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  • Some progress but unresolved tensions at end of high-level UN aviation climate talks

    NGO coalition highlights progress in proposed global market-based measure but warns that the proposal falls well short of Paris climate agreement objectivesMONTREAL – Divisions between nations over how to share the benefits and burdens of pollution cuts in the international aviation sector continue to threaten prospects for an agreement to limit these emissions, an environmental coalition said at the conclusion of a three-day High-level Meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the UN’s aviation agency. Prominent environmental groups advocating for a “Flightpath to 1.5 degrees” warned that ICAO risked a high profile failure at its September assembly of delegations if it didn't find ways to bridge key differences quickly.

    At the May 11-13 meeting of top officials at ICAO’s Montreal headquarters, countries attempted to move forward a draft proposal for a global market based measure to limit net carbon dioxide emissions from international aviation to 2020 levels. The text will be taken up again at the June meeting of the ICAO Council, a governing body that includes key countries like the US, China, the UK, South Africa and Brazil. The environmental organizations that make up the campaign FlightPath 1.5 say the current version falls short of what is needed to meet ICAO’s own targets and the long-term temperature goals laid out in the Paris Agreement namely to limit the increase in global temperatures to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

    In an apparent effort to bridge the divide between China and countries such as the US, Japan, Chile, and EU states, Singapore proposed a “pre-implementation phase” of the market-based measure. Many countries indicated their interest and desire to understand what such a phase would entail, but environmental observers of ICAO believes it’s risky. It must be designed to ensure that ICAO meets its 2020 emission goal, not delay effective action on aviation emissions.

    In addition to the new concept of a pre-implementation phase, ICAO’s High-level Meeting last week yielded progress in some areas while delaying decision on or worsening other parts of the draft text being negotiated.

    Solid progress was made in two areas:

    ·         Offset criteria: Countries intend for the offset criteria to be reflected by ICAO as standards, whereas before it appeared they would only be established as guidance. This is something FlightPath 1.5 NGOs have advocated for the past several months.

    ·         Reviewing the MBM and aligning it with the Paris Agreement: The review clause in the text of the market-based measure has greater detail and now explicitly calls for consideration of the necessary improvements to have the aviation industry contribute its fair share towards the long-term temperature goals in the Paris Agreement.

    But some issues remain unresolved:

    ·         Emissions covered under the MBM: On the question of who will be covered by the program, delegates took a big step backward. Going into the talks, they considered a formula that would have exempted countries representing 33% to 40% of the program’s offset requirements in the first five years. By week’s end they exempted even more, representing around 50% of all aviation emissions from the same period. As the negotiations continue over the coming months, delegates must search for a way to make up to this gap if ICAO is to meet their own 2020 emissions goal. 

    ·         Differentiation of airline offsetting obligations: At the meeting delegates ultimately sidestepped the crunch issue of how to divide up emissions cutting responsibilities, with deep divisions remaining between slow growing and fast growing aviation states. There have been multiple references to exploring how to increase the coverage of international aviation emissions and thus increase the environmental integrity of the MBM.

    The draft text of the MBM that countries are negotiating will be updated and forwarded for further negotiations in June. At the Council meeting and in bilateral discussions, countries must work together to explore how to come to an agreement on crunch issues like differentiation and how to make up the current emissions gap, so ICAO is able to meet their own 2020 emissions target.   

    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 finalize the global MBM. Unless action is taken, aviation’s climate pollution is forecast to triple in coming decades.

    Statements from FlightPath 1.5 Members

    “Back, forth and sideways is not a recipe for an on time departure for ICAO’s global market based measure. The credibility of ICAO and its leadership is on the line.  If ICAO doesn’t repair the gaping holes in coverage, its credibility will be badly tarnished.” Annie Petsonk, International Counsel, Environmental Defense Fund

    “ICAO, the aviation industry, and member states have all highlighted the importance of the Paris Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. But there is little common understanding on how these pieces of the puzzle fit together. For us it’s clear: the aviation emissions goal must align to the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degree goal, and the activities promoted by the MBM should support sustainable development benefits, such as poverty alleviation, food and water security, health and biodiversity.” James Beard, Climate & Energy Specialist, Aviation & Bioenergy, WWF

    “States need to elaborate on their visions for amending the proposal.  For example, pre-implementation beginning in 2018 to help countries get acquainted and scales up so that full implementation begins on January 1, 2021, could improve the environmental integrity of the proposal. But a trial period beginning in 2020 with low airline participation, would undermine credibility.”  Tim Johnson, Director, Aviation Environment Federation

    “There is widespread agreement that a market-based measure could reduce aviation’s emissions. But the devil is in the details. Discussions around the duration and parameters of a newly proposed pilot phase for the market-based measure could either be a useful learning experience or a dangerous delay in climate action. The market needs clarity on rules and the level of participation, or ICAO will not meet its own goals. The current proposal for a Global Market-Based Measure is not in line with the high-level pledges that global leaders have made to confront climate pollution.” Kelsey Perlman, Policy Researcher, Aviation and Land Use, Carbon Market Watch

    “Amid these sensitive discussions which leave open the question of whether ICAO will be able to deliver a credible deal in September the question of the compatibility of regional measures with ICAO was raised. This was counterproductive and unhelpful particularly as so much work remains to be done to bridge the yawning gap in Montreal.” Andrew Murphy, Policy Officer Aviation and Shipping, Transport & Environment

    FlightPath 1.5 is a global campaign of leading environmental voices, dedicated to cutting aviation climate pollution and ensuring that aviation contributes its fair share to the goal of limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Find out more at