerated the closure of production lines of the older versions of these types (A320s, A330s, Boeing 737CEOs) but ICAO added a built-in escape to keep these old and 15-20% less fuel-efficient aircraft in production up until 2028. This includes the Airbus A380 which is struggling for orders. Rather than incentivising the uptake of new technologies to reduce emissions, the loophole will only serve to delay fleet renewal.

Bill Hemmings concluded: “This decision only serves to put further pressure on ICAO to agree a credible market-based measure later this year and on European states to ensure that aviation make a fair contribution to Europe’s 2030 climate goals.”

The standard could have had an impact, T&E said, but during its six years of development industry controlled all the data, piled on conservative assumptions swamping the small margins at play, and ICAO member “experts” decided that any standard should not require better technology than that already flying in 2016. This was followed by commercial lobbying.

Note to editors:

The standard for aircraft over 60 tonnes maximum takeoff mass is essentially directed at Boeing and Airbus aircraft that together account for more than 90% of global CO2 emissions. Exemptions are planned for low-volume operators. The global airline fleet itself currently stands at some 22,000 aircraft flying, and will grow to over 40,000 by 2030. The stringency level and entry-into-force dates for the new type and in-production standards were major issues between the US, which wanted higher ambition, and Europe. This was all played out behind closed doors at ICAO. The US EPA, which has the power to regulate domestically, needs to decide what to do next.

Contact the press team

Nico Muzi
Communications Manager
+32 (0)484 27 87 91 
nico.muzi@transportenvironment.org

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