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Cautious welcome to ICAO’s decision to speed up work on a global measure to reduce aviation emissions

Today’s 197th Council meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has drawn a number of relevant conclusions in relation to ‘market based measures’ (MBMs) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from international aviation.

The meeting’s conclusions recognise that global MBMs are technically feasible. This acknowledgement takes decisions to a political level, and to this end it sets up a High-Level Group of geographically representative senior government officials. This High Level Group will then make proposals on an MBM as well as a so-called ‘framework’ for MBMs, essentially a set of rules that countries should respect when implementing such measures. These proposals will be put to the triennial Assembly in September 2013.

However, the key shortcoming is that it remains unclear what any such proposal would contain, as there are no binding commitments on substance.

Bill Hemmings of T&E, a member of the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation (ICSA) [1], said: “After 15 years of ICAO inaction, it’s crystal clear now that a global market-based measure for the aviation sector is simply a question of political will. It was ever so – technical objections always were a convenient excuse. It is imperative that the High Level Group work through and resolve important questions ranging from which measure, what level of environmental effectiveness to how to accommodate the concerns of developing countries. These are critical times and the world can no longer wait.”

Annie Petsonk of Environmental Defense Fund, also an ICSA member, said: “To a large extent, the US holds the key to real progress on an market-based measure now and this will be the first opportunity for Obama to show that he means what he said in his victory speech: ‘We want our children to live in an America that’ … ‘isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet’.”

Tim Johnson, Director of Aviation Environment Federation, another ICSA member, said: “ICAO has shown that with coordinated effort the technical issues can be resolved. Similar and rapid effort is now required to resolve the political questions in a spirit of fairness and equity while remembering that addressing aviation’s climate change impacts is a necessity. Everyone says a global approach is the way to go – now it’s time to match these words with deeds. The work of the High Level Group on a framework must be seen as a stepping stone to a global MBM and should not replace this objective or become an obstacle to progress on agreeing a global measure. ICAO has now the chance but also the great responsibility to see this happen through agreement on a proposal next September.”