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International action to reduce aviation’s environmental impacts

What is the issue?

International policies sit alongside – and in some cases underpin – the UK’s domestic approach to aviation and the environment. The UN has a dedicated agency for aviation, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), made up of 192 ‘contracting’ states.The agency is responsible for setting and reviewing noise and emission technology standards for new aircraft entering the fleet. It has developed the concept of the ‘balanced approach’ to noise management, and recently reached agreement to keep emissions from international aviation at or below 2020 levels using an offsetting mechanism. While the pace of progress at ICAO on environmental policy is often frustratingly slow, its near-universal coverage in terms of global impacts makes it an important body to engage with.AEF is a leading member of an international coalition of environmental NGOs that has official observer status at ICAO, participating directly in the work of its environmental committee. The coalition, known as the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation (ICSA), maintains pressure on states, and the industry, to be ambitious in establishing goals to tackle noise and emissions in a forum where the different stages of aviation development in each country often creates difficult political challenges.AEF also engages with the European Union, which has set air quality standards that are applicable in the UK, requires noise mapping at major airports and the development of Noise Action Plans, and has included flights between EU states in its Emissions Trading System.

What we want to see

  • Following ICAO’s decision to adopt a market-based measure to offset the majority of carbon emissions above the level in 2020 (known as CORSIA), ICAO is now developing the rules for implementation by states. The rules should include provisions to ensure that low-quality offsets can’t be used to comply with the scheme, and that there is no double counting of emission reductions. The process for decision-making should be transparent at all levels.
  • The agreement to implement CORSIA represents a first step in terms of global action on aviation emissions. But there is currently no plan for ensuring international aviation makes a fair and meaningful contribution to delivering the Paris Agreement (which effectively commits all signatories to ‘net zero’ emissions at an economy-wide level in the coming decades). A long-term (2050) target for aviation is now urgently needed to encourage in-sector emissions reductions.
  • While aviation contributes approximately 2-3% of global carbon dioxide emissions today, latest studies suggest that the sector is responsible for almost 5% of global warming. AEF is seeking international action on aviation’s non-CO2 climate impacts (notably from NOx emissions at altitude and contrail formation).

What we’re doing

  • We continue to participate actively in ICAO’s environmental work, co-leading the expert group developing the eligibility criteria for emission units that can be used to comply with CORSIA and leading the group supporting the ICAO carbon calculator.
  • We also continue to engage with NGOs at the international and European level to argue for increased climate ambition.