Stiff challenge facing ICAO after unprecedented number of reservations on Assembly climate change resolution

Stiff challenge facing ICAO after unprecedented number of reservations on Assembly climate change resolution | ICAO 37th Assembly

Sat 29 Jan 2011 - The full extent of the opposition to key parts of the climate change resolution passed at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Assembly in October has been laid out in documentation released by the UN body. Thought to be an unprecedented number, no fewer than 63 countries – representing all the major aviation nations – have entered reservations (opt-out legal caveats) on one or more paragraphs in Resolution A37-17/2, formally adopted by Member States as A37-19. Reservations on ICAO resolutions are rarely filed at all. The main areas of contention are the medium-term aspirational carbon-neutral growth goal (paragraph 6), guiding principles on market-based measures (paragraph 14) and the de minimis threshold exemption (paragraph 15).


Although last-minute compromises were made to secure the resolution, the documents reveal the underlying differences between states from the developing world, particularly the fast-emerging economies, and the developed nations on who is responsible over the next decade for dealing with the required significant reduction in aviation CO2 emissions.


Argentina, on behalf Brazil, China, India, Saudi Arabia and others, outlined the defiant mood of the major developing nations concerning calls for strengthened global action on aviation CO2.


“Any world order created to satisfy the ambitions of a group of States, which does not have the consensus from a large number of developing countries constituting almost half of the world’s population, would be a task fraught with futile consequences,” runs the Argentina reservation declaration.


“We are not here to create problems for the progress in climate change negotiations. We are ready to actively support and till now we have a much better and cleaner environment record in this area compared to the developed nations. So why is it that [we] have a problem in agreeing to this declaration in its present form? This is because 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.


“We would like our future generations to reap the benefits of development as enjoyed by certain developed nations. We must find more innovative solutions to the problem of climate change rather than putting a cap on our growth.”


The joint submission rejected the carbon-neutral growth (CNG) goal for developing countries as it would impact their aviation growth and was, it said, contradictory to the agreed principle of CBDR (Common But Differentiated Responsibility - as applied by UNFCCC). Market-based measures (MBMs) too were the responsibility of developed countries in order to help them meet their commitments, and any unilateral action by “any single or a group of countries” to apply such measures would be opposed unless based on mutual consent.


The submission suggested feasibility and impact studies should be undertaken on more ambitious goals, such as CNG, and be presented at the next Assembly in three years time, and ICAO should await further developments within the UNFCCC process on MBMs and CNG.


“Consensus is the basis of our work,” it concludes. “Attempting proposals that do not respect the international agreements and have no consensus in the ICAO Assembly is counter-productive and will only weaken the efforts of ICAO to take a leading role in this matter.”


Belgium, on behalf of the EU’s 27 Member States and 17 other ECAC-member countries, noted in its reservation statement the high number of reservations placed on parts of the Resolution “highlights the challenges of taking forward discussions limiting the climate impacts of aviation at a global level.”


Europe called the “aspirational” CNG goal “insufficiently stringent” and “allowing aviation emissions to peak only in 2020 would result in ten years of considerable growth in emissions and would not see aviation contributing adequately to attain the maximum 2 degrees C temperature rise which requires global emissions to peak well in advance of 2020.


“Accordingly, the European Union has consistently advocated that the global reduction target for GHG emissions from international aviation should be a 10% reduction by 2020 compared to 2005 levels. Europe remains committed to its more ambitious goals for net emission reductions from international aviation by 2020.”


With its Emissions Trading Scheme extended to include aviation from January 2012 and the focus of opposition from Argentina and its allies, Europe defended its position that it has a right to impose market-based measures on flights to and from its territory.


“It is important also to make clear that in no way can paragraph 14 be construed as requiring that market-based measures may only be implemented on the basis of mutual agreement between States,” it argued. “The Chicago Convention contains no provision which might be construed as imposing upon the Contracting Parties the obligation to obtain the consent of other Contracting Parties before applying the market-based measures referred to in Resolution A37-17/2 to operators of other States in respect of air services to, from or within their territory. On the contrary, the Chicago Convention recognises expressly the right of each Contracting Party to apply on a non-discriminatory basis its own laws and regulations to aircraft of all States.”


In its reservation statement, the Russian Federation urged States to refrain from the unilateral application of market-based measures, warning that it foresaw “the introduction of adequate retaliatory measures by other Contracting States”.


Whilst not stating its opposition to MBMs, the United States placed a reservation on paragraph 14 saying it had a number of concerns regarding the principles with respect to the application of MBMs, as outlined in the Annex to the Resolution. It also stated “that States must engage in constructive negotiations in order for MBMs to be applied.”


Along with its reservation on paragraph 6 (de minimis), the US believes “further work is required” on MBMs. However, it fully backed a global carbon-neutral growth goal.


“The collective character of the CNG goal in paragraph 6 reflects the fact that addressing international aviation emissions is a global issue. Data on cumulative international aviation emissions over the past four decades show that international air transport operations from both developed and developing countries have made significant contributions to the problem.


“In addition, it is important to recall the Resolution sets out a collective, non-attributable goal that does not place any binding obligation or requirement on individual States. It encourages action based on States’ national circumstances and capacities.”


In its reservation statement, China said climate change is mainly caused by the historical emissions and current high per capita emissions from developed countries that should, consequently, take the lead in GHG emissions reduction.


“Regrettably, the developed countries are not willing to clearly recognise their obligations and responsibilities in the Resolution,” it stated.


The late ‘cobbling together’ of the de minimis provision appears to have pleased no-one with all bar one of the 63 States entering reservations on the relevant paragraph (15) in the resolution. The intention was to place a distinction between States with a high aviation activity, and therefore responsible for the bulk of international CO2 emissions, and those with little. Under the ‘law of unintended consequences’, the threshold took no account of whether those States were from the developed or developing world.


This proved unacceptable to countries such as China and India, who found themselves above the threshold and some developed countries below it.


Singapore, another developing State above the threshold, pointed out in its reservation that the principle should be applied to aircraft operators rather than to States.


In the opening remarks of its statement, the United States said: “Tackling climate change is one of the most fundamental challenges that international aviation faces.” Dealing with the issue is presenting ICAO with its own sternest challenge as it tries to reconcile the differing and entrenched positions of its major Contracting States. In reaching a consensus that does little more than paper over the cracks, it would appear that for the time being, achieving meaningful reductions in CO2 emissions from international aviation within ICAO will not be forthcoming until – and if – there is a binding global climate change agreement reached through the UNFCCC process.


Despite the success in achieving a resolution at the Assembly, the prospects for a global sectoral approach for the aviation industry will remain in limbo, probably at least until the next Assembly in late 2013, with little progress on the issue made so far at UNFCCC.


The sheer number of reservations placed on the collective carbon-neutral growth goal from 2020 (“without any attribution of specific obligations to individual States”) casts doubt on whether ICAO can deliver on this aspiration.


In the meantime, ICAO’s environmental efforts will go into yet more studies on issues such as market-based measures and de minimis, fighting the possibility of a global climate change levy on international aviation and coming up with an aircraft engine fuel efficiency standard.





ICAO – Reservations to Resolution A37/19 (17/2) (pdf)

ICAO Assembly Resolution A37/19 (from page 55 in text, page 59 in PDF)



ICAO video: International Aviation and Climate Change – global solutions for a global industry




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