Historic global climate agreement reached in Paris but international aviation left on the sidelines

Historic global climate agreement reached in Paris but international aviation left on the sidelines | COP21,Paris Agreement

Mon 14 Dec 2015 – The historic climate agreement reached in Paris on Saturday (Dec 12) will provide a positive momentum for discussions taking place at ICAO on introducing a market-based measure (MBM) for international aviation carbon emissions, said the industry’s Air Transport Action Group (ATAG). It called on governments to “redouble their efforts” in progressing work on developing the measure next year. However, to the surprise of many, the paragraph in earlier draft texts referring to international aviation and shipping was removed in the later stages and despite efforts by some smaller countries and the European Union to have it reinserted, there is no mention in the final agreement. Environmental NGOs believe the absence casts doubts over who is responsible for controlling the fast-growing emissions from the aviation and maritime sectors post-2020, which together currently account for around 5% of global CO2 emissions, or 3.5% of international emissions.


ATAG hailed the Paris Agreement as an ambitious and far-reaching response by governments to climate change. “It provides important key building blocks, including support for international carbon markets and the use of forestry as a source of offsets,” it said in a statement afterwards. “The aviation sector will need access to high-quality offsets as it develops the global MBM. It also provides clarity for differentiation between States which will enable governments to deliver a fit-for-purpose global measure for our sector.”


Differentiation – the principle that developed countries bear a greater historical responsibility for dealing with climate change – has been at the heart of the stalemate at ICAO on agreeing a robust global measure to control international aviation emissions, ever since the UN civil aviation agency was given its mandate under the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. The differentiation principle – or common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) – is enshrined in the UN’s climate change framework convention of 1992 and led to developed and developing countries being assigned as either Annex 1 or non-Annex 1 respectively under the Kyoto Protocol, with Annex 1 countries given binding targets.


The Paris Agreement, which replaces the Protocol when it expires in 2020, makes no such distinction, although references to CBDR exist within the text. Article 2.2 reads: “This Agreement will be implemented to reflect equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.” In addition, Article 4.4 reads: “Developed country Parties should continue taking the lead by undertaking economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets.”


The continuing reference to developed and developing countries but the absence of the term ‘historical responsibility’ and Annex 1 and non-Annex 1 means there is no definition in the Agreement of which countries are now defined as ‘developed’. This will need to be tackled at a later date but could either unblock the entrenched positions at ICAO on which countries and their carriers should be included in the MBM, as the industry believes will happen, or it could lead to further difficulties and delays in the process. ICAO has set a very tight roadmap and timelines towards agreeing an MBM proposal to put before its 191 Member States for a decision at the Assembly in September/October next year.


The issue raised its head during the two-week COP21 in Paris with statements from China and the G77 group of developing countries noting their displeasure at how they perceived CBDR was not being sufficiently acknowledged in the MBM ‘Strawman’ potential scheme presented for discussion at ICAO.


In an opening statement at the concurrent session of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), to which ICAO and UN maritime agency IMO report their climate activities, the group expressed its “serious concerns” over the current proposal on the table, which was “not in line with the CBDR principle”, and the carbon-neutral goal of the measure, due to be introduced in 2020 (CNG2020).


China, with the support of countries such as India, has already submitted its own proposal on how the MBM burden should be shared amongst ICAO Member States. Its approach is to determine the calculation of each aircraft operator’s carbon offsetting liability after 2020 based on the proportion of its accumulative emissions in the period 1992-2020 to the global accumulative emissions in the same period (see article). Under this approach, those operators who emitted most in the past – therefore those from the developed world – would shoulder greater responsibilities. However, as already noted, the concept of historical responsibility is not mentioned in the Paris Agreement.


In its closing statement to the SBSTA session, the G77/China group said emissions from fuel used for international aviation and maritime transport “should continue to be dealt with through a multilateral process, in a manner that is open and transparent, inclusive and Party-driven.” As “Party” is the UNFCCC term for member countries, this can be construed as meaning the principles underpinning UNFCCC should have supremacy in matters concerning the regulation of international aviation emissions.


In language countries like China and India have used in the past to oppose the European Union’s inclusion of international aviation into its Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS), the statement added: “The Group is strongly against the imposition of unilateral measures in addressing emissions, which would be contrary to the principles of CBDR&RC [respective capabilities] and equity.” The EU has suspended the scheme’s inclusion of flights to and from airports outside Europe while the ICAO MBM negotiations are in progress but automatically snaps back into place from 2017 if no agreement is reached next year.


In another opening statement submitted by the G77/China group, they also said the international aviation and maritime emissions issue should be dealt with under SBSTA, “avoiding any attempts to include it in the ADP.”


The ADP (Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform) was established by the 2011 COP in Durban and mandated to develop what has now become the Paris Agreement.


A paragraph was included in an earlier draft agreement presented to negotiators at the beginning of COP21. In essence, it called on Parties to work through ICAO and IMO to pursue limitation or reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from their sectors “with a view to agreeing concrete measures addressing these emissions”.


During the middle of last week, the paragraph was removed from the text when a slimmed down draft was released by the French COP21 Presidency and despite a pledge by the EU to fight to have it reinserted, it did not make it back in. Although fingers may point to the objections by G77/China group as the reason for the omission, industry observers in Paris believe the answer may be more mundane and that in the course of the multilateral negotiations some items had higher priority than others. With differing views on this issue, a compromise was too difficult to reach in the short time available and so was dropped, suggested ATAG.


As international aviation is already being addressed at ICAO under the Chicago Convention, it was deemed by a number of negotiators to be not necessary to address these sectors in the agreement, it added.


“We were surprised by the lack of a mention of ICAO’s responsibility to address aviation emissions (and IMO’s for maritime) in the final Paris Agreement, despite appearing in previous drafts. Nonetheless, ICAO already has its own mandate and well-established programme for further addressing aviation and climate change, without the need for direction from COP21 or the UNFCCC.


“In the scheme of the Agreement, aviation and shipping remain a less central pillar, but of course to us aviation is the main subject – in that sense it is useful to have a separate UN agency, ICAO, devoted to exploring the complexities of dealing with the matter.”


ATAG said its preferred option of a mandatory global offsetting scheme starting in 2020 to be agreed at the next ICAO Assembly would effectively cap aviation emissions at 2020 levels, whilst the carbon offsets used would help fund climate mitigation action, predominantly in developing countries.


With a less sanguine view over the lack of mention of international aviation and shipping in the Agreement, environmental NGOs say it leaves the question of responsibility for the two sector’s emissions in limbo.


“The Agreement now leaves it unclear which actors have responsibility to reduce emissions from these sectors,” said Andrew Murphy, Aviation and Shipping Officer with Brussels-based Transport & Environment. “If ICAO and IMO wish to retain a role, they must urgently scale up their ambition.”


One of the key outcomes of the Agreement – largely secured by a new group of over 100 developed and developing countries formed during COP21 called the High Ambition Coalition – was a strengthening of climate ambition to reduce global warming to “well below” 2⁰C above pre-industrial levels “and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5⁰C”.


“This is the new climate reality and industry will have to be more proactive, and ICAO will have to start working this into their efforts,” he said. “1.5⁰C cannot be achieved unless the sector urgently reins in its emissions.”


Despite the G77/China warnings against States taking unilateral action, Murphy believes if the two UN agencies fail to step up then States and regions will have the right to adopt measures to ensure these sectors contribute to the 1.5⁰C target. If ICAO and IMO cannot raise their game in line with the Paris ambition, they also risk losing their mandates to regulate on climate action, he warned.




UNFCCC – Paris Agreement

UNFCCC statement on Paris outcome

ATAG statement on Paris outcome

T&E statement on Paris outcome




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