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Assembly fails to deliver on cutting aviation’s carbon emissions

12th October, 2010

The AEF attended the Assembly as part of the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation (ICSA), together with representatives from Transport & Environment (T&E)  and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). The AEF and T&E have issued the following press release.

Environmental groups statement on the outcome of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Assembly
– EU aviation emissions trading plan safer, but weaker after international talks; additional measures now needed
– International aviation community fails to agree carbon cuts; proposes decade of unrestricted emissions growth

Monday 11 October 2010, For immediate release

The future inclusion of the aviation sector in Europe’s Emissions Trading Scheme (EU-ETS) may have moved a step closer last week as a result of international talks.  But the scheme’s effectiveness will be weaker as a result of European concessions at talks which also ended any hope of credible global measures to cut aviation’s climate impact in the foreseeable future according to Transport & Environment (T&E) and the Aviation Environment Federation (AEF).

The EU entered negotiations at the ICAO Assembly, which concluded in Montreal last Friday, calling for a global cut in aviation emissions of 10% by 2020, based on 2005 emissions levels, as agreed by all EU member states in the run-up to the Copenhagen climate conference.  Aviation is currently responsible for 4.9% of global man-made climate change.

But EU ambition was cut short by an American-led initiative to maintain the wording of a 2007 ICAO resolution that called for ‘mutual agreement’ whereby every single state affected by policies such as the EU-ETS would have to agree to be included; effectively killing such schemes.

The final ‘resolution’ passed by this year’s Assembly did not contain such strong language on ‘mutual agreement’ but EU diplomacy to protect the ETS plan came at a heavy price.

The resolution states that airlines from countries with international aviation activity below 1 percent of the global total should be exempt from moves to restrict carbon emissions within the aviation sector.  The EU stated that it would ‘engage constructively’ in discussion about these exemptions with regard to the EU-ETS and has since declared that it could also review whether emissions from inbound flights would be covered by the scheme.  Excluding inbound flights to the EU would cut the emissions covered by the system by 40%.

Bill Hemmings of Transport & Environment (T&E) said: “The EU has paid a heavy price to weaken opposition to its plan to include aviation in the ETS. It is obvious that additional measures will be needed to get spiralling aviation emissions growth under control.  The EU should start with a kerosene tax and VAT on tickets.”

The fight over ‘mutual agreement’ cast a heavy shadow over the negotiations as talks surrounding global measures to cut aviation emissions dragged on fruitlessly.

The triennial Assembly failed once again to produce a single measure to actually reduce global emissions from the aviation sector.  Instead the final ‘resolution’ called for ‘Carbon Neutral Growth (CNG)’.  But that concept allows for aviation emissions to grow unabated for the 23 years since Kyoto, and only then be ‘offset’ voluntarily above their 2020 level by emissions cuts in other industrial sectors.  The Kyoto Protocol called for aviation emissions to be ‘limited’ or ‘reduced’, i.e. within the sector.

The final resolution also states that climate commitments for aviation are ‘aspirational’ i.e. non binding, with no obligations on individual countries, let alone penalties for failure.

But even the CNG plan, which amounts to business-as-usual, was too much for some negotiators.  The Chinese representative called the plan an attack on the human rights of his country’s citizens.  CNG, along with almost every aspect of the assembly’s ‘resolution’, was also subject to an unprecedented number of ‘reservations’ whereby states declare that they do not feel bound by the decisions.

Hemmings commented:  “The Assembly represented a race to the bottom to reach consensus at almost any cost, followed by a descent into farce as many countries distanced themselves from various aspects of the resolution.  ICAO’s irrelevance grows along with emissions from the world’s most energy and carbon intensive form of transport.”

”As a forum for agreeing, let alone implementing, global environmental targets for aviation emissions, ICAO is clearly not fit for purpose, its 13 year record of failure shows that.  The fact that ICAO members repeated their calls this year for the institution to remain in charge looks absurd, and completely out of touch.”


See also AEF article.