Cracks exposed in the ICAO's climate change resolution

Documents released by the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation reveal the full extent of opposition to last October’s global climate change resolution.

Aeroplane, courtsey of Chad Teer, CCA2The UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) revealed that 63 countries, representing every major aviation nation, submitted reservation statements for last October’s climate change resolution.

The main areas of conflict, published on the ICAO’s website in January, flow from the long-standing dispute between developed and developing countries about their respective responsibilities for tackling climate change. Disagreements surround the goal of carbon-neutral aviation growth, the guiding principles on market-based measures (MBMs) such as emissions trading schemes and the threshold exemption for minor aviation nations.

The extent of opposition raises fresh questions about the ICAO’s ability to help slow fast-rising aviation emissions.

Adopted during ICAO’s 37th assembly,  the resolution aims to reduce the impacts of aviation emissions on climate change.

Specifically, it sought to cap greenhouse gas emissions from 2020, set a global efficiency standard for aircraft engines by 2013, and improve fuel efficiency by 2% annually to 2050 (ENDS Report October 2010).

In one reservation statement issued by Argentina on behalf of China, India, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Libya and others, it rejected medium-term carbon-neutral growth, stating: “We must find more innovative solutions to the problem of climate change, rather than putting a cap on growth.

“We do not want to seal the fate of our future generations and deprive them of the economic benefits of aviation for a problem solely created by the developed countries.”

It adds that any deal that does not have the support of developing countries would be “fraught with futile consequences”.

Belgium’s reservation statement, issued on behalf of the EU27, argues that the resolution did not go far enough. It says the goal to cap emissions from 2020 was “insufficiently stringent”, particularly given that it is merely aspirational.

Fuel efficiency improvements

Even with a 2% annual fuel efficiency improvement, global aviation emissions are projected to be 70% higher in 2020 relative to 2005. As a result, the EU had initially advocated a reduction target of 10% by 2020 for the sector.

The EU27 also used its submission to defend its position on MBMs, such as the EU emissions trading scheme, which will cover aviation from next January (ENDS Report November 2010).

Many non-EU nations argue that the bloc’s plans to apply the trading scheme to non-EU airlines breaches international law, and that the ICAO resolution supports that view. Belgium’s submission strongly denies this.

“It is important to make clear that in no way can [the resolution] be construed as requiring that MBMs may only be implemented on the basis of mutual agreement between states,” the EU27 argues.

The US backed the carbon-neutral goal, but said further work is needed on MBMs. While not explicitly opposing them, it argued that “states must engage in constructive negotiations in order for MBMs to be applied”.

China said MBMs must only be applied on the basis of mutual agreement. It also dismissed the idea of carbon-neutral growth as “unfair and unrealistic” for developing countries. “Climate change is mainly caused by the historical emissions and high current per capita emissions from developed countries.

“They should take more ambitious measures to cut their international aviation emissions, in order to offset an increase in emissions from air traffic growth in developing countries.”

All but one of the 63 states tabled reservations on the threshold exemption. The intention was to decide which countries should contribute to carbon-neutral growth based on aviation activity levels.

Those responsible for less than 1% of the total global aviation tonne kilometres are exempt. However, the threshold failed to consider whether states were developed or developing.

This resulted in countries such as China and India being above the threshold. Singapore argued in its reservation that the principle should be applied to aircraft operators rather than states.

Further studies will be carried out on carbon-neutral growth and MBMs, with the results presented at the next assembly in 2013.

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