Global aviation emissions deal under threat as deadline looms

June 14, 2016

A global effort to limit aviation emissions is under threat from divisions between countries over how to share the benefits and burdens of pollution cuts in the sector. Attempts to draft, by September, a proposal for a global market-based measure to limit net carbon dioxide emissions from international aviation to 2020 levels have failed to progress in two major areas, environmental groups have warned.


The crucial issue of which countries’ emissions would initially be exempted from a market-based mechanism remained unresolved at a meeting of governments in Montreal last month. A formula that would have exempted countries representing 33% to 40% of the programme’s offset requirements in the first five years stretched to exempting 50% of all aviation emissions by the end of the talks. This would make it impossible for aviation to meet the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s own 2020 emissions reduction goal.

Delegates also sidestepped the crunch issue of how to divide up offsetting obligations between states who are included in the scheme, in particular between states with slow growing and fast growing aviation sectors.

For those countries that are included in the scheme, disagreement continued over how to ‘split the bill’ between fast growing and slow growing aviation sectors. The US, driven by its influential industry lobby groups, pushed for a formula that would ignore its own historic emissions. Such a refusal to account for past emissions is a major stumbling block in climate negotiations and, unless the US decides to distance itself from its industry position, will scupper chances of a deal.

T&E aviation officer Andrew Murphy said: ‘Amid these sensitive discussions, which leave open the question of whether ICAO will be able to deliver a credible deal in September, the US raised the prospect of blocking more ambitious and effective regional measures. This was counterproductive and unhelpful, particularly as so much work remains to be done to bridge the yawning gap in Montreal.’

Delegates did make progress on carbon offsets, agreeing to establish ICAO standards on their environmental integrity rather than guidelines. They also accepted a review clause of the market-based measure which would explicitly call for consideration of necessary improvements over time.

Countries will try again to reach agreement at the early September meeting of the ICAO Council, a governing body that includes key countries like the US, China, the UK, South Africa and Brazil. ICAO’s 191 member states have spent 19 years wrangling over the issue of how to address international aviation pollution. In 2013, they gave themselves a deadline of October 2016 to finalise a global market-based measure.

T&E said ICAO must be seen as a starting point in ambition, with developed regions such as the EU going further to ensure international aviation contributes to the objectives of the Paris Agreement.

Emissions from aviation are responsible for an estimated 5% of global warming. This is comparable to the amount of emissions from the 129 least emitting countries combined. If left unaddressed, emissions from aviation are expected to grow by up to 300% by 2050.

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