• Where now for Icao after EU breaks free on emissions?

    Editorial Tim Johnson, director of the Aviation Environment Federation, looks at the implications of the Icao general assembly.


    By making a ‘reservation’ on the Icao resolution relating to market-based measures, Europe has neither won nor lost the debate on whether non-EU airlines can be included in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. It has stood its ground, ensuring that the arguments will continue to the next stage, which may involve the USA making its threatened legal challenge. But there was one loser in Montreal – Icao itself.

    Icao has prided itself on being the lead UN agency in matters involving international civil aviation, including environmental protection. Since 1997, when the Kyoto Protocol asked developed countries to tackle aviation’s contribution to global warming through Icao, it has guarded this role despite constantly failing to develop a global action plan. In fact, as T&E recently highlighted, it has spent 10 years limiting the policy options available to states. With the forthcoming post- 2012 talks in Bali, and increased talk of how and where international emissions from aviation should be addressed, there was a hope that last month’s Icao assembly would mark a change in direction based on a realisation that other UN agencies might compete to take the lead.

    The resolution that was passed makes the right noises but lacks any real substance. It talks of ‘vigorously developing policy options’ and putting concrete proposals and advice to the UNFCCC encompassing both technical solutions and market-based measures. But there is no action, and any talk of targets is confined to references to aspirational fuel-efficiency goals. It calls for a new high-level group to develop an aggressive programme of action, but the views amongst Icao’s member states on how to proceed are so diverse that the only thing this programme would deliver is an implementation framework giving states the flexibility to choose between various options, some of which may have little effect.

    It remains to be seen whether other UN agencies are better placed – or willing – to take over Icao’s environmental role, but, for the time being at least, there is little prospect of finding consensus on a global approach that has become the industry’s mantra.

    Yet against this background, an opportunity has opened up for Europe, as it looks to work out its own strategy. Such a strategy has focused on emissions trading, but it is generally recognised, at least outside the aviation industry, that trading alone won’t be sufficient.

    Before this assembly, the EU was willing to support the existing Icao policy which included a moratorium on implementing emissions charges. However, in the new resolution, the EU’s ‘reservation’ covers the entire section on market-based measures – effectively freeing Europe from previous restrictions. Whether or not Icao retains its mandate on climate change, Europe should make the most of this opportunity

    This news story is taken from the October 2007 edition of T&E Bulletin.