With one meeting left, time is running out for the ICAO GIACC process to conjure up a global strategy

With one meeting left, time is running out for the ICAO GIACC process to conjure up a global strategy | ICAO, GIACC, Nancy LoBue, Carl Burleson, FAA, Tim Johnson, AEF
Wed 18 Mar 2009 – With three out of its four scheduled meetings now completed, the ICAO Group on International Aviation and Climate Change (GIACC) has produced only a limited consensus so far in its quest to develop and recommend a programme of action on limiting international aviation greenhouse gas emissions. However, there is cautious optimism in some quarters that an agreed programme of goals and measures can still be put forward to a special ICAO Council meeting in the autumn that can be taken to the UNFCCC Copenhagen summit in December, but some observers remain sceptical of the outcome.
That is not to underestimate the work of GIACC representatives who have, in conjunction with ICAO’s Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP), come up with some interesting proposals and measures on how to address the differing needs of both developed and developing countries in mitigating their aviation environmental impact. However, GIACC representatives have so far failed to agree on basic medium and long term goals on the extent to which civil aviation carbon emissions should be cut. The principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) has also raised difficulties during discussions.
Following GIACC’s second meeting (GIACC/2), three working groups were set up to consider the most important elements of an action plan:
·         Working Group 1 (WG/1): Global aspirational goals;
·         Working Group 2 (WG/2): Measures to achieve emissions reductions; and
·         Working Group 3 (WG/3): Monitoring and implementation.
These working groups presented their reports at GIACC/3 last month.
Working Group 1 (WG/1)
WG/1 was to develop options for short, medium and long-term aspirational goals for consideration at GIACC/3. The Canadian representative chaired the working group, with participation from representatives from China, France, Japan and Mexico, and the United States participating as an observer.
Firstly, a definition of ‘aspirational goals’ was adopted to mean ‘non-binding objectives that would be agreed to collectively by Member States, without specific individual obligations’. WG/1 agreed that ICAO Member States should commit to achieving aspirational goals on fuel efficiency collectively, while ‘acknowledging the principles of non-discrimination and equal and fair opportunities to develop international civil aviation set forth in the Chicago Convention, as well as the principles and provisions on common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) and respective capabilities under the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol’.
WG/1 also agreed that the timescales to be established should follow similar timelines: 2012, 2020 and 2050 established in the UNFCCC process. The US held a dissenting view on the short and medium-term timelines, proposing instead 2014-15 for short term and 2024-25 for the medium term. It pointed out that 2012 did not allow much time to demonstrate short-term improvement and recommended 2025 as it aligns with the US NextGen air traffic management plan and timelines for inserting new technologies into aircraft fleets. Group members agreed that 2025 was acceptable as long as it was consistent with UNFCCC timelines and related arrangements.
Members agreed that ICAO should assume responsibility for setting reporting requirements and tracking emissions, and recommended that ICAO establish “rigorous” annual reporting by Member States on fuel consumption and fuel efficiency, the results of which should be published.
Canada noted that since ICAO is not generally an enforcement agency, GIACC should consider how to link its work to the UNFCCC process and, in this regard, a mechanism for enforcement would have to be considered if the goals for international aviation were to become binding in the future.
Although WG/1 members recognized that different countries have different capacities and needs, which should be reflected in the GIACC action programme, there was disagreement on applying a distinction between developed (Annex I) countries and developing (non-Annex I) countries. China’s representative argued the distinction should be applied on the CBDR principle but other members noted that some developing countries have strong airlines, some with very modern fuel efficient fleets, which compete directly on the same routes with the airlines of developed countries.
China responded that the possession of a modern fleet of aircraft is not sufficient as an efficiency indicator as such factors as operational management, air traffic management and airport services must also be taken into consideration, and said there was a lack of assistance from developed countries in terms of technology, finance and capacity building. Most WG/1 members, however, were of the view that fuel efficiency goals should apply equally to all countries.
However, all agreed that financial support for infrastructure development, capacity building and technology transfer were important measures to address the special needs of developing countries. WG/1 suggested that ICAO and Member States seek expansion of the UNFCCC Clean Development Mechanism to include investments in international aviation projects in developing countries. It was noted though that under current rules the CDM could only be expanded under the prerequisite condition that international aviation is included in the general framework of the UNFCCC in the post-Kyoto period.
Views were expressed that the top 20 or 30 international aviation countries (measured by share of total revenue tonne kilometres) should be required to report annually to ICAO, accepting that some Member States in this top 20 list are developing countries. Under this proposal, countries with less developed international aviation sectors would commit to improve fuel efficiency but would not be required to report. China disagreed with this approach as it contradicted the UNFCCC Annex I/non-Annex I distinction and argued that its share of international aviation is due to its large population and would be low if measured on a per capita basis.
France suggested that in a possible future situation of binding commitments, the special needs of developing countries could be accommodated by enforcement of CO2 reduction commitments through bilateral air services agreements, with the commitments varying from one country pair to another. Two developed countries, for example, could agree to reduce total emissions on their routes. The need for growth in aviation to and from a developing country could be recognized by allowing some growth in emissions on routes between developing and developed countries, although both countries should benefit equally. Flights between developing countries could be left out of the regime, at least for a period of time.
WG/1 endorsed two possible options for defining fuel efficiency metrics:
·         Litres of fuel consumed / Revenue Tonne Kilometres (RTKs)
·         Fuel mass consumed / payload x distance
The first option is a widely used metric and has the advantage of being well understood by industry and governments, with the second option a metric being developed by CAEP. WG/1 members noted that whether volume or mass was used as the metric, it was important to develop appropriate conversion factors for different fuels, including the lower carbon footprint of alternative fuels.
The working group did manage to come up with an agreed proposal for a short-term fuel efficiency aspirational goal to 2012, but was unable to agree on a consensus for the more important medium-term and long-term goals.
WG/1 recommended that GIACC adopt two separate short-term goals:
1.       In 2012, the average fuel efficiency of international aviation will not exceed X litres of fuel consumed per 100 RTKs performed; and
2.       From 2010-2012, international aviation will continue to achieve the historic (baseline 1990-2006) rate of Y% average annual fuel efficiency improvement, resulting in a total industry improvement of XX% from 1990 to 2012.
Because of differing data currently available, X, Y and XX would still need to be defined. Using two different current methods, X would likely range from 35.5 to 37.9, Y would range from 1.7% to 2.1% and XX from 31.5% to 37.8%. By GIACC/4, it is hoped to refine these figures and a formal agreement by GIACC, although close, has still to be reached.
WG/1 attempted to come up with a medium-term goal of carbon neutral growth, firstly defining it as ‘carbon neutral growth will be achieved when the rate of fuel efficiency improvement is equal to the rate of increase in Revenue Tonne Kilometres’. However, there was a lack of consensus on the issue.
China disagreed with the concept of ICAO of adopting a carbon neutral goal at this time. France was of the opinion that the metric should also reflect the situation where aviation is part of an emissions trading scheme – carbon neutral growth would be achieved when all emissions from air operators above a fixed cap are compensated by reductions of emissions by other operators.
The United States expressed the view that carbon neutral growth can be achieved by 2025 through technological and operational improvements, in combination with use of alternative aviation fuels. France considered these are unlikely to be sufficient and the aviation sector would need access to offsetting, in the context of an emissions cap-and-trade scheme, to achieve the goal.
Similarly, there was a lack of consensus on the long-term aspirational goal, either in terms of fuel efficiency or in terms of absolute reductions in emissions. There was general support that, as a minimum, aviation continued to represent no more than 3% of the total greenhouse gas emissions globally in 2050.
Working Group 2 (WG/2)
WG/2 – comprising Australia, Brazil, India, South Africa, United States and Switzerland (UK from November 2008) – was charged with identifying a list of potential measures and good practice which could be implemented by Member States to address the impact of international civil aviation on climate change.
It has succeeded in coming up with a comprehensive table of measures covering aircraft-related technology development, improved air traffic management and infrastructure use, more efficient operations, economic and market-based measures, and regulatory measures. The table assesses the potential impact in terms of potential gains, costs and timescales of each measure, although there were divergent opinions amongst members, which is reflected in the ranges put forward in the table.
A significant issue among WG/2 members was that of developing countries in relation to the implementation of the measures. The table lists the possible assistance that can be given to developing countries for each measure. However, there were divergent views among members as to how the terms of the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol should be translated to measures for international aviation. Other members highlighted the principle of non-discrimination, which is central to the Chicago Convention and the operation of international civil aviation markets.
The WG/2 report said no consensus had been identified on a specific strategy for addressing emissions from international civil aviation. It suggested Member States would decide on their own appropriate measures, and on the manner and timing of implementation, in order to achieve the goals that are defined by ICAO following the conclusion of the GIACC process.
Differing opinions were expressed among members of the group as to the extent to which international civil carriers based in developing countries should be expected to implement measures to address emissions, although members recognized a need to assist the developing world. Suggestions included that developed States and ICAO should influence development assistance agencies to better prioritize assistance in the development of more efficient air traffic and airport infrastructure and should provide training and technical assistance in managing environmental impacts.
In regard to emissions trading schemes, representatives from developing countries held the view that when Annex I countries consider such schemes to meet their commitments under the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol, cognizance must be taken of both the non-discrimination and CBDR principles, and the implementation of the schemes should consider the impact on developing states – both in terms of air services and to wider funding of measures addressing climate change in those states.
Working Group 3 (WG/3)
The central task entrusted to this group (chaired by Brazil) was to recommend how best to monitor and report on progress towards a global aspirational goal regarding aviation CO2 emissions, in accordance with international obligations. Its task was made relatively easy as comprehensive work has already been done by CAEP working groups and task forces in recent years, such as fuel and technology goals; measures to reduce emissions; and reporting and monitoring and implementation.
WG/3 also recommended the collection of fuel data consumption from industry and operators around the world, that Annex I States should report international aviation GHG emissions to ICAO annually and that non-Annex I States should be ‘encouraged’ to report annually. It also recommended that ICAO should adopt the appropriate mechanisms to verify, taking into account the CBDR principle, progress made by States in reducing international aviation GHG emissions.
GIACC/3 representatives reached a consensus that Member States should report annually traffic and fuel consumption data in accordance with ICAO requirements under Article 67, which obligates them to provide ICAO with financial and statistical data on operations.
GIACC has now set up two new working groups:
·         The goals development group (chaired jointly by Brazil and the United States, with members from China, France, Germany, India, Japan, South Africa and the UK); and
·         The market based measures working group (members who indicated they would sit on this group include Brazil, Canada, France and the United States).
The latter group will look at the possibility of adopting a sectoral approach for managing international aviation’s emissions.
Nancy LoBue, the FAA’s Acting Assistant Administrator, Aviation Policy, Planning and Environment, and the United States representative on GIACC, told GreenAir Online there were still some tough issues that needed to be worked through but felt GIACC/3 “was a very positive meeting”.
She said there were difficulties with developing countries on the CBDR principle but commended the representatives from Brazil and Mexico on their leadership in creating a framework for moving forward on this. There were ways in which developed and developing countries could work together on technology transfers, she said, and pointed to air traffic management programmes that resulted in fuel and emissions savings where the US had worked with other countries.
Carl Burleson, Director of Environment and Energy at the FAA and a US adviser on GIACC, said there were other areas of cooperation with the developing world such as on airport infrastructure projects, where there was potential for emissions reduction strategies, and the development of alternative aviation fuels.
Ms LoBue said that GIACC/3 had made good progress but was unsure whether “everything can be wrapped up” by the end of GIACC/4 and believed some additional work afterwards would still be required. She said there were issues on how international aviation should fit into the UNFCCC process, and the United States, under its new administration, was still working out its own position.
As the joint chair of the goals development group, she said the US was committed to bringing the issues together on the medium and long-term fuel efficiency goals in time for GIACC/4.
It was Ms LoBue’s view that a global aviation emissions trading scheme was a long way off, although it was possible that those countries currently planning such schemes of their own could link with others and CAEP was looking at ways on how this might work.
Tim Johnson of the Aviation Environment Federation, who made a presentation at GIACC/3 on behalf of the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation, told GreenAir Online that he too doubted a global aviation ETS would emerge in the near term.
What he considered important, though, was that before UNFCCC Copenhagen, ICAO committed to absolute emissions reductions having set a baseline year, a timetable and binding targets for the sector as a whole. “If GIACC could focus on these issues it would be a major achievement.”
The measures to accomplish them, he said, could be worked out afterwards and might include a number of flexible mechanisms. This, he said, would avoid issues like CBDR, which tended to highlight the differences between the various parties.
“If we can have the UNFCCC and ICAO processes talking a common language, I then think it will free up ICAO in the next two or three years to work on the measures themselves.”
Johnson says that international aviation must be included in a post-2012 framework. “If ICAO can’t deliver in time for Copenhagen then we would be very supportive of handing the responsibility to another institution, and the UNFCCC is the obvious candidate.
“However, if you can’t get agreement in one you could argue you won’t get it in another and, realistically, that is a likely outcome. There doesn’t appear to be a great appetite within the UNFCCC to look at aviation although there are some proposals floating around. There is therefore the likelihood that UNFCCC will just reinforce ICAO’s role again. ICAO will then feel under no political pressure and will allow things to drift as they have done for the last 10 years. This will then lead to more multi-lateral actions like Europe’s Emissions Trading Scheme.”
The next meeting of GIACC (GIACC/4), at which it must reach a consensus on goals, framework elements and measurements, is due to take place in early June, with participants “encouraged to bring ideas for stretch goals and language for a statement of ambition”.
A report is then to be prepared during July and August and presented to a ‘high-level’ meeting at date still to be set, with recommendations then put before a full ICAO Council meeting in October.
Report of Working Group 2 (pdf) – includes table of measures



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