EU praises wider engagement on ICAO global measure for aviation emissions but concerned over environmental integrity

EU praises wider engagement on ICAO global measure for aviation emissions but concerned over environmental integrity | T&E,Bas Eickhout,Athar Husain Khan,AEA,CE Delft,Jos Dings,GMBM

Fri 5 Dec 2014 – The EU welcomed current progress at ICAO on developing a global market-based measure (GMBM) for international aviation carbon emissions but it would be looking for certainty over the environmental integrity and objectives of the scheme, said a senior European Commission official in a Brussels debate this week. Important elements of the scheme would be the quality and eligibility of carbon offsets under a post-2020 global climate agreement and the challenge to establish obligations on ICAO states under competing principles, she said. Athar Husain Khan of the Association of European Airlines said the scheme should be as inclusive as possible without causing distortions or be discriminatory to operators. He also called for European domestic aviation emissions to be included in the GMBM and the sector withdrawn from the EU ETS after 2020. Jos Dings of T&E believed the global scheme under discussion would likely lack the stringency of the EU ETS.


Mary-Veronica Tovšak-Pletarski, Director of European and International Carbon Markets at DG CLIMA, said it was “good news” that states like China and Brazil, previously reluctant to enforcing global climate measures on international aviation, were now actively participating in the GMBM development. “It is very important to us that such countries are engaged with the discussions,” she said.


The ICAO aspirational target of achieving carbon-neutral growth was “a modest objective” from the EU’s point of view and had been looking for more ambitious goals but, she said, the EU had accepted it although it would be “keeping a sharp eye” on progress and ensuring engagement between states to bring a successful outcome.


She said numerous exemptions could be possible under the scheme but “we must be careful not to compromise on the objective.” The challenge was to find the right balance between the principle of special circumstances and respective capabilities (SCRC) that recognises the different responsibilities of developed and developing countries, and the ICAO principle of equal treatment and non-discrimination. However, she added, “the EU believes it is now time to move away from this binary distinction.”


Transparency in the monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) would also be an important element, as would a level playing field for all participants to ensure equal treatment. The eligibility of carbon units would also have to be developed by ICAO in parallel with the UNFCCC process.


In respect of the UNFCCC negotiations aiming towards an international climate agreement at the Paris COP in 2015, Tovšak-Pletarski said: “We need the aviation sector to contribute its fair share to the global effort.”


AEA Chief Executive Athar Husain Khan said the industry fully supported a mandatory carbon offsetting scheme, which he argued would be the quickest to implement, the easiest to administer and stood the best chance of acceptance by ICAO states. It should, he said, be global in scope, ensure fair competition yet allow for different types of operator activity.


“We believe the GMBM should be as inclusive as possible, covering as many countries and operators as possible but we appreciate there are political realities that may require certain exemptions under SCRC but if they are introduced then they should be non-distortionary and non-discriminatory.”


He added that despite the temporary scale-back of the Aviation EU ETS under the ‘stop the clock’ provision that restricts coverage to intra-EEA flights until the end of 2016, the scheme was proving a financial burden to European airlines and caused competitive distortions with non-European carriers. He said there was uncertainty over what would happen to the EU ETS during the period 2017-2020 and warned against re-imposing more stringency as that would open up the potential for further international disputes.


Husain Khan said for European airlines under a global scheme it was very important there was no double-counting of emissions with a European scheme. “We believe the global measure should be applicable to all international flights and should also replace the EU ETS on intra-EEA flights,” he said. “To go one step further, to make it easy to administer and be non-distortive, we would also argue that a GMBM should also be applicable to domestic flights in whichever country in the world, including in Europe.”


He was confident there would be a “tangible result” at ICAO, a view not entirely shared by Jos Dings, Director of Brussels-based NGO Transport & Environment (T&E), who was unconvinced a global measure would be sufficiently environmentally ambitious compared with the European scheme. “We should not give away the EU ETS unless the GMBM has proved to be superior.”


He said the lack of transparency at ICAO over the process and the organisation’s relationship with NGOs had made him sceptical of a successful outcome. There were also questions about who should administer and set up the scheme – whether it would be states, airlines or ICAO itself – and how the legal structure would work. A treaty would be a very lengthy process and although a standard could be agreed relatively quickly, states could opt out and so potentially undermining the scheme, he argued.


Dings said carbon offsets were inferior in quality to the carbon allowances that were used under an emissions trading scheme as there was often uncertainty over whether an offset project would have happened anyway. For this reason, he pointed out, the EU had agreed to do away with offsets after 2020, “a time when ICAO is talking of moving in the opposite direction.”


Although countries like China and Brazil might be engaging, other key member states were not, he said, notably Russia and India, and called for more ideas on how SCRC could work fairly. He added there were “a worrying number of people” waiting on the outcome in Paris late next year but there would be little time afterwards to sort out difficult issues before the ICAO Assembly in October 2016.  


Dutch MEP Bas Eickhout (Greens/EFA), who moderated the debate, shared Dings’ concerns. “From what I hear of what is going on in ICAO, I am rather sceptical that now, finally, it is really going to do something.”


Jasper Faber, an aviation specialist with consultancy CE Delft, said the resolution passed at its last Assembly and the subsequent number reservations over key elements showed there was a considerable lack of consensus between states at ICAO on action over emissions. The Assembly also demonstrated Europe had not been successful with its diplomacy and had failed to get support for its preferred outcome. “Europe needs to have a better strategy at coalition building,” he suggested. “We should listen to other countries and what their concerns are and try to address them, without compromising the principles we hold dear.”


He said Europe should prepare alternative solutions to the current proposals under discussion in case they later turn out to be unacceptable. “If we find out in early 2016 that we are on the wrong track there will only be a few months in which to put things right,” he cautioned.


The debate, ‘Aviation and climate change – destination unknown?’, was organised by T&E and hosted by Bas Eickhout and British MEP Lucy Anderson (S&D), who are members of the European Parliament’s Environment and Transport committees respectively.



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