ICAO Council meets to hammer out a compromise on implementing a global MBM to limit growth of aviation emissions

ICAO Council meets to hammer out a compromise on implementing a global MBM to limit growth of aviation emissions | Peter Liese,global MBM,ICAO 38th Assembly

A meeting of the ICAO Council

Tue 3 Sept 2013 – As negotiations continue at ICAO on an agreement to implement a global market-based mechanism (MBM) to reduce the net growth of international aviation emissions, there are signs that progress is being made towards a compromise that has the backing of a number of important States, including the United States, those from the EU and possibly China. However, it is believed the wording of the resolution being prepared for the upcoming ICAO Assembly later this month stops short of agreement to adopt a global MBM but merely that a scheme be developed for a decision in 2016. The draft resolution, to be discussed at a special meeting of the ICAO Council tomorrow (Sept 4), is said to carry a US-led proposal that would allow the EU to re-include intercontinental flights into the EU ETS on an airspace limitation basis pending a global scheme. Trade body Airlines for America said it was opposed to such a move.


Last November, the EU ‘stopped the clock’ on the controversial inclusion of intercontinental flights to and from Europe into its emissions scheme (EU ETS) to allow ICAO to continue its work on a global MBM but warned the clock would be restarted in full if the outcome was not a “meaningful” agreement at the ICAO 38th Assembly that starts on September 24. All sides now accept that a global MBM will not be adopted at this year’s Assembly but the EU, as well as industry and NGOs, are looking for substantive progress and a roadmap towards a formal acceptance of one of three possible schemes by the following 39th Assembly in 2016.


Following divergent views amongst the 36 governing ICAO Council members, ICAO Council President Roberto Kobeh González has managed to broker a compromise text for the Assembly climate change resolution over the summer that will see three possible schemes narrowed down to one over the next three years – at this stage, a global offsetting rather than an emissions trading scheme is considered the more likely option – and set out mechanisms for its implementation from 2020. The Council will then be expected to report the results for a decision by the next Assembly, although there is no commitment at present that a scheme would be agreed in 2016.


This would appear to be a postponement of an anticipated decision and fall short of earlier demands by EU climate officials, but reports suggest EU States on the Council have broadly accepted the draft resolution. The EU had also been looking for a framework on the implementation of national or regional MBMs pending the introduction of a global scheme. It was prepared to accept an agreement that would allow it to restart the inclusion of intercontinental flights into the EU ETS on an outgoing flights basis, rather than total emissions on incoming and outgoing flights as previously regulated before ‘stop the clock’. However, it appears the EU may have to compromise still further and accept it can only regulate on emissions within EU airspace.


The airspace restriction though answers the objections of sovereignty infringement that had caused heavy political opposition from countries such as China, India, Russia and the United States. In the past, ICAO has ruled that regulating airspace emissions was impractical and a study by MMU CATE earlier this year found that only 22% of international aviation emissions would be covered under sovereign airspace constraints, even if every country was to adopt such a measure.


At a Brussels seminar in April (see article), Jos Delbeke, Director-General of the European Commission’s Climate Action directorate and the lead EU negotiator in the ICAO MBM discussions, said the airspace approach would be “damn difficult” to implement, but it appears EU States may be willing to accept the limitation. A Bloomberg report suggests the Commission may make proposals in the first half of October on how the EU should respond to the ICAO Assembly outcome with respect to the Aviation EU ETS.


Legislative agreement on the future direction of the EU carbon scheme would be required from the European Parliament, which may not be so accommodating with either the environmental limitation of the airspace approach or the uncertain commitment to agree a global MBM by the 2016 Assembly. The Parliament’s rapporteur on the Aviation EU ETS, Dr Peter Liese, is hosting an open seminar tomorrow evening (Sept 4) at the Parliament, with senior representatives from the European Commission, the aviation industry and environmental NGOs on the panel.


At the April seminar, Dr Liese, who steered the ‘stop the clock’ legislation through Parliament, said the one-year suspension of intercontinental flights from the EU ETS would not be continued unless “very clear expectations” were met at the Assembly. “It is not an option to wait another three years,” he told delegates. “I could not defend this in the Parliament.”


The aviation industry, meanwhile, believes sufficient progress towards a global MBM will be made at this coming Assembly.


“What we would like is for the Assembly to agree a roadmap for developing a global offsetting mechanism to be then agreed at the next Assembly in 2016, for implementation from 2020, along with a work programme covering how monitoring, reporting and verification should be done and agreement on the quality of offset credits. There should also be the means for ensuring the properly designed MBM is in a package with improvements in technology, operations and infrastructure, so they are complementary rather than conflicting,” Nancy Young, VP Environment at trade body Airlines for America (A4A), told journalists recently.


“I am more than cautiously optimistic the Assembly will make significant progress in this regard,” she added.


A coalition of aviation industry interests has just submitted a working paper for consideration by the Assembly setting out its proposals on addressing carbon emissions from international aviation.


However, the industry is likely to be unhappy with the prospect of an ICAO agreement covering the interim period before a global MBM comes into operation that may well see the rapid reintroduction of intercontinental flights into the EU ETS.


Although the EU had pressed for an agreement that would allow it to include emissions from flights departing from European airports, it appears to have settled for the far more environmentally limited airspace proposal. In return for which, opposing states appear to have dropped demands that national or regional MBMs could only be applied on a mutual consent basis. Should a State or group of States wish to go further than the airspace limitation then it or they would have to negotiate an agreement with other States first, says the draft resolution. Exemptions should also be made for States with low air traffic activity on affected routes.


The implication, therefore, is that States that have been staunchly opposed to their airlines’ participation in the EU ETS may no longer have a case for refusing to comply, assuming the EU modifies its directive accordingly. US major airlines had successfully lobbied for domestic legislation that they hoped might see them off the EU ETS hook but now, if the current draft resolution passes its way through the Assembly, they may find themselves once more in the clutches of the EU carbon scheme, this time as a result of a proposal put forward by their own government.


“A4A is part of the global aviation coalition calling for the ICAO Member States to commit to the development of a global emissions offsetting scheme that could be employed to fill the gap should aviation not reach its goal of carbon-neutral growth from 2020 through concerted industry and government investment in technology, operations and infrastructure. As such, we oppose the application of country-based or regional market-based measures to international aviation absent the consent of the country of an airline’s registry and otherwise consistent with the principles in the 2010 ICAO Assembly Resolution,” A4A’s Nancy Young told GreenAir.


Even if the climate change resolution, which covers many other ICAO environmental protection activities, is adopted at the upcoming Assembly, it is not binding on ICAO States. As happened with the climate resolution (A37-19) passed at the 2010 Assembly, States can put in ‘reservations’ on paragraphs within the resolution after the completion of the Assembly that they disagree and will not comply with. India, for one, remains implacably opposed to any application of market measures to its airlines. Brazil, China, Russia and other fast-developing nations have fought hard against the application of MBMs to international aviation, although China is reported to have softened its position.


“Resolutions are legal instruments indicative of policy decisions that the Organization’s supreme body, the Assembly, takes and they have no definitive binding nature in international law; they rather take effect as a form of moral suasion or back up to legal process,” writes Chris Lyle of Montreal-based Air Transport Economics, who has long experience of the ICAO process, in a GreenAir Commentary article published yesterday.


“The Assembly will surely agree on some skeleton for aviation emissions mitigation but how meaningful will it be? The devil will lie in the nuances of the text and in the reality of the follow-up.”




ICAO 38th Assembly



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