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All eyes now on Copenhagen as high level advisory body fails to agree effective action on aviation emissions

The high level advisory group responsible for drawing up plans to tackle the growth in emissions from international aviation has failed to agree any binding targets for the sector.

The Group on International Aviation and Climate Change (GIACC) had been set up by the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in an attempt to break years of deadlock over measures such as international fuel taxes or emissions trading, which could help bring the aviation sector into line with national goals to cut emissions.

In December this year governments will meet in Copenhagen to try to agree a new global deal on climate change, and ICAO could be in the spotlight for failing to deliver, twelve years after the Kyoto Protocol placed an obligation on developed countries to work through ICAO to limit emissions from international aviation.

While the advisory group’s scope was restricted from the start by unambitious terms of reference that talked only of aspirational fuel efficiency targets and frameworks, GIACC’s recommendations represent a missed opportunity for ICAO to show leadership.

AEF Director, Tim Johnson said: “we are very disappointed that the GIACC could not find any consensus on what we believe to be the essential elements in any climate strategy – a base year for measurement, a target for reduction (in absolute terms) and a global plan for mitigation. These commitments were sought not just by environmental campaigners but by many in the aviation industry who want to avoid a patchwork of regional measures. Instead, the recommendations appear simply to support states taking what they consider to be the most appropriate action”.

GIACC has recommended fuel efficiency goals of 2% per annum out to 2050, but these need to be put into context: over the last decade or so the global fleet has improved its efficiency at or close to this rate. The commitment is no more than a signal to maintain an existing trend, and while it is true that gains get harder with time, it nevertheless fails to send a convincing message especially when set against future traffic growth predictions.

The recommendations clearly fall short of global expectation, and lend credibility to calls by some countries, currently in Bonn for the climate negotiations, to give responsibility for emissions from international aviation to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

ICAO has one last chance, however, when it holds a high level meeting in October. “GIACC’s recommendations will form the core of the discussion”, said Tim Johnson. “But countries still have the opportunity to propose more ambitious text; we hope they take it.”

The most useful contribution from GIACC has been the proposal to pursue a CO2 standard for aircraft, something that environmental NGOs (including AEF) requested, as part of a package of measures, when they presented to GIACC’s third meeting. But unless this is accompanied by a firm commitment to reduce emissions it will fall well short of expectations when the world’s leaders meet in Copenhagen.

Link to ICAO press release:

http://www.icao.int/icao/en/nr/2009/pio200907_e.pdf

Link to Final GIACC report and recommendations:

http://www.icao.int/env/meetings/GiaccReport_Final.pdf