UN climate talks end with negotiating text that calls for international aviation carbon reduction targets and a levy

UN climate talks end with negotiating text that calls for international aviation carbon reduction targets and a levy | UNFCCC,Green Climate Fund,COP21

UNFCCC Geneva Climate Talks plenary

Mon 16 Feb 2015 – Negotiators meeting in Geneva last week to agree on the text to take to the all-important international climate summit in Paris later this year have included calls for global emission reduction targets for international aviation and a levy scheme applied to the sector to support climate change adaptation finance. UNFCCC negotiating texts have proved notoriously fickle in the past and the references to international aviation – and its sister sector, shipping – could still be changed or dropped altogether. Whereas ICAO is currently developing a global market-based scheme for aviation to achieve a goal of carbon-neutral growth from 2020, the UN agency has consistently opposed a climate levy be applied as well to the sector. Meanwhile, ICAO is to outline progress so far on the scheme in a series of conferences, called GLADs, to be held in regions across the world during April.


The paragraphs agreed in Geneva referring to international aviation and shipping carbon reduction targets and a levy appear in separate parts of the 86-page document and so are not related.


The text concerning targets (para 23 bis) states: “In meeting the 2 °C objective, Parties agree on the need for global sectoral emission reduction targets for international aviation and maritime transport and on the need for all Parties to work through the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to develop global policy frameworks to achieve these targets.”


The text is contained within square brackets, often a sign that perhaps not all Parties do in fact agree with the wording and therefore could be subject to change or omission. There is also a lack of clarity as to who should set the targets – UNFCCC or ICAO – or what those targets should be.


How States should effectively deal with international aviation and shipping emissions that by their nature predominantly are cross-border in nature or take place over the high seas has been a conundrum that has so far defeated negotiators at both UNFCCC and ICAO. However, a globally binding climate agreement at the Paris COP in December is seen by many as a prerequisite for achieving a successful outcome for ICAO’s market-based scheme under development.


The concept of a global levy to help with climate change adaptation is not new and following the agreement to set up the Green Climate Fund at the 2010 climate change summit in Cancun, Mexico, the aviation and shipping sectors were identified as potential contributors. With their rapidly growing emissions and their disproportionate impact on climate change, both sectors have been seen as legitimate sources of revenue to the fund that is aiming to deliver up to $100 billion a year to help developing countries adapt to climate change.


A report by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in 2011 concluded that a global carbon charge of $25 per tonne of CO2 on international transport could raise $12 billion per year by 2020 from international aviation.


However, the Geneva text refers not to the Green Climate Fund but to the separate Adaptation Fund. The paragraph (47.5) “encourages ICAO and IMO to develop a levy scheme to provide financial support for the Adaptation Fund” and both UN agencies “are encouraged to take into consideration the needs of developing countries, particularly the LDCs [Least Developed Countries], SIDS [Small Island Developing States] and countries in Africa heavily reliant on tourism and international transport of traded goods.”


The Adaptation Fund is a long-established UNFCCC fund set up to finance adaptation projects and programmes in developing countries particularly vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change. The fund is partly financed by a share of proceeds from the UN’s clean development mechanism (CDM) project activities.


It is unlikely that the UNFCCC Parties could force ICAO to impose a global levy on international aviation, hence the use of the word “encourage”. It is also hard to find many States that support the measure. Even the European Union, which might be seen to be in favour, has not expressed a formal position.


Since the Green Climate Fund levy first reared its head, ICAO has made clear its opposition. ICAO’s last Assembly in 2012 “urged that ICAO and its Member States express a clear concern, through the UNFCCC process, on the use of international aviation as a potential source for the mobilisation of revenue for climate finance to the other sectors, in order to ensure that international aviation would not be targeted as a source of such revenue in a disproportionate manner.”


ICAO argues that to achieve its aspirational carbon reduction goals the aviation sector requires adequate financial resources of its own that would be compromised by the imposition of an additional levy.


An insider with experience of the UNFCCC process told GreenAir that at this stage the text relating to aviation was not particularly significant. “It will only become so if the paragraphs stay the same heading into Paris,” he said.


Simon McNamara, Director General of the European Regions Airline Association, whose members are unhappy with the administrative and financial burdens of complying with the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) on what they consider to be an uneven playing field, said ICAO alone must be allowed to develop a global market-based mechanism.


“Work is already well underway in ICAO and a two-stream approach with influence by a non-aviation body is only likely to complicate the situation for ICAO,” he said. “ICAO should be the sole agency tasked with this effort and all Parties should focus on this.”


ICAO has sent out invitations to its Member States and other organisations to participate in two-day conferences being held in Lima, Nairobi, Cairo, Singapore and Madrid during April. As proposed at the last Assembly, the objectives of the Global Aviation Dialogues (GLADs) are to share information regarding market-based measures (MBMs) and their role in addressing aviation carbon emissions, and to provide an update on progress on the development at ICAO of a global MBM scheme. The GLADs are also intended as an opportunity for States and organisations to provide their own feedback.




UNFCCC Geneva Climate Talks

UNFCCC Geneva negotiating text (pdf)



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